Rudy Sablo (In Memorium)
March 17, 1918 - February 4, 2003
© by Arthur Drechsler
Of all the people I have met in my life, Rudy Sablo stands out as one of the most fascinating and inspiring. His energy and passion for life led him into many endeavors. His integrity, his exacting standards for performance and his discipline assured success in all of those fields, as well as his emergence as a leader.
Always interested in sport, as a young man he had a promising career as a Track and Field athlete. However, a combination of injury and a growing love for a sport that had contributed to his success in athletics - weightlifting - led him down an entirely different path. He fell in love with the sport of weightlifting in his teens and that love was to continue unabated for the rest of his life.
World War Il had a profound effect on the lives of most young men of Rudy's generation, and it did on him as well. A young man moving toward the peak of his athletic career when the war began, the Armed Services put him to work where he could do the greatest good. He became a physical instructor for what was to become a legendary unit in US military history - the Tuskegee Airmen. Their valor and their brilliance in battle helped to win the war with an external enemy, as well as to win an important internal battle against the enemy of racial prejudice. No doubt Rudy's contribution to the Airmen's success was significant, for when Rudy trained people; he worked on their minds and their characters as much as on their bodies
After returning from the War, Rudy joined the NYC Fire Department, where he spent 20 years bravely serving the citizens of our great city. Though his official career there had ended by the early 1960's, his involvement and love for the department remained alive throughout his life. He helped his fellow fireman many wavs after his retirement, but perhaps the single most striking example came during the biggest crisis that NYC has ever faced - the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
It seems that Rudy had visited his old firehouse near the W TC only days before that infamous attack. Shortly after the disaster, Rudy donned his old uniform (yes it still fit after 40 years) and rushed to Ground Zero to offer his help. When he arrived, some of his colleagues thought they were seeing an apparition. With so many firefighters gone who were only minutes before alive, out of the smoke and chaos appeared the image of a firefighter in ancient gear, equipment that was thought to have long vanished from the face of the city. His comrades were equally astonished, inspired and energized by his appearance. His visit had still another result. Realizing that Rudy's uniform was the best preserved example of its era that they had ever seen, the firefighters asked for and received that uniform, as a donation to their museum.
It was during his career as an active firefighter, that Rudy had his greatest athletic successes. After many victories on a local level, he advanced to National competition, where he was a factor for many years. This was true despite an injury that effectively prevented him from performing at a competitive level in the Press - one of the sport's then 3 events. So outstanding was Rudy at the other two events that had he been lifting those same weights today (122.5 kg in the Snatch and 152 kg in the C&J at a bodyweight of just about 77 kg.), he could have placed at a number of recent National Championships. and the lifts that he performed in the 1950's were done in a much more difficult style than is used today.
During the latter part of his firefighting days, Rudy fulfilled a dream that he had harbored since his teens. He finally persuaded Eudine "Deen" Gumbs to join him in matrimony. Rudy always said that he knew he'd marry Deen some day, and though it took more than 20 years for that to happen, Rudy's dogged pursuit of that goal led to a marriage in 1957 that lasted until Deen passed away in 1990.
As his career with the Fire Department began. to come to an end, Rudy's contribution to administration of. weightlifting emerged. moved up the ranks of refereeing from to national, to international, where he the highest level of accreditation. Nationally, his leadership qualities were recognized as well, and, in the early 1960's, he became the Chairman of the National Weightlifting Committee Of the AAU.
While holding that position, Rudy rewrote the organization's rulebook and organized records to a standard that had never been achieved before Noting that many US lifters had been tragically robbed of recognition of the World Records that they established during the 1950's (largely through faulty record keeping and administration), Rudy adopted a "no excuses" policy of scrupulously documenting records. He assured that on "his watch" no World Record would be set by a U.S. lifter without the appropriate international recognition. The standards he established help to assure that even today.
Rudy also believed that athletes should have a role in their own governance, so he initiated the concept of having an athlete's representative to the highest governing body for weightlifting in the US. It was a major step toward the very full representation that athletes were to achieve decades later.
In addition to rising to become one of the World's most respected weightlifting officials and administrators, Rudy was a great educator of officials. It would be impossible to count the number of rules clinics he conducted over his half a century as an official, but in the NYC area
alone there were scores, and across the national and World there were many others.
A member of USA Weightlifting's Hall of Fame, this proud New Yorker also had a profound influence on amateur sport in this city and state, one that extended well beyond the sport of weightlifting. He was one of the founders of the Empire State Games, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. He ran the Metropolitan Office of the Amateur Athletic Union for approximately 20 years. He was a renowned Track and Field official, and he was active with the NY Sportswriters Association as well as the NYC Amateur Sports Foundation. He was for many years a member of the US Olympic Committee Executive Board, and he served the USOC in so many ways that in 1989 he received the USOC "Olympic Shield Award" for outstanding service to that organization. He was of great assistance to NYC 2012 in its successful effort to become the representative for the US as the bidder for the 2012 Olympic Games - in NYC. Sadly, Rudy will not be with us to enjoy an Olympics in NY, but without support such as his, the dream of a NYC Games could have never advanced.
Rudy was well known as a coach as well as an official. He assumed the leadership of the Titan Weightlifting Association upon the death of his weightlifting mentor, Charles Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey was a legendary coach in boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. An émigré, Ramsey taught Rudy the coaching methods he had learned from some of the great strongmen of Europe. Today Titan stands as the oldest active weightlifting club in the US. I was privileged to have attended the 50th and 60th reunions of the club, where the love and respect of the members for Rudy was highly evident.
Across his coaching career, Rudy provided guidance to scores of athletes, perhaps most notably to Olympians Leston Sprauve and Sing Stan Bailey (representatives of the US Virgin Islands and Trinidad Tobago, respectively, as well as US citizens) and National Champion Sinclair Warner. Never one to keep his knowledge a secret, he shared his coaching advice with many generations of lifters in the US and abroad. His organizational skills led him to career of managing many US international teams on their trips abroad, most notably at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
As Rudy became more and more of a force internationally, his skills and dedication were soon recognized. When the 1981 Jr. World Championships in Brazil were almost ruined by a scandal surrounding the organizing group, Rudy, then already in his 60's, was everywhere at once, helping to pull together the details of the competition. As a result of those efforts, the competition was able to move forward as scheduled, but his contribution in those trying times was never forgotten. Several years later, the International Weightlifting Federation recognized Rudy's years of outstanding service to weightlifting with its prestigious Award of Merit. More recently, when he braved the fears of international travel and went to the World Weightlifting Championships in Turkey only weeks after the September 11th tragedy, he, and another legendary referee from the US, Jack Hughes, were recognized by the International Olympic Committee for their lifelong contribution to the Olympic movement. There can be no better illustration of the respect these ambassadors for the US had developed around the world.
As an official, Rudy gave no quarter. Possessed of unwavering integrity and scrupulous attention to detail, he was a difficult taskmaster. While many athletes who met him for the first time considered him overzealous and overly strict, most came to realize that he was preparing them for the rigors of competition at the highest levels with his unforgiving approach. Because he had such a tough side while performing his duties as an official, many who knew him in a cursory way never got to know his wonderful sense of humor and the inestimable treasure of friendship that Rudy could offer.
Few know that over many decades an international weightlifting team could not pass through NYC on its way overseas without Rudy's being there to greet them, and to present them with gifts which they could exchange with other athletes abroad, thereby advancing the cause of international sport. It would be hard to estimate the number of athletes and officials who were saved from missing a critical flight because Rudy was there to shepherd them through customs and security.
Even fewer know of the kindnesses Rudy offered to injured athletes. He could not bear to see one of his "family" hurt and he would always take a personal interest in anyone who suffered such a fate. I vividly remember several occasions on which I received a call from a friend who had been injured saying "You will never guess who came to see me in the hospital, or called me to check on my condition". Of course I had no doubt - it was Rudy Sablo. It was hard for these athletes to believe that a man who they had bitterly battled over a referee's decision (and sometimes even threatened bodily) could have such a tender and caring side, but that was part of the complex man that was Rudy Sablo.
With the passing of Rudy Sablo, the sport of weightlifting, amateur sport and New York City, have lost one of their greatest friends, as have I. To say he will be missed is a grave understatement. But his memory and his shining example will live on in the minds and hearts of all who knew him. Farewell Rudv, you have earned your rest. It is for us, who fortunate enough to have known you, to carry on your ideals. Inspired by your example of truth. dedication and integrity, we will do our level best.