Holding two Olympic gold medals in his 81-year-old hands, Lindy Remigino breaks into laughter. The medals show their age. The stories do not. The stories never grow old.
"Look at these medals, I don't even know which one is which," said Remigino, who won gold in 1952 in the 100 meters and the 4x100-meter relay as a 5 feet 6, 138-pound kid from Hartford.
They came without ribbon lanyards in those July days 60 years ago, and there is nothing on them to identify the events. The boxes that once held the medals are gone, chewed up by his five children when they were little. And while there might be nicks and chips on the fading gold-plated medals, there is something Father Time and his kids' bicuspids could never take away.
"Once you're a gold medalist," Remigino said quietly in the living room of his Newington home, "you're a gold medalist forever."
He remembers the last time the Games were in London in 1948, and he remembers the stories by his father of the first time the Games were in London in 1908. Yet, what he remembers most vividly are the dreams of a 17-year-old high school junior.
"Track & Field News was first published in 1948," Remigino said. "I'd read it, seen all the names and times. My favorites were Mel Patton and Harrison Dillard. I admired them so much. Guess who passed me the baton in the relay in 1952?"
"So, yes, I dreamed of going to the Olympics in 1948. But the reality was I thought I'd be working in a box shop, making cardboard boxes, on Albany Avenue, because my family didn't have the money for college."
After 20 excruciating minutes of discussion and photo-examination to determine the 100 champion, sure, Remigino's eyes would well up as he stood atop the Olympic podium on July 21, 1952, and heard "The Star-Spangled Banner." Yet the truth is there already had been tears mixed in with the raindrops two days earlier as he watched the Americans enter Olympic Stadium with their blue blazers during the Parade of Nations, a deafening crescendo rose when Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi enter with the torch. They were the tears of a dream realized.
"I watched it all from the stands," Remigino said. "The coaches wouldn't let the 100-meter guys walk in the parade. We would have had to stand for four hours in the pouring rain on a muddy track, and we had heats the next day."
Growing up on Florence Street in the North End of Hartford, Remigino had known he was fast. He had known it since a "Play Day" race at the Hartford YMCA: Sprint to one end of the gym, touch the wall and sprint back to the finish.
"The guy handed me a ribbon and told me as soon as I get over to Hartford High to make sure I get on the track team," Remigino said. "I told him, 'I'm only 12.' He was like, wow, you just beat kids two, three years older than you by a lot."
As a junior at Hartford High, he would go on to win the 100 and 220 state and New England titles. As a senior he duplicated those feats. He played football, too, left halfback, 135 pounds soaking wet. He shakes his head no when asked if he ever told that to 1964 Olympic champion Bob Hayes, who went on to NFL fame with the Dallas Cowboys.
"No way, he would have laughed," Remigino said. "I was so light, if you hit me I landed in the first row of the stands. They called me the skinny guinea with the meatball eyes in high school."
OK, forget the NFL. There would be a scholarship to run at Manhattan College, erasing his fears that his education would end with making cardboard boxes. So sure, Lindy Remigino knew he was fast, but Olympic 100-meter gold medal fast? By the time 1952 rolled around few were betting on him after he took a fifth place in the NCAA 100 at Berkeley.
"But I also was second at the trials behind Art Bragg and I was beating everybody in the workouts leading into the Games," Remigino said.
He had arrived in Helsinki a few weeks before the Olympics on a first class flight, compliments of the New York Athletic Club. When the world's athletes arrived, however, they found themselves in different camps. This was the first Olympics for the Russians since 1912 and the Cold War was never colder. A separate Olympic Village, surrounded by barbed wire, was set up for the Eastern bloc athletes. A huge portrait of Stalin hung from one of the buildings.
So what does a young man think about in the hours and minutes before the Olympic finals? Well, Remigino thought about his mom, about June Haverty the love of his young life and about his dad who had died a few years earlier. Stefano Remigino had left northern Italy for England at 17. He regaled Lindy with stories about the 1908 London Olympics, about being in the stands for the marathon when Dorando Pietri of Italy collapsed in the final yards and his gold medal was taken away after being helped across the finish line. A chef, Stefano would travel to South Africa before moving to New York, starting an American family and eventually settling in Hartford.
Yes, there was plenty to think about following the semifinals after he finished second by inches behind Herb McKenley of Jamaica. Bragg had pulled out of the semis with a hamstring injury and suddenly anything was possible.
"I was laying in the locker room on a table, thinking, and Herb walked in," Remigino said. "He said, 'I was just with Emmanuel Bailey [of Great Britain]. He's so nervous. I think he's out of the way."