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He ran for glory in Paris Olympics

Marvin Rick, 95, ran the steeplechase in 1924 Games.

Marvin Rick is 95.

Abrupt crack of starter's pistol, swirl of energy as strong young bodies uncoil and spring forward, the hazards ahead, the looming leaps. . . .

Memories now, nothing more. His greatest race was run 72 years ago.

"We went to the Paris Olympics on a steamship called the America," he said. "Took us 13 days to get there. Wasn't the fun it might have been.

"The coaches wouldn't let us track and field people do any running on deck. Too much slant. They were afraid it would hurt our stride."

Rick ran the steeplechase, which is hard enough when horses do it with jockeys aboard at horse shows. For humans, it's an obstacle course.

"It's 2 miles or 3,000 meters," Rick said. "There are eight 3-foot fences interspaced with 14 water jumps, each of them 15-feet square."

The steeplechase will be run in the Atlanta Games, but it hasn't gotten much publicity. It didn't in Rick's 1924 Olympics, either. He won the New York City mile championship, but the steeplechase was his race.

He caught the train to Harvard, May 24, 1922, and took second in the qualifying heats, which got him a free ticket to Paris and a fitting for the official U.S. uniform: white trousers, blue jacket, straw hat.

The Americans lived in specially built cabins on the outskirts of Paris, six to a cabin. He never went into Paris.

"We just trained, and ate American food and drank American water; 60,000 gallons were shipped in. The coaches didn't trust the local water."

The steeplechase was run in two qualifying heats to pare down the number of entrants to a manageable final heat. Rick got second in both heats to advance to the finals, where he finished fourth.

After the Olympics he started having fun. With other Olympians, he was invited all over Europe for exhibitions.

"We started training less and eating more," he said. "In Germany we got served the local schnapps before the race. Whoosh."

Rick went back to Brooklyn, where he spent the first 40 years of his life, and tapered off the running but kept active in sports. "Whenever I gained 5 pounds, I would take it off," he said, with a stern glance at his visitor.

"I still exercise as much as I can," he said. He is in a wheelchair now and lives in the Carriage Inn, a retirement home on Bay Pines Boulevard. "My son brought me here, three months ago, after my wife died. We'd been living in California. My first wife died in 1950. This was my second wife.

"She was lying right beside me in bed. Breathing a little hard. And then all of a sudden she wasn't breathing at all. It was very sad. We'd been together a long time."

Rick attended Princeton University before the Olympics. "But my father decided I was having too good a time, so he took me out and sent me to another type of school: M.I.T."

As a civil engineer Rick worked on most of the tunnels leading out of Manhattan. He enlisted in World War II, was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, and stayed on in the service, doing civil engineering jobs all over the world. After 35 years he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Does he have any regrets, anything he wishes he could change in his long life?

Rick ponders, finally says, "I'd like to run that final heat of the Paris Olympics one more time. I would be a lot more aggressive in my approach to the water jumps."