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George Stanich won a bronze medal in the 1948 games for Team USA, but he almost didn't make it. Stanich came from humble beginnings and was being raised in a single-parent household. Lolita Lopez reports from Gardena for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on August 7, 2012.
Six decades after competing in the 1948 London Olympics, George Stanich of Gardena clearly remembers the details.
“In the rain it was mud and slop,” said Stanich.
Stanich was a 19-year-old farm boy from Northern California in 1948 when he qualified for team USA as high jumper. He won the bronze medal.
“To be the best in our country, (was) unbelievable, unbelievable,” said Stanich.
Reared by a single mother from Croatia, the challenges presented by sports could not compare to the challenges he faced at home. Even after he made the team, he didn’t know how he was going to get to London.
“I says, ‘I can’t go’ -- honest to gosh because I had a summer construction job,” said Stanich. “Without that job I wouldn’t have got through school the next year.”
He received a scholarship from a local club and embarked on a seven-day trip from New York City to London, a city that was facing its own resurgence after having recently emerged from World War II.
“Over there, sports was just starting up again. I was in seventh heaven. Not a dime in my pocket and I’m living high on a hog,” he recalled with a laugh.
After winning the bronze medal in the high jump, Stanich returned to finish his schooling at UCLA and became the first All-American basketball player under legendary coach John Wooden.
He played minor league baseball before dedicating himself to teaching the skills he had been taught. For nearly 40-years, he worked as a coach and teacher at the local college near his Gardena home, El Camino College.
Stanich credited sports for getting him through the tough times of his childhood.
“What it did for me, sports made me an equal to every other human being,” he said choking back tears. “You don’t have food. You don’t have clothes. You may be the best athlete but you go to the banquets and you dress different."
“Hard work makes you a better person, all those knock and this is how we feel," Valerie, his wife of 60-years said.