Richard Hyatt: An Olympic boxer with the gift of gab

July 26, 2012 

Pete Rademacher had the jab of a fighter and the gab of a salesman.

He's 87 now and still near his fighting weight. As a 28-year-old lieutenant at Fort Benning, he won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics and was honored to carry the American Flag into the closing ceremony.

"They chose me because of the way I cut my hair," he said, laughing.

Shooters at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning have been preparing for months for the London Olympics, but Rademacher never saw the Olympic experience coming.

His amateur record was 72-7, but he had promised his wife he would quit boxing when he became an Infantry officer in 1954. Plans changed when his superiors found out about his past.

For a while, Rademacher trained secretly at gyms on post, but his workouts were a secret no more when his wife overheard a conversation at the Officer's Club. She relented, and he began his march to the Olympics.

In Melbourne, Australia, he scored three knockouts, the highlight being a KO of a Russian heavyweight at a time that the Cold War was at its hottest.

A gold medal could have been the final chapter in his story, but Rademacher was about to prove he knew as much about self-promotion as he did self-defense.

With help from Columbus entrepreneur Mike Jennings, he talked himself into a fight with Floyd Patterson -- the heavyweight champion of the world. Money did most of the persuading. Local backers guaranteed Patterson $250,000.

Rademacher was an Olympic champion and had been in more fights than Patterson, but he was used to four-round bouts. Only logic and reason weren't important. This was about romance and miracles.

Resigning his commission, Rademacher set up camp outside of Columbus. People who never had seen a boxing ring flocked into the facility and believed they were watching the next heavyweight champ.

Though supremely confident, Rademacher wasn't wearing blinders. "He's as naïve as a cocked pistol," a Sports Illustrated article said.

The fight was in Seattle on Aug. 22, 1957. Since there was no radio or TV coverage, fans gathered outside the Ledger-Enquirer, where round-by-round results were posted. When Rademacher knocked the champion down in the second round, locals figured dreams could come true.

Then Patterson's quick hands delivered doses of pain and reality. He put Rademacher down seven times and knocked him out in the sixth round.

Rademacher has lived in Medina, Ohio, since 1962. He regrets that Olympic boxing has lost its luster. He talks more about the gasoline-powered unicycle he rides on special occasions than he does the night he made history.

"I've ridden it in 107 parades over the past 20 years," he said.

Several years ago, he offered a glimpse of a big man with a big punch and a big mouth when he mentioned knocking Patterson down. "Getting up was the biggest mistake Floyd ever made. Just think what the rematch would have made."

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at richardhyattcolumbus.com.

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