By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
The whole world is watching the Olympic Summer Games from London this week, but they won’t see any athletes from the Garden Grove area.
Although the Big Strawberry may not have any representatives (as far as we know) up on the winner’s platforms, over the years Garden Grove has sent quite a few to the world’s top sports stage.
Here’s a brief look at some of the sportsmen and women who competed for the United States and reflected a little glory to the old hometown.
• Gary Hall, Sr. A graduate of Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove, he won three Olympic medals in swimming. He grabbed a silver in the 400-meter medley in Mexico City in 1968, a silver in Munich in 1972 in the 200-meter butterfly and took a bronze in the 100-meter butterfly in Montreal in 1976.
Now a resident of Florida, he is also known as the father of Gary Hall, Jr., who won gold medals at Olympics in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
• Mary Decker. A teen sensation when she lived in Garden Grove in the Seventies and Eighties, she is also one of the great tragic figures in the world of sport. A world class runner before she was out of middle school, she seemed to be destined for a shower of gold medals when she was finally old enough for the Olympics.
By 1974 she was the world record holder for 1000 meters, 880 yards and 800 meters. Injuries slowed her down, but she came back big. In 1982 she set six world records and was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine.
After taking gold twice in the 1983 World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland (1500 meters and 3000 meters), she was the heavy favorite to win a gold medal in the latter event at the Olympics in Los Angeles.
However, there was a collision between her and South Africa’s Zola Budd, and Decker fell to the ground. Initially, Decker blamed the mishap on Budd (who was briefly disqualified) but in later years admitted that her inexperience in being in a crowded back of runners was the biggest factor.
The image of a tearful, fallen Decker is the one most people remember. The rest of her career was marked by other disappointments and setbacks. She qualified for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but failed to win a medal. At age 37, she qualified for the 1996 games in Atlanta (in the 5000-meter race) but was sidelined by what appears to be false positive on a hormonal test.
Now Mary Decker Slaney, she has been retired from competitive running since 1999 and lives with her husband in the Eugene, Oregon area.
• Ed Carruthers attended Bolsa Grande High School and later worked as a physical education instructor for the Garden Grove Unified School District. He competed in the high jump, placing eighth in the 1964 games in Tokyo and winning silver in the 1968 games in Mexico City.
He was one of the last jumpers to compete in the “old style” before Dick Fosbury’s “flop” approach changed the sport.
• Michelle Dusserre and Pam Bileck both attended Pacifica High School in Garden Grove and were on the 1984 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team which won a silver medal in Los Angeles.
They also both trained at the SCATS (Southern California Acro Team) gym in Huntington Beach. After her athletic career ended in 1987, she enrolled at Arizona State University. “Pammy” was graduated from UCLA and at last report, works at Disneyland.
• Amanda Freed was a star pitcher for the Pacifica High School softball team that won the mythical national prep title in 1997. She won honors as the tops in her sport at the state and national level. She was twice MVP of the Garden Grove League and four times all-league.
She attended UCLA, where she led the Bruins to the NCAA title in 2000, striking out batters in the championship game. Freed was an alternate for the U.S. Olympic softball team that year, and a member of the 2004 team which won the gold medal in Atlanta.
Since then, Freed played professional softball with the Texas (later Rockford) Thunder of the National Pro Fastpitch league from 2005-8. She also coached at the University of Virginia.
• Mesinee “May” Mangkalakiri was on the U.S. Olympic badminton team in 2008.
• Vicki Toutz, a long-time physical education teacher and coach at Garden Grove High School, coached the U.S. badminton team in the 1992 games in Barcelona.
• Leah O’Brien-Amico, who played softball for the USA in Athens in 2004, was born in Garden Grove. The team won the gold.
• Andy Read, a Garden Grove resident, is a scout coach for the U.S. men’s volleyball team competing now in London.
Did we leave anyone out? Let us know at email@example.com.