It was the bronze medal for the high bar from the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. That's what everyone said. And it belonged to one of the P. E. teachers, Mr. Thom. They said it was on display in the P.E. office at Sun Valley Jr. High where he taught. If you got Mr. Thom for P.E. then you were in for some serious gymnastics from an Olympic medalist.
In 7th grade, I had 1st period P.E. Mr. Schorr was my teacher, but I got plenty of glimpses of Mr. Thom and a few of the medal in a window display near the Boys locker room. That first year was uneventful, except for the time Ernest Takimoto forgot to put his shorts on and came to attention in his tightie whities. We were all barely awake by the start of 1st period and Ernest paid the ultimate price.
My 8th grade year began with new teachers and...of course...Mr. Thom
The word gymnastics was enough to strike fear into my 13 year old self, but when coupled with the thought of Mr. Thom, it became sheer terror. I wasn't the gymnastics type. I could catch a fly ball with the best of them, but turning flips or climbing the rope, or what were called "C-circles" on the high bar...I had nothin'.
And then there was Mr. Thom's physical presence. He had the biggest thighs I'd ever seen. Massive, and they gleamed like his bronze skin. Mr. Thom was Filipino, spoke with a little accent, and grinned broadly whenever he spoke his name. Despite the angst, it wasn't so bad. We all had to "skin the cat" which was the term for jumping up on the high bar and with him spotting us, turn an under flip and then dismount. I always wondered what went through his mind as each one of us dutifully went through the motions. Somehow, he got me over the hump. I landed on my feet after a complete loop and was ready to retire from gymnastics...forever. I didn't need a medal.
Years later I've thought of that bronze medal sitting in the display case in the P.E. office. When I tried an Internet search for any details...I again got nothin'. Except for the fact that no bronze was awarded in 1952, I couldn't find his name anywhere.
So just what was that displayed so prominently for all those middle school athletes to admire? Urban folklore? Perhaps. Just another mystery to let go of if I choose.
But those thighs were real. I still see them in his bright red-orange trunks.."I am Mr. Thom..."