Home » HELMUT BANTZ, FROM THE PRISON CAMP TO THE OLYMPIC GLORY AT THE 1956 MELBOURNE GAMES – SportHistoria

HELMUT BANTZ, FROM THE PRISON CAMP TO THE OLYMPIC GLORY AT THE 1956 MELBOURNE GAMES – SportHistoria

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HELMUT BANTZ, FROM THE PRISON CAMP TO THE OLYMPIC GLORY AT THE 1956 MELBOURNE GAMES – SportHistoria

Helmut Bantz busy at the Parallels – da:dtb.de

Article by John Manenti

Since when, that is, come on Games of Paris 1924, the Olympic program of artistic gymnastics was enlarged – obviously only for the men’s sector, since for the women’s sector it will be necessary to wait until the Helsinki 1952 edition – also for the single apparatus specialties, Germany doesn’t have much way to celebrate the exploits of its representatives, except for the 1936 Berlin Games in which Gymnastics is one of the symbolic sports in which to bring out the superiority of the Aryan race, as also testified by the images of the Kolossal “Olympia” directed by Leni Riefenstahl …

Since the resumption of competitive activity, in fact – apart from one of the protagonists of the Berlin Show, that is Alfred Schwarzmann, who at the 1952 Helsinki Games still manages to seize the silver on the barre in spite of the now 40 springs – for Germany some small satisfaction comes only from Democratic Republic and mainly in the women’s field thanks almost exclusively to Karin Janzwho at the 1972 Munich Games won gold on vault and uneven parallels, as well as silver in the general and individual and team competitions and bronze on beam.

Review the one held in Bavaria, which also sees get on the highest step of the podium the East German Klaus Koste at Vaulting, curiously, it was precisely the specialty that had also seen the impromptu success of the protagonist of our current history, which, due to the vicissitudes that characterized it, certainly deserves to be told …

Helmut Bantz was born on September 14, 1921 in Speyer in the Palatinate as a boy he aspired to become a footballer, only to be convinced by his father to devote himself to gymnastics at the city club in which he held the position of president, so that after his first participation in the national championships at the beginning of February 1941, the young Helmut showed significant progress , so much that to excel in a triangular between Germany, Italy and Hungary in mid-March 1942 and then become German Champion.

But those are the years in which Sport fades into the background, so that Bantz too has to enlist to take part in the Second World War which, fortunately for him, is short-lived as, captured by the British, he is taken to a prison camp in the United Kingdomonly to be released, after hostilities ended, in 1948…

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Bantz, however, since Germany, like Japan, is excluded from participating in the London Olympics, takes the opportunity to obtain permission to coach (albeit unofficially…) the Great Britain Gymnastics Teamamong which Frank Turner and George Weedon stand out.

Despite receiving offers to continue coaching at English clubs, Bantz still hasn’t given up on the idea of ​​reaping success as an athlete, which is why he returns to Germany to prepare for the Helsinki 1952 Olympic event which sees him as the best of his team in the Individual General Competitionfinishing ninth with 113.25 points in a competition where the first eight positions are held by five Soviet and three Swiss gymnasts, so as to contribute to Germany’s fourth-place finish in the Team Trial…

The outcome of the Five Circles Review convinces the now 31-year-old Bantz that he can still have his say on an international level, while he has no rivals at home, making his the title of the General Competition in the following four yearsbut they will be the two crucial appointments – i.e. i World Championships in Rome 1954 and the Continental Exhibition in Frankfurt 1955 – to establish whether or not this hope can be supported by the results.

And, in fact, in the Italian capital Bantz demonstrates that only the Soviet champions are able to keep up with him, also by virtue of a regulation which, unlike what happens today – with the limitation of participation to only two athletes per nation to individual competitions – does not place this type of selection, which is why the eighth final place in the Individual General Competition sets it as “first among non-Soviets”, as representatives of the Kremlin occupy the top seven positions … !!

Aside from that, and after repeating fourth place with Germany in the Team Event – ​​just 1,300 points clear (671,550 to 670,250) of Switzerland, with the USSR as champions ahead of Japan – Bantz provides a convincing performance in the individual events , qualifying for the Finals of six on the Bar, Parallels and Vault, which see him on the podium in each of them, bronze on the Parallels, silver on the bars behind (19.700 to 19.400) the Soviet Valentin Muratov and then come close to the world title on Vault where, despite doing better than the Soviets, he is preceded (19.250 to 19.200) by the Czechoslovakian Leo Sotomik, for the only race that escapes the “battleship” Soviet.

Called to be confirmed the following year on the occasion of the European Championships – which, at the time, were worth as much as a World Cup, except for the Japanese who are starting to “build” the team that will dominate the scene for over a decade – Bantz finds a valid ally in teammate Adalbert Dickhut, who precedes (56.65 to 56.30) in completing the Podium in the Individual General Competitionwith the opposite result in the Vaulting exercise, the prerogative of the compatriot, while the now 34-year-old from the Palatinate takes the title on the Parallels, albeit on a par with the Soviet couple formed by Boris Shakhlin and Albert Azaryanrespectively first and second in the General Competition …

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Of course, the growth path, inversely proportional to the chronological age, may seem encouraging in view of the appointment made up of the Melbourne Games which take place at the beginning of December 1956but to think of being able to even get on the podium despite the presence of the Soviets and Japanese appears to be a little less than a titanic undertaking.

In any case, it is useless to think about it, in Sport you need to give your best and only at the end draw conclusions, so that on 3 December 1956 the Competition on the platforms of the “Festival Hall” of the Australian Metropolis lasting 5 days during which the performances of the gymnasts will be used for the awarding of medals, both for the individual and team general competition, as well as for the various specialties, as there are no individual finals …

Therefore, the scores obtained by Bantz – as for the other participants, for that matter – make up the relative Rankings and, once again, the 35-year-old German finds himself in the “curious” position of being the only one capable of worrying the Japanese-Soviet duopolycertified by the outcome of the General Competition in which, in an exciting “head to head“, the same resolves in favor of the reigning Olympic champion Viktor Chukarin, to precede the Japanese Takashi Ono by only 0.05 cents of a point (114.25 to 114.20).

Following, bronze for Yuri Tivovfourth position for Masao Takemoto and fifth for Muratov, so that the sixth place achieved by Bantz with his 112.90 points represents a sort ofmoral victory” among mere mortals, so much to be the only one outside the aforementioned axis to enter the top tenhaving put two other Soviets and as many Japanese behind them …

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A sort, therefore, of unequal struggle, confirmed, however obvious, by the Ranking of the Team Event, with the Soviet Union ahead of Japan by a measure (568.25 to 566.40) and Finland to take an unexpected bronze while the Germany concludes no better than fifth, also given the absence of the aforementioned Dickhut with which, perhaps, the aspirations for the podium would have been legitimate.

It now remains to evaluate the performance of the gymnasts on the individual apparatus they see Bantz record the eighth best score in the floor exercise (certainly not the house specialty …), and do even worse at the Horse with Handles (12th), Parallels (13th) and Rings, even 18th at the Rings …

All specialties that see the representatives of the Soviet Team triumph – Muratov in floor exercise, Shakhlin in pommel horse, Chukarin in parallel bars and Azaryan in rings – so that a sensational en plein is expected, prevented by the exceptional performance by Takashi Ono at the Bar, awarded with 19.60 (9.75 in the compulsory and even 9.85 in the free exercise …), with Bantz finishing in sixth position.

The outcome of only the Vaulting is still to be verified, at the end of which mandatory exercises the German is in the lead on a par with Muratov having obtained both 9.40 followed by another pair formed by Titov and Shakhlin with 9.35 so as to meet again for the umpteenth time “surrounded” by Soviet specialists …

Down to being able to get on the podium would represent a success – in all the other individual specialties the Swede William Thoresson alone had managed to win the silver in the Free Corpsalbeit on an equal footing with Chukarin and the Japanese Nobuyuki Ahara – but when Bantz’s free performance is evaluated 19.45 it is understood that the unthinkable can happen, so much so that only Muratov equals this score, so that the two share the highest step at the Medal Ceremony, with Titov winning the bronze.

Having managed at the age of 35 to reach the “Olympic glory”, represents for Helmut Bantz the right reward for an athlete who wanted to make a dream come true, not giving up on the advance of age …

As if to say, already in those days, that “nothing is impossible …” …

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