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Local couple has ties to an Olympian, world record holder

Pictured, from left, are American javelin teammates Gloria Russell, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson and Nan Gindele. (Submitted photos)

To James Bauman, today’s Olympics aren’t exactly what he grew up with.

“It’s changed quite a bit over the years,” he said.

Part of that, though, is likely because he had a slightly different perspective on the event growing up. Bauman is the son of an Olympian. At the age of 22, Nan (Gindele) Bauman competed in the women’s javelin throw in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. While men had been able to compete in the event since 1908, 1932 was the first year a women’s event was added to the Olympics.

Bauman, who now lives in Hastings with his wife, Beulah, said he remembers his mother telling stories of her Olympic experience, but her javelin career had ended by the time he and his twin brother were born.

Although James doesn’t remember much of what his mother had told him, Beulah put her passion for genealogy to work, creating a thorough archive of her mother-in-law’s historic athletic career. The 2-inch-thick binder is full of photos, newspaper clippings, documents, certificates and pieces of memorabilia detailing Nan’s time on the international stage.

Remembering her family’s history is an important means to connect one generation to the next, she said. Her reasons for sharing her mother-in-law’s story are summed up in a quotation she wrote in the front of her scrapbook: “The thread that binds one generation to the next is in the stories families tell.”

Nan’s rise to international fame actually began before the Olympics. In June of 1932, she set the world record for javelin throw, launching the spear 153 feet, 4 1/2 inches in a Central A.A.U. (Amateur Athletics Union) meet in Chicago. She went on to compete in the national meet July 18, placing second with a throw of 118 feet – good enough for a position on the U.S. Olympic track and field team.

A 1988 article in the Pioneer Press in Cary, Illinois, tells the story of how unlikely Nan’s success was. Not only had she only started competing in the javelin event about one year before her record throw, she also started that part of her athletic career without much enthusiasm.

“I wanted to give it up after the first half-dozen tosses,” she told Robert Nelander of the Pioneer Press, “because I couldn’t make it stick in the ground, and it doesn’t even count unless it sticks in the ground. I didn’t want to throw the darned old thing anymore.”

It was her coach that pushed her to continue. According to the article, he needed someone to compete in the 1931 National A.A.U. games. Nan was more familiar with throwing baseballs, and had broken records in that event, too.

Her world record throw set some high expectations at the Olympics, especially since she was competing against Babe Didrikson, a woman considered by many to be the greatest woman athlete in the world.

Unfortunately, Nan didn’t do so well in the Olympics. She placed fifth with a throw of 124 feet, 6 1/2 inches.

In the 1988 article, Nan discussed why she wasn’t able to repeat her world-record-setting throw.

“I was 22, and that was the farthest I’d ever traveled,” she told Nelander. “I was almost too frightened to compete, but I told myself, ‘Oh, for goodness sake, just do your best. Just you stand there, even if you don’t want to do this.’

“Well, I threw it, but not very far, because everyone in the stadium was watching. I didn’t get a medal.”

Didrikson would go down in history for setting a 143 feet, 4 inch Olympic record in the event, winning gold, Nan’s world record would remain in place another 10 years. It wasn’t until 1977 that another U.S. woman broke the record. That was Kate Schmidt, who threw nearly 228 feet.

Currently, according to the IAFF, the world record in the event is held by Barbora Spotakova of Czech Republic, with a throw of almost 257 feet.

Nan would go on to continue competing, earning more recognition in a number of athletic events. In 1933, she would score another world record in the basketball throw, tossing the ball 101 feet, 6 3/4 inches. She qualified to return to the Olympics in the javelin event in 1936, but was prevented from attending by a bout of appendicitis.

After the Olympics, Nan went on to become an elementary school gym teacher.

Naturally, she encouraged her own children to get involved with athletics.

“By taking part in regular recreational activities, a person brings into play certain muscles which in the case of many people become dormant, especially so with those engaged in office work,” Nan was quoted as saying in a transcribed interview with Johnny O’Hara (affiliation unknown). “One learns to breathe properly also how to take care of the body. Only physical fitness enables one to enjoy the many good things in this life. Of course one should be rational in all things, eat meals at regular hours, eight hours sleep every night and periods of complete relaxation. These items help you to look and feel fit.”

Nan lived her whole life in Chicago. She died in 1992. James, however, ended up working for the railroad and moved to Hastings while he worked for Burlington Northern. He and his wife lived here for 8 years in the 1970s before moving back to Chicago and then to Canada, as James worked for CP Rail. The couple moved back to Hastings in 2000.

James has served in the Hastings Police Reserves, and the couple are active members of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.