Brooklyn Swimmer Eleanor Holm Addresses Her Removal from Olympic Team for “Alleged Whoopie” (1936)

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In September 1936 aboard a boat on which she returned to New York City from Europe, Eleanor Holm (also known as Eleanor Holm Jarrett), a Brooklyn born and raised swimmer, comments about her removal the previous month from the U.S. Olympic team because of what this British newsreel report refers to as “alleged whoopie,” aboard the ship en route to the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.

Holm, a 100-meter backstroke gold medalist at the 1932 Olympic Games and the daughter of a New York City fire department captain, had qualified for the 1936 Olympics and was the favorite to win another gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke. She had set world records in the 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter backstroke and had not lost a race in seven years.

On July 15, 1936, Holm and 333 other Olympians departed New York Harbor on the S.S. Manhattan. Before the ship arrived in Germany, Holm was off the team, a decision made by the American Olympic Committee (now the United States Olympic Committee) and its powerful president, Avery Brundage, who claimed Holm was a poor role model for breaking curfew and drinking alcohol.

One night on the ship, Holm was in attendance as an invitee at a sportswriters party on the first-class deck and stayed past curfew. Another night on the ship, she attended another sportswriters party and would admit to drinking champagne at the event.

Holm maintained that other U.S. Olympians were drinking alcohol on the ship and that the American Olympic Committee didn’t have a rule against drinking. When they learned of Holm’s removal from competition, more than 100 fellow team members asked the American Olympic Committee for her reinstatement, but Brundage kept her ban in place and she didn’t complete at the Games.

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