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 »  Home  »  People  »  Helen Crlenkovich renowned Croatian - American springboard diver
Helen Crlenkovich renowned Croatian - American springboard diver
By Dr. Ante Čuvalo | Published  10/13/2008 | Sports , People | Unrated
Croatian-American's fantastic athletic career



 

 



 

HELEN CRLENKOVICH (1921.-1955.)

Slavna američka skakačica u vodu s daske

Ovoljetošnje Olimpijske igre svi smo rado gledali.  Divili smo se čarobnim izvedbama kod otvaranja i zatvaranja igara u Pekingu.  Nešto takvo može se dogoditi samo u zemlji s toliko milijuna ljudi i gdje vlada politički sustav po kojem svi moraju "plesati" kako vrh dirigira!  Ali pravo naše divljenje ide športašima koji su godinama, iz dana u dan, uvježbavali svoje vještine i dospjeli do svjetskih vrhunaca.

Hrvati, ne samo u domovini, nego i u svijetu dosezali su i dosežu među najbolje u športu.  Više puta su zapisani pod imenima drugih država i političkih tvorevina, ali su ipak Hrvati, a njihovi uspjesi idu na čast narodu iz kojeg potječu.

Tako je jedna od najuspješnijih u Americi i u svijetu u skakanju u vodu s 3-metarske daske i 10 metara visoke skakaonice bila američka Hrvatica Helen Crlenkovich, od milja zvana "Klinky".  O njoj, vjerujem, dosad niste čuli (ili vrlo malo), pa evo nekoliko crtica o toj slavnoj američkoj športasici hrvatskog podrijetla i njezinoj obitelji.

Helen je rođena 14. lipnja 1921. u Columbusu, Ohio, od oca Adama Crljenkovića i majke Anke Tomin.  Adam je rođen u Banićevcu, a stigao je na Ellis Island 18. rujna 1912., kad mu je bilo 17 godina.  Njezina majka, Anka Tomin iz Petrijevaca, doplovila je na Ellis Island 27. kolovoza 1913., kad joj je bilo 16 godina.  Anka je došla u Ameriku sa svojim ocem Josipom (tada je imao 43 godine).  Je li joj je otac bio udovac ili ne, već je zaboravljeno, ali znamo da je Ankin brat ostao u rodnom mjestu i ona ga je posjetila 1960-tih godina.

Početkom 1930-tih, u vrijeme Velike depresije, obitelj je jedno vrijeme živjela u državi New York.  Ne zna se točno što se dogodilo, ali Anka i njezine dvije kćerke (Katharine/Kay i Helen) dolaze u Cold Springs pokraj Syracuse. Tu je Anka imala tkzv. "boarding house", kuće u kojima je živjelo i hranilo se po više ljudi, uglavnom radnika samaca.

Mlađu kćerku, Helen, od djetinjstva je vukla želja postati plivačica,  što joj je postalo ideal.  Majka Anka je to ne samo prihvatila, nego je bila  spremna na sve žrtve da bi kćerkici ispunila snove.  Tako Anka sa svojom dvanaestogodišnjom Helen seli u San Francisco da bi joj priuštila potrebne vježbe u tad najpoznatijem plivačkom bazenu u Americi, "Fairmont Plunge" koji se nalazio u isto tako famoznom Fairmont hotelu. 

Helen je trenirao veliki stručnjak tog vremena, Phil Patterson.  Anka je čak stariju kćerku Kay nekoliko godina ostavila u "boarding school" (škola sa dječjim domom) u državi New York, kako bi se što bolje mogla posvetiti mlađoj Helen.  Usput, Kay je kasnije došla za majkom i sestrom u Kialiforniju i udala se za Dona Petersona, poznatog igrača vaterpola.  Ankine odluke i napori nisu bili laki, ali se sve, ipak, okrenulo na dobro.

Po učlanjenju u "Fairmont Plunge" Helen je počela trenirati plivanje, ali je trener ubrzo prepoznao da je njezin pravi talenat skaknje u vodu i na njegov nagovor počinje trenirati skakanje.  Uz svakodnevne naporne treninge, Helen također završava srednju školu u Mission High School-u, San Francisco, te pohađa City College u istom gradu. Školovanje je nastavila  na University of California u Berkeley-u.  Uz sve to, da bi se živjelo i preživjelo, morala je raditi.  U ta vremena športaši su bili pravi amateri te nisu dobivali nikava prihoda od športa ili imali sponzore.  Helen je uglavnom radila na recepciji hotela Fairmont te se bavila fotografiranjem i tako sastavljala kraj s krajem.  Uz sve napore Helen je bila odličan đak i student.  Njezini životni ciljevi bili su visoki, volja za ostvarenjem tih ciljeva je bila veoma jaka, a uspjesi nisu izostali.

Da bismo mogli predočiti pravu sliku ove mlade djevojke, treba napomenuti da je, uz trening, studije i posao, Helen krčila nove putove ženskom rodu.  Naime, dok je pohađala City College, prijavila se u pilotsu školu, a državna agencija za civilno zrakoplovstvo primila je ovu mladu i odvažnu djevojku za pilotskog pripravnika.  Bila je jedina žena u skupini studenata.  S podukom je počela koncem 1939., a pilotska dozvola joj je izdana 17. siječnja 1941. 

Svi koji su poznavali Helen opisuju je kao ljubeznu i poniznu djevojku i ženu, ali punu života, samopouzdanja i optimizma.  Očito, bila je sposobna i hrabra cura koja je vjerovala da žene mogu postići sve kao i muškarci ako im se dadne prigoda.  Ali Helen nije čekala da joj se prigode dadnu, nego ih je sama stvarala, te sama je zacrtavala i ostvarivala, uz naporan rad, svoje životne ciljeve.

Od 1935. pa nadalje Helen je sudjelovala na mnogim natjecanjima u plivanju i skakanju u vodu.  Stalno se nalazila među pobjdenicima, a ponajviše na prvom mjestu, posebice u skakanju.

Njezine najbolje godine u skakanju u vodu otpočele su koncem 1930-tih.  Postala je najbolja, ne samo američka, nego i svjetska skakačica.  Bila je prva žena skakačica koja je izvodila jedan i pol preokret u skoku (a full-twisting 1 1/2 somersault) i nekoliko drugih tzv. muških skokova.  Bila je odabrana u američki olimpijski tim za 12. Olimpijske igre 1940. i računalo se da će zasigurno osvojiti barem dvije zlatne medalje. No, zbog rata, Olimpijada nije održana.  Radi istog razloga preskočena je i Olimpijada 1944. i, nažalost, Helen je ostala bez zlatnih medalja.  Unatoč tome, bila je proslavljena kraljica skakanja u vodu tog vremena.  Rat je potisnuo u stranu sve športske djelatnosti, pa se i Helen dala na domoljubne aktivnosti.  Nekako u to vrijeme udala se za časnika američke mornarice Roberta (Boba) Drew Morgana, rodom iz okolice Chicaga.  Ali 1945. se ponovo vraća omiljenom športu i osvaja prvo mjesto u Americi u skakanju u vodu sa 3 i 10 metara visine.

Poslije tih pobjeda Helen je postala profesionalka.  Između ostalog, radila je i za poznatu filmsku tvrtku "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio" i pojavljivala se u mnogim filmovima, posebice onima s Esther Williams.  Njezin suprug Bob se takodjer pojavljivao u raznim filmovima ili kao kaskader/stuntman ili glumac s manjim ulogama.  Helenini športski uspjesi donijeli su joj velika priznanja, uključujući i mjesto u Međunarodnoj kući slavnih u plivanju (The International Swimming Hall of Fame) u Fort Lauderdale u Floridi, kao i u Helms Foundation Diving Hall of Fame u Kaliforniji.  U rujnu ove godine (2008.) Svjetski akrobatski kongres na svom godišnjem kongresu u Las Vegasu dodijelio joj je posmrtno priznanje za životne uspjehe.

Zanimljivo je da je poznati umjetnik Diego Rivera u kompoziciju svoje freske "Pan američko jedinstvo" u San Franciscu na dva mjesta uvrstio i Helen Crlenkovich.  Oslikao ju je u skoku u vodu, kao metaforu između vremena i prostora.

Nažalost, Helen se morala prerano susresti sa smrću.  Umrla je 19. srpnja 1955. u Burbanku, Kalifornija, od bolesti raka.  Imala je samo 34 godine.

Helen i suprug Bob imali su jedno dijete, kćerku Bari.  Kćerka je odrasla sa ocem i maćehom, poznatom glumicom Yvonne DeCarlo.  Diplomirala je kazališne umjetnosti i dramu na sveučilištu San Jose State University.  Slijedeći majčin primjer, ona se također natjecala u skokovima u vodu, ali joj to nije bio pravi poziv u životu.  Ipak je naslijedila majčinu ljubav za fotografiju te je postigla zavidan uspjeh na tom polju.  Bari je danas poznata fotografkinja, "Santa Cruz Follies", te uspješna supruga, majka i baka.  Njezin muž, Jerry Miller, piše programe za računala, ali kad dođe do tehnologije, on je njezina desna ruka u produkciji "Santa Cruz Fallies."

Zamjetiti je da je Helenin trener, Phil Patterson, uporno nagovarao ovu maldu američku Hrvaticu da promijeni prezime u neko milozvučnije za američko uho, jer da s tako "čudnim" prezimenom kao Crlenkovich neće postići željene uspjhe.  (Usput, njegovo orginalno prezime je bilo nešto drugo!)  Ali Helen je još upornije odbijala taj prijedlog jer je bila ponosna na svoje hrvatsko podrijetlo.  I ta činjenica nam svjedoči o njezinu čvrstu karakteru.

Helen Crlenkovich (Crljenković) spada među zvijezde američkog i svjetskog športa, kao i u zvijezde povijesti Hrvata u Americi.  Njezin život nije bio lak ni dug, ali je zasjala kao zvijezda repatica čiji se tragovi vide i danas.  I nedavno joj odano priznanje u Las Vegasu je znak da je i danas uzor.  Svojim discipliniranim radom i životom, čvrstim karakterom i idealima danas je inspiracija za mlade koji streme prema visinama.  Ona može posebno biti nadahnuće mladim Hrvaticama i Hrvatima u Americi, kao i u Hrvatskoj, da treba ne samo sanjati ili čak sanjariti o sreći, nego uporno, radišno, strpljivo, poštenim radom uzdizati se prema ljudskim visinama na dobro sebi i drugima.

Zahvaljujem Heleninoj kćerki Bari za pomoć u prikupljanju podataka o njezinoj majci. Veseli me što čuva uspomene na svoju majku, koju je izgubila u ranom djetinjstvu, i na svoje hrvatsko podrijetlo.

Ante Čuvalo - Chicago





 

HELEN CRLENKOVICH (1921-1955)

Renowned Awards-winning Springboard Diver

We all viewed this past summer' Olympic Games eagerly.  We stood in awe of the charming presentations at the opening and closing ceremonies.  A manifestation such as that can only take place in a land overflowing with hundreds of millions of citizens and in a land with a political system wherein all must "dance" to the tune set by their political leaders.  Nonetheless, our true sense of awe must go to the athletes who, day in and day out, year after year, perfected their talents and managed to achieve the pinnacle of success.

Croatians, both in the homeland, as well as those throughout the world have ranked and continue to rank among the best in sports.  All too often, they are listed among the athletes of other nations, including those that one time or another occupied Croatian lands, nonetheless, their successes do honor to the people from which they come.

One of the most successful athletes in America and the world on the three-meter springboard and the ten-meter platform was an American-born Croatian named Helen Crlenkovich, or, as she was lovingly known, "Klinky." More than likely you have never heard of Helen "Klinky" Crlenkovich, or else, if you did, you know precious little about her.  What follows are but a few highlights of this Croatian-American's fantastic athletic career.

Helen was born on the 14th of June, 1921 in Columbus, Ohio.  Her father was Adam Crljenković and her mother was Anka/Ana Tomin.  Adam was born in Banićevac, Croatia and arrived at Ellis Island on the18th of July, 1912, when he was only 17 years old.  Her mother Ana Tomin was born in Petrijevci, Croatia and arrived in America along with her father, Josip/Joseph, who was 43 years old at the time.  Whether or not her father was a widower at the time, has long since been lost to memory.  Meanwhile, we do know that Ana's brother remained behind in his place of birth.  Ana visited her brother sometime in the 60's.

In the early 1930's, during the time of the Great Depression, the Crljenković family lived for a time in New York state.  It isn't quite sure when or for what reason, but Ana and her two daughters, Katharine (Kay), and Helen, moved to Cold Springs, near Syracuse, New York.  Ana set up a boarding-house to take in boarders providing them with room and board as was quite customary at the time.

From early on, the desire to swim drew young Helen. This became her ideal and goal in life.  Her mother Ana not only approved of this goal, but did all she could to foster it, regardless of the sacrifices required.  She wanted to help her younger daughter to fulfill her dreams.  With that in mind, Ana set out for San Francisco with her 12 year old daughter to capture that dream.  She wanted Helen to have the opportunity to partake of the very prestigious "Fairmont Plunge," an indoor swimming pool, in the equally famous Fairmont Hotel. 

Phil Patterson, a most-renowned swimming coach of the time, became her trainer.  In order to make Helen’s dream possible, Ana left behind her daughter Kay in a boarding school in New York state so that she could devote full time to her daughter's swimming career.  Sometime later, Kay arrived in California to be with her mother and sister.  In time, Kay married Don Peterson, a noted water polo athlete. Despite the fact that Ana’s efforts were not realized with ease or free of sacrifices, she, nonetheless, turned those efforts to a magnificent success.

With her acceptance as a participant in the "Fairmont Plunge," Helen began to train for her swimming career.  Early on, her trainer urged her to take on diving as a career.  Along with her daily routine and practice, Helen successfully completed her schooling at Mission High School, in San Francisco.  She went on to the City College, and subsequently finished her schooling at the University of California at Berkeley.  Of course, Helen had to work throughout her schooling in order to survive.  At that time, athletes were true amateurs and, as such, did not receive any sort of stipends or collateral earnings as sports figures, nor did she have any "sponsors" as is the case today.  She worked quite a while at the reception desk of the Fairmont and also did photography so as to earn the money necessary to further her career.  Despite the time devoted to work, Helen, nonetheless, remained an exemplary student.  The goals she set for her life were high, her will and desire to achieve those goals were equally high, and her successes, as a result, did not lag behind.

In order for us to get a full and true picture of this young woman, it is necessary that we mention that along with her training, scholastic career, and her working, Helen also managed to forge new pathways for her feminine gender as well.  While attending City College, Helen applied for pilot training.  She was accepted by the Civilian Aeronautics Commission as a pilot-in-training.  What is especially noteworthy, Helen was the only women in that program.  She began her pilot training at the end of 1939, and by the 17th of January, 1941, she received her pilot's license.

All who knew Helen describe her as a beautiful, loving, and humble young woman and wife - one who was filled with the love of life, who was self-confident, and filled with overflowing optimism.  Clearly, she was a capable and brave young girl who was convinced that women can achieve all that a man can if given the chance.  Our Helen did not wait for someone to offer her the chance - he created and grasped the chance herself.  She also charted her own course and managed to achieve, through great effort and energy on her part, all of her life’s goals.

From 1935 onward, Helen partook of many swimming contests, especially in the ten-meter platform and the 3-meter springboard diving.  Her best years in such events began in the late 1930's.  She not only became the best American, but also the world springboard and platform diving champion.  She was the first female to do a full-twisting 1 1/2 somersault and several other dives that were heretofore only achieved by men.  Helen was chosen to represent America in the 1940 Olympic Games.  All concerned felt that Helen would achieve two gold medals as a minimum.  However, because of the onset of the Second World War, the games were cancelled.  For the same reason, the 1944 Olympic Games were also cancelled.  Sadly, Helen missed out on what would have been certain gold medals because of the circumstance of war.  Despite this, she was seen as the Queen of springboard diving, nonetheless.  The war suppressed all sorts of sports activities, and Helen, along with countless others, gave herself to the war effort.  During this period of time, Helen married an American naval officer, Robert Drew Morgan, who was born in Mt. Carmel, Illinois.  Helen was able to return to her beloved sport in 1945 and ended up winning first place in the American three and ten meter diving competition.

Following this success, Helen turned professional. Among other accomplishments, Helen was noted for her appearance in many Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer “swimming” films - especially those of the screen darling of the time, Ester Williams.  Helen was William’s double in many of the springboard dives, most notably in films such as "Neptune's Daughter," "Million Dollar Mermaid," and the 55 foot dive from a helicopter into a 'V' formation of water skiers in "Easy to Love."  She swam the underwater scene for Jane Russell’s dive in “Jungle Jim.”  She also performed with Larry Crosby and Buster Crabbe Aquacades.  Her husband Bob also appeared in a number of films either as a stuntman or actor in minor roles.  Helen's successes brought her much fame and recognition, including being enrolled in the International Swimming Hall of Fame located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  She was also honored by being inducted into the Helms Foundation Diving Hall of Fame in California.  This past September, Helen received post-mortem recognition by the World Acrobatic Congress held in Las Vegas for her life achievements in swimming and diving.

An interesting note as regards Helen Crlenkovich’s fame is the honor paid to her by the great muralist, Diego Rivera, in his composition titled "Pan-American Unity" located in San Francisco.  Rivera used Helen's image as a representation and metaphor for "time and space."

Sad to say, Helen was called to Eternity all too soon.  She was but 34 years old when she died on the 19th of July, 1955, in Burbank, California.  She died of cancer.

Helen and Bob had one child, a daughter they named Bari.  Her daughter grew up in the care of her father and her step mother, Yvonne DeCarlo.  Bari went on to get her degree in classical art and drama at San Jose State University.  She too, like her mother, took up diving, but it was not her true call in life; however, she did inherit her mother’s love for photography, and, like her mother, she achieved an enviable degree of success in her field.  Today, Bari is a photographer of note, the director and choreographer of the "Santa Cruz Follies." Not least of her accomplishments is the fact that she is also a wife, mother, and grandmother.  Bari’s husband is a computer programmer who turns out to be her right hand man when it comes to the technological needs of her productions.

An interesting note as regards Helen is the fact that her trainer, Phil Patterson, insistently urged this young Croatian-American woman to change her name to something that is "more suitable." He told Helen that with a name like Crlenkovich, she will not achieve any hoped-for success. (In the meantime, he should talk - his original name was quite something else!)  Nonetheless, Helen, just as insistently, rejected his suggestion because she was proud of her Croatian name and heritage.  This fact speaks volumes as to the strength of her character.

Helen Crlenkovich (Crljenković) must be seen as being one of the shining stars of the American sports scene as well as a shining and exemplary star in the history of Croatians in America.  Even as recently as last September, she was honored in Las Vegas as an example of a sports woman for today.  By virtue of her disciplined work ethic, strength of character, and high ideals, she is, even today, an inspiration for youth who seek Olympic heights in sports.  Helen Crlenkovich stands to serve as a special inspiration to young Croatians in America as well as in her parents' native Croatia.  She stands as a reminder that they must not only dream of success, but must diligently, laboriously, and with honest effort rise to the heights human beings are capable of achieving - for their own good and that of others.  The above is but a short list of Helen Crlenkovich's many accomplishments and successes in the field of diving.

I am most grateful to Helen's daughter, Bari, for the help she gave me in gathering facts about her mother.  I am especially joyful over the fact that Bari cherishes and preserves the memories of her mother whom she lost all too early in life, and for her pride in her Croatian heritage.

Ante Čuvalo - Chicago


Translated from Croatian by Duško Čondić - Chicago

Formated for CROWN by prof.dr. Darko Žubrinić
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  • Comment #1 (Posted by Geoff St. Andrews)

    It wasn't Jane Russell that Helen dived for; it was Virginia Grey.

    Cheers!
     
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