Olympics Memories

From AYF Olympics 2012 Special Issue

In August, I wrote an article in the Weekly asking for people to send me their Olympics memories—of their first or most memorable time—for this article. I got a few responses before the games, and went to Boston with the aim of collecting more from as many people as I could.

When I asked people, they either responded immediately or pondered the question for a while. It was the perfect Olympics to take on this mission. It was in Boston, which has always been the hub of all things AYF in my humble opinion, and it was, as I noted in another article, a real “old school” Olympics.

The first person to respond was my cousin David Gavoor. He posted it on the Armenian Weekly website: “My first memory of being at an actual Olympics is in ’67 or ’68 in Washington. I was six or seven at the time. My father was being named the Olympic King that year and he took his son to witness the occasion. (I believe we stayed with Uncle Rouben and Aunt Rose Marie.) My favorite memory is of the ’78 games in New Jersey when Nancy (your sister and my cousin) and I each won the pentathlon (both setting records, I believe). I was 17 at the time. All the rest is a haze of nothing but fond memories, hanging with family and reconnecting with old friends.”

Another e-mail response was from Harry Kushigian of Providence: “One of my most cherished Olympics memories has to be the 1957 Niagara Falls Olympics. A group of us Providence chapter members arrived there on Thursday to be early. Well, it turns out that a group of the Philadelphia guys decided to do the same, so we AYFers got to know each other. From that day and forward, some of my closest AYF friends are from Philly, especially my dear deceased buddy/brother Jack Hagop Papazian, who is greatly missed.”

Anne Atanosian of Washington wrote a lovely memory: “First, your wonderful great uncle Rouben Gavoor got our few youngsters back in 1943 to start an AYF chapter in D.C. I had just begun high school and was truly excited. We were about nine kids and made our Washington ‘Ani’ Chapter very popular as we grew in numbers and activities. In 1947 many of us went to New York City to attend the New York ‘Hyortiks’ Olympics. I met the man I later married, Harry Atanossian, from the Providence ‘Varantian’ AYF Chapter. He was a navy veteran from World War II. Providence at that time had the most incredible athletes: Johnny Arzoomanian, the Varadian brothers, Varad, Haig, Mal, and John, as well as Sonny Surabian, Doc Bedrosian, and Sarkis Atamian. Harry and I moved to Washington, D.C. after our wedding. As life went on I became a writer for the Hairenik Weekly and the Armenian Reporter, for over 40 years covering important Armenian affairs and people and the events that occurred. The AYF was and continues to be the dearest of memories. Buddy Gavoor was always a special AYFer and friend.”

I had forgotten that my great uncle Rouben had started the Washington “Ani” Chapter. That will make attending the Olympics there next year even more special.

I had a chance to catch up with an old friend from New Jersey. He told me that he would e-mail me his favorite Olympic memories. He dutifully did so, but asked that I not mention his name. He loved this particular Olympics for two reasons: “Reason #1: Harry Derderian, Olympic King and tennis champ extraordinaire. Harry was at the games with his wife Margo and two-thirds of their clan. Harry was hanging out with his buddy, and fellow Olympic King, Armen Harootian. His daughter Kara and her husband Alec Sarafian were there with their beautiful newborn daughter Ani. His other daughter Krista and son-in-law Dave Sharigian were also in attendance with their children. Alec and Dave were both great competitors for Detroit. Harry’s son Armen and wife Taline stayed behind in Detroit with their newborn Sevana. Harry was just having fun with Armen and being a good grandpa tending to Ani while watching his other granddaughter Taline set a new record in the 1,500 meter run. Later at the Ball, when Taline got a trophy for setting this impressive record, Harry sat there beaming happier than for any event he ever won.”

“Reason #2: The Hagopian Clan. Michael, Stephen, and Jeff and all their children, two sons-in-law, and especially Michael’s granddaughter Angele came together from Granite City, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, along with Audrey and Ralph Markarian (Karen’s sister) and Raffi, Ara, and Mel. They were all together with many of their friends in the lobby after the games having pizza and wings…just visiting and hanging out with each other. That’s what Olympics is all about.”

There is another story about the 1957 Niagara Falls Olympics. This one is from Ned Apigian, who was a charter member of that chapter. He told of how the chapter was started in 1956. In their first year, a small group of Niagara Falls AYFers went to the Olympics in Philadelphia at the Belleville Stratford Hotel. He recalled making great friends from Providence and “never meeting such a bunch of great folks in one shot.” They had a wonderful time. They were so full of the AYF spirit that they insisted on hosting the Olympics the next year—and they did! There was not a hotel big enough in the city to host the Olympics, but there were plenty of motels, as Niagara Falls was a famed honeymoon venue in those days. The only way they could handle booking all of the rooms was to pre-pay and book the rooms in several of these motels. AYFers around the country had to call the committee, who then assigned them to rooms and collected their cash when they arrived. It was the only Olympics that Niagara Falls ever hosted. There is no longer even a chapter there. What a memory!

I also met a friend of my father’s, Dr. John Der Manuelian. My dad suggested I ask what his famous Olympic memory was. He had a great one. Dr. John was at the first ever AYF Olympics in 1934 in Brockton, Mass. That was pretty cool. I wish we had some film footage of that event.

Rich Berberian remembers the 1975 Olympics in Detroit. On Monday morning he climbed a street pole and took a sign that read, “AYF Blvd.” That sign hangs to this day in his basement. (I do believe this is safe to print as the statute of limitations has expired.) He also remembers the last of the great impromptu hook-ups at the Worcester Olympics in 1974. All the musicians stayed in one room and blew the roof off of the joint into the wee hours of the morning.

Joy Hoplamazian had a warm memory. She remembers when Heather Apigian Karafian ran the Alumni Mile one year pushing a jogging stroller with one of her daughters in it. She also remembers Michael Hagopian telling about her son Vahan swimming in the Detroit relay team during the New Jersey Olympics in 1999. She is quite proud that Vahan won seven gold medals all from swimming relays. Vahan’s proudest Olympic moment was carrying the banner for the Washinton “Anis” at the 2006 Olympics in Milwaukee.

Stepan Kanarian recalls the 1969 Providence Olympics at Brown University. John Asatrian, Providence, and Raffi Niziblian, New York, had an intense competition in the high jump. Quite a crowd assembled to watch these two stalwarts duel it out half inch by half inch.

Ara Topouzian emailed with the following reflection: “I have many AYF Olympic stories that will always be in my heart for the rest of my life. I grew up through the AYF and thus the Olympics were very much a part

Ara Topouzian sent in this photo

of my life. My parents, Armen (Utica) and Norma (Detroit) Topouzian, met at the 1948 Olympics in Syracuse. My father said it wasn’t until a few years later, when the Olympics were in Detroit (and he won several trophies), that my parents got to know each other. I also think the Syracuse Olympics was one of the first times that your father, Sonny, and my Uncle Haigas (Ike) met and became lifelong friends.”

“Both my parents were athletes and they instilled in their children the importance of the organization and participating in the Olympic Games. My actual participation was not memorable; I did participate and scratching from an event was not allowed. My first Olympics that I was told I attended were 1976 in Montreal, Canada. I have difficult remembering what I did yesterday, so I will have to take my parents’ word that I was there. For the next 15 years or so, I never missed an Olympic weekend. I was part of three Detroit Olympic planning committees. It was the 1979 New York Olympics I first recall, when my fairly new friend Alec Sarafian and I would run around Cosmo Stadium causing havoc and mayhem. Those were the days our parents didn’t worry about us as long as we checked in periodically. Olympic Balls in my teenage years were considered a sacred event. We rented tuxedos each year. I can’t picture anyone doing that now!”

“I have met some of my lifelong friends through the AYF and Olympic weekends. We almost always drove with the entire family and it was always the last hurrah before the dreaded school year began again. The memories I have are numerous, probably mostly only memorable to me. However, these are memories I still cherish and hope my children will be able to create their own in the near future.”

John Arzigian was a member of the Merrimack Valley “Armen Garo” Chapter. He remembers the Montreal Olympics in 1970. He was only 20 years old and remembers driving 5 15- and 16-year-old girls up and back. As he had the trust of their parents, he spent the weekend watching over and tending to the young ladies. Parents who were crazy protective of their daughters let them go with John simply because it was an AYF event…and John, of course, is such a good guy.

Olympic Queen and women’s high scorer Nancy Gavoor’s earliest Olympic memories was going to the track practices in 1961 at Mumford High School in Detroit (think “Beverly Hills Cop” and Eddie Murphy). She remembers watching Diana Aranosian Shoushanian, Detroit’s top runner, and being impressed. She told Diana, “Someday I want to be like you.” Nancy’s fondest memory as a participant was in 1978, when she won the women’s pentathlon and her cousin David won the men’s. It was more special to do it in front of their Dad’s and their mother, Grandma Gavoor.

Harry Derderian actually, independently, confirmed the above story from our anonymous contributor. He said almost the same thing. He loved being an athlete. He was honored to be named an Olympic King. But, really, his greatest moments were watching his children compete and earn points for their chapter. The 1994 Games in Providence stands out. His son Armen got a second in the pentathlon and anchored the last relay of the day that finally gave Detroit the victory over home-town Providence. Seeing his children and now, grandchildren, participate is most special.

Dottie Bengoian remembers being a teenager attending her first Olympics in Providence. She recalls seeing a handsome fellow in white track shorts that seemed to be everyone’s friend. They met again in 1989 at the Boston Olympics, fell in love, and were married.

I wonder how many couples met through the AYF and specifically at the Olympics?

Mary Garabedian of Bethesda, Md., also recalls the 1961 Detroit Olympics. It is where she met her husband Garo. They only lived 50 miles apart but went all the way to Detroit to meet…at an Olympics.

Ken Sarajian, New Jersey, remembers “when guys used to bring dumbegs, ouds, and clarinets and have impromptu hook-ups in rooms and hallways, which was more fun than the paid things they have today.”

Leo Vartanian and Leo Derderian fondly remembered stories about each other. Leo remembers the first year of Olympic swimming at the 1957 Niagara Falls games (that was one memorable Olympics!). The swimming took place in an outdoor pool and both Leos were on the Springfield relay team. Springfield was in the lead when Vartanian took the third leg. He did not use a swim racing dive; it was more like he was diving for sponges, that is to say he went straight down. As a result, Springfield was not in the lead when Derderian took to the water as the anchor. “He took off like a motor boat and we won the relay,” Vartanian says. Leo Derderian laughs to this day when he recalls Leo Vartanian’s dive. As Derderian was a few years younger than Vartanian, he remembers watching Vartanian run, and how, when he crossed the line he fell from exhaustion and everyone ran up to him. Leo Derderian assumed that Leo Vartanian had won and was inspired by the elder Leo’s feat to become a better athlete himself. Later he learned that Vartanian had not won at all and that everyone ran up to him out of concern more so than congratulations for winning.

Alec Sarafian, like his father in-law Harry Derderian, considers the Detroit victory in Providence in 1994 as his fondest Olympic memory. He also points out that Detroit has never lost a tug of war because the Detroit mothers made the best pilaf. (Because Detroit never lost, they discontinued the event.)

Kevork Kaprielian came to the Olympics from Montreal. He and his wife Nora met in the AYF. His first Olympics were the Providence games in 1969. He said it simply and correctly, “We have to get Canada back into these games.”

Dave Papazian of Philadelphia remembers attending the Worcester Olympics in 1974 as a 10-year-old. He remembers his uncle running around timing at the Saturday trials. That was the day he became hooked and wanted to be part of it, which he did, both as an athlete and later on the Governing Body. He still has the AYF glass beer mugs from that Olympics.

Dickran Haroian remembers enjoying watching Frank Nahigian, Watertown, and Tommy Tomassian, South Boston, run an epic mile against each other, during which Frank edged out Tommy at the finish line.

Judy Mardoian Gavoor recalls when her son Aram won medals in his first Olympics, and lovingly draped them on his grandfather Harold. When his sister, Armené, won her first medals, she did the same thing. The tradition continued with her nieces Melanie and Audrey. Judy also remembers her first Olympics dancing with…well…me!

Speaking of me? My parents met in the AYF. Judy and I met in the AYF. Some of my best friends are all from the AYF. I remember that when my son and daughter scored their first points in their first Olympics, they had more points than I ever got. I agree with Harry Derderian: It is something special watching one’s children compete.

This was a good fun little project. Thanks to everyone who shared their stories and memories.


Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

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