Shooting Sports USA | Los Angeles 1932 Olympics: On U.S. Soil, But Problems Develop

The following is an excerpt from the 1978 book Olympic Shooting, written by Col. Jim Crossman and published by the NRA.

1932 Los Angeles: On US soil, but problems arise (part 1)
From Colonel Jim Crossman

For United States shooters, the 1932 Olympics were tremendous advancement – there were shooting events! (There were no shooting events at the 1928 Amsterdam Games.)

It was true, there were major flaws:

  • There was only one rifle game, 30 shots with the .22 rifle.
  • There was only one pistol match, a duel with a great emphasis on speed, a strange exchange of fire for US shooters.
  • Strict enforcement of a new amateur rule kept most seasoned U.S. shooters off the team.
  • The Organizing Committee did not consult the Olympic Rifle Committee, the Olympic Pistol Committee, or any of the active and experienced Southern California shooters to make their arrangements.
  • The organizing committee built a range of 50 meters, which was not 50 meters long.
  • The shooters were supposed to shoot from the second floor of a wobbly wooden structure.

Still, 1932 was a big improvement over the black year 1928 – there was shooting! The constant efforts of the National Rifle Association and the United States Revolver Association over a period of years had finally paid off. The program wasn’t nearly as extensive as it was in 1924, but it was a step in the right direction.

You won’t hear much talk about American performance in the events of 1932. First, only three shooters were allowed in each event, a total of six. Second, Americans haven’t exactly covered themselves in fame – on the contrary. In the rifle event, the best we could do was sixth place, while in the handgun match we were only good for tenth place.

The main reason American shooters were badly portrayed was this new amateur Olympic rule. It practically eliminated all experienced US marksmen. The rule said that anyone who had ever participated in a game where cash prizes were awarded was considered a professional and was therefore not eligible for the Olympics. No, he didn’t have to win any money. No, the cash prize didn’t have to be of great value. No, he didn’t have to make a living from shooting. All he had to do was shoot in a single match where money was given out as a prize. And worse, the rule was retroactive and went back to the beginning of time. Things that Sagittarius had done innocently for years and were suddenly declared evil with a pure heart.

Competitive shooting is a sport for doers, not spectators, and there are no paid professional teams like in spectator sports. There were some people who made a living doing shooting exhibitions. Such great shooters as Chevalier Ira Paine, Ad and Plinky Topperwein, Cap Hardy, Annie Oakley, Herb Parsons, Ken and Blanch Beegle, Dot and Ernie Linde and several others who have entertained thousands of people with their tricks and fancy shootouts have been duly considered Classified professionals. Their fine shows, however, were intended for entertainment purposes and were not based on competition recordings. Although some of the tricksters made a living doing it, most were hired by one of the guns or ammunition companies to hold demonstrations using the company’s equipment as a promotional feature.

Apart from these few people, there were no American rifle and pistol shooters who made a career out of shooting. There just wasn’t that much money offered as a prize. We saw earlier that the winner of a 500 cash entry gun game received the grand total of $ 35 out of the $ 250 in the pot, with the rest of the batter spread across the top 50 spots. And not only the money winners were classified as professionals, but also all the other 450 shooters who were actually out of their own pockets.

The American Sagittarius was a bit confused by all of this, especially when he looked around and saw what was happening in other areas. At the equestrian events, the participants were virtually all military, as few civilians could afford the time or money to train for the event. All members of the US team were military, as was the case with the modern Pentathlon. There was no professional rule in the arts, and shooters watched in amazement as an advertising artist famous for his comic strip at the time won a silver medal for a drawing. The shooter did not object to the participation of the professional military or professional artist. Far from it – he was happy to see high profile competitors at the Games. It was just that the shooter failed to see why he who had tried but never made a nickel out of the shooting should be disqualified.

The shooter couldn’t believe he was classified as a pro, and from the first announcement to the end of the test drives, he wrote in disbelief to the National Rifle Association and the United States Revolver Association, “You don’t really mean what you’re saying, do you?” His confusion was pretty understandable, and although he eventually became convinced that the rule meant what it said, he could never understand the logic behind it.

While we were playing the game by exactly the new rules, it seemed that some other nations must have read from another book. The US team officials, experienced hands in the game, found many of the foreign shooters they knew personally or by reputation – and knew that they could not comply with the US interpretation of the amateur rule. Instead of making a fuss about it and possibly violating the shooting game, no protest was made and the matter was silently dropped. Fortunately, more sensible approaches to the problem were developed in later years, and the spirit of the Olympic amateur was retained while the details were adapted to the specifics of the shooting game.

Regardless of the merits of the new amateur rule, the rifle and pistol shooters of 1932 were selected among them. It was very difficult to find shooters with a lot of experience who could qualify, but eventually three shooters were selected for each event.

Prior to 1928, the previous Olympics had included a variety of shooting events, including rifle, pistol, and shotgun. The rifle and pistol activities usually involved matches with very different conditions, and it was possible to demonstrate skills on a wide variety of events. However, in 1932, despite the urge and recommendations of various shooting organizations that the games should include a well-rounded schedule of shooting events, only two games were selected, one for the rifle and one for the pistol.

Part 2 of our sneak peek at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics is coming soon. Be sure to subscribe to the free Insider newsletter for the latest updates.

Main Photo: The 1932 Summer Olympics logo in Los Angeles, California.

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