Memories made as Olympic Athletes

This week I would like to share two stories that are the result of this project.

Barbara Tutelian is an old friend and a Boston Siamanto alumna. As with many of my AYF friends, I am not sure when and how we first met. I am sure it was at an AYF event. It is like we have known each other forever.

After the first article of July 15th in this series, I posted the link on Facebook encouraging folks to forward their favorite AYF Olympic photos and memories. Barbara was the first person I heard from. She texted that she would look for some photos. On the last day of July, she sent me some photos and a brief description of a classic Olympic memory. 

Let’s dial it back to 1968; the Olympics were to take place in Washington, DC that year. The Siamantos had adopted a policy of having all members participate. They were trying to build a team that would rival Providence, the Olympic powerhouse of that era. Barbara had never participated, but the fellows behind the policy, the likes of Leo Kededjian and Ken Hachikian, basically told her that she should play golf. They anticipated only four entrants on the women’s side, so Barbara would be guaranteed to earn at least one point for herself and her chapter.  

Ken took her to the golf course a few times to practice. After the second outing, Ken suggested that she go to the driving range a few times and that “She would be OK.” She said, “I really didn’t enjoy it. The only part of it I liked was the putting.” It seemed that Barbara experienced the “joys” of golf that so many others have experienced.  

When the day finally came, there was indeed only a foursome paying. Barbara recalled: 

Can you believe that we played at the Congressional Golf Course? The guys teed off in the afternoon, and the ladies played after them. We had to stop our round as it became dark. We gave our scores and, lo and behold, I was able to receive my first place and very proud to contribute five points to our team’s score. When the bus pulled up to the hotel, the guys were waiting and curious who won. They expected my sister Jeannie to win. They were surprised that it was me!”

I went on to compete in the only Olympics outside of the US. That was in 1970 and beautifully hosted by the Montreal Levon Shant Chapter. In 1971, the Boston Siamantos, my chapter hosted the Olympics. In 1972, I was able to participate in the first Olympics on the West Coast hosted by the Los Angeles Musa Dagh Chapter.  

In competing, the AYF Olympic weekends were so much more meaningful. I encourage every member to participate in athletics along with the great social events. Being part of the entire Olympic experience gave me more enthusiasm for all our chapter gatherings during the rest of the year.

The AYF has grown in so many ways. I hope it never stops. I am so lucky to have my medals, memories, and most of all my AYF friends around the country. We are planning to have a Zoom call for Friday August 28th… which would have been Alumni Night.

Barbara won four medals in total scoring 11 points for her beloved Siamantos. She won the gold medal in Washington and then took bronze in Montreal, Boston and Los Angeles.

In last week’s article, “AYF Olympics Rewind:  The Central Athletic Council’s Video Project,” we published a photo with the caption “1961 Olympic King Armen Topouzian.”

Shortly after the online publication, I got a text from another old friend, Deneb Karentz. I have known Deneb as long as I have known Barbara. Her text read, “I have a message for you from my father.”

In an exchange of texts, I learned the photo was erroneously labeled. It was not the 1961 Olympics but rather the 1953 Olympics in Worcester. Also, the fellow being crowned as King that year was not Armen Topouzian but rather Vartkes Giragosian of New York. It was the second awarding of an Olympic King.  The fellow shaking Vartkes’ hand in the photo is Deneb’s father Varoujan Karentz. Deneb further explained, “My father was captain of the winning team from the previous year (Providence), and for the opening ceremonies he ran in with the torch and handed to the King who lit the ‘eternal’ flame.” 

I would have known this had I blown up the lower left-hand corner of the photo and read the text block there. It is unclear how the photo got mislabeled, but I am glad this is cleared up.  

Varoujan Karentz, 92, was crowned an Olympic King in Providence in 2015. He has also written a piece for the Special Olympic Issue of the Armenian Weekly which will be published this coming Labor Day Weekend. Also in the photo are Olympic Queen Suzanne Merian Arzoian behind the Detroit M-Z banner and Olympic King Buddy Gavoor behind the Watertown banner. 

Please keep your stories and photos coming. Forward them to editor@armenianweekly.com.

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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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