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Frank Spellman, America's Oldest Olympic Gold Medal Lifter, Passes at 94

Shapes Carl Miller’s Career

Frank Spellman introduced Carl Miller to Olympic weightlifting at 13. I only saw Spellman lift once—in a World Championship Trials in California in the late ‘50s—but Carl has been talking about him non-stop since moving to New Mexico in the late ‘60s after his stint in the Peace Corps.

Spellman won a Gold Medal in weightlifting at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Lifting in the 165 pound class, he had a perfect day making all nine lifts: 245, 253 and 259 in the military press—248, 259 and 264 in the snatch—and 314, 330 and 336 in the clean and jerk. His total was an Olympic record. (He was 25.)

“I had goosebumps all over. It was very, very exciting,” he told USA Weightlifting in a 2012 interview. “It was one of those days that when everything seems to go right. No matter what I tried, it worked. That was extremely a wonderful thing. I’m a flag waver, and I wanted the United States to win and I was willing to try my utmost in making sure I made the most out of every lift. As it turned out, I was very fortunate. I had one of those days that every athlete wishes for."

USA Weightlifting posted "Remembering Frank Spellman" after his death with intriguing aspects of his youth and later years: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Weightlifting/Features/2017/January/12/Remembering-Frank-Spellman

Image result for photos of frank spellman weightlifter

For many more details and photos throughout his lifespan, Google “Frank Spellman weightlifter.”


Now, I’d like to tell you about a side of Frank you’re not likely to hear about anywhere else—His long relationship with Carl Miller. Most of it is in Carl’s voice.

When I was 12-years-old (1953), my stepdad and I met Frank Spellman at the Bert Goodrich Gym on Hollywood Boulevard. He was doing Olympic lifting and frequently helped members of the gym.

After about a year of training, I asked Frank if he would teach me the Olympic lifts. He asked if I could do a high pull and a back squat. He was satisfied and after about six months he told us he was going to set up a gym in his garage in Canoga Park. It was only a few miles from our house and we gladly joined him.

We went to Frank’s garage three times a week and trained with him. We were amazed at Frank’s leg power; he squatted 500 for reps. My stepdad learned exercises that would strengthen his knees, low back, and hips. We trained with Frank until I was 21. I made steady progress, snatching 235 and Clean & Jerking 310 at 198. My stepdad did a 275 squat.

Frank kept competing and at age 39 did a 270 snatch and 352 Clean & Jerk.

Over those years Dave Davis, Al Orter, Jay Sylvester, Perry O’Brian, Paul Anderson, and Dave Sheppard among others trained with us. Frank had a caring attitude toward everyone.

Some background information about Frank from Carl:

He got a divorce and moved to the Los Angeles area. When my stepdad and I knew him we went to Muscle Beach one weekend a month. 

Frank’s trade was screw mechanics. He eventually moved to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and finally Pensacola, Florida. He always trained and played music. He learned piano, xylophone, horns, and drums in the orphanage where he was raised from the age of 7 to 17 in Pennsylvania. He first touched a weight when he was 17 at Fritsch’s gym in Philly. It was on the 2nd floor and Frank pressed his bodyweight and did 200 for 10 reps in the back squat. He says he “fell down the stairs” after the squats.  

He served in the military and when he came home worked at the York Barbell Company. He said it was a good place to work and a better place to work out. He remembered Bob Hoffman, “Father of American Weightlifting,” training with him in the middle of the night. Everyone was friends and backed each other up.

Frank always painted, and his work sold especially well in Florida when he and his second wife moved to Pensacola. He read voraciously and trained three times a week until two weeks before his death. 

We talked with each other one or two times a week during the later years of his life. He was always interested in me and Sandra and our kids.

*  *  *

What Carl doesn’t mention is that his early years with Frank provided the foundation for him to become United States Weightlifting Coaching  Coordinator—and travel the world conducting seminars and conferring with legendary exercise scientists such as endocrinologist Hans Selye, who first described the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Selye and Bulgarian weightlifting coach Ivan Abadjiev, whose lifters won world championships by training up to three times a day.

Carl also joined with Tommy Kono to coach the U. S. weightlifting team at the Montreal Olympics.

Impressive as this is, Carl’s most lasting achievement is the founding in 1982 of Carl & Sandra’s Gym in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a fitness center for all ages (9 to 90) built around the mechanics of the Olympic lifts. The gym’s most basic concept is a workout customized for each client and changed by Carl every six weeks. Members who joined in the first few weeks were still there decades later.

Frank Spellman hatched a weight training phenomenon for the ages in Carl Miller. Thank goodness for both of them.

Carl Miller (blue suit) chats with former Olympian, weightlifting world record holder,
 and pioneer strength coach for the Chicago Bears Clyde Emrich;
 weightlifting champions Jim Bradford, Mike Karchut, Tommy Kono, and Ike Berger can be seen in the background.

For another fact-filled article done when Frank was 93 about his early years and more:

February 1, 2017

Comment on this article: FEEDBACK


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