‘Chunk’ Simmons dies at 84; Olympian, masters thrower

Floyd Simmons

Floyd “Chunk” Simmons of Charlotte, North Carolina, died earlier this month, and a good obituary appeared in his local paper. The story focused on his two Olympic bronzes in the deca, but didn’t really mention his masters track involvement. He was a thrower who competed as recently as 2005, and he was among those slated to hand out awards at the Charlotte masters nationals pentathlon in 2006. (I missed that day of the meet.) “I chose 10 events and not just one pigeonhole,” he once said. “I didn’t want to do just high hurdles or the shot. I wanted to do it all. I suppose I still do.”


A later story reported:

A memorial service for two-time Olympic medalist Floyd “Chunk” Simmons will be at 11 a.m. April 22 at Christ Episcopal Church, 1412 Providence Road.
Simmons, who was found dead earlier this month in his Myers Park condo, won bronze medals in the decathlon in 1948 and 1952. The World War II veteran also had a Hollywood career, including a part in the 1958 musical “South Pacific.” He was 84 years old.
The date was set so Simmons’ daughter, Suzanne, who lives on Tahiti with her husband, Paul Sloan, and her son Maui, could attend.
Simmons’ ashes will be interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery on Freedom Drive alongside family members.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions in Simmons’ memory to the Dowd YMCA, attention Financial Development, 400 E. Morehead St., Charlotte, NC 28202

Here’s a remembrance, in case the link goes to heaven:

Friday, Apr 11, 2008
Posted on Fri, Apr. 04, 2008
Blessed with restlessness
RON GREEN SR.
Floyd “Chunk” Simmons, 84, died a few days ago. I thought about writing a column to tell you what he was like but then I pulled out one I wrote a while back and felt it said what I wanted to say. It said:
“… even thus he showed his lovely body to the great ring of watching Greeks, as he threw the round discus and hurled the shaft of a black leaved elder from his grasp to the steep heights of heaven … ” — Bacchylides, ancient poet
I’m still not sure Floyd “Chunk” Simmons didn’t walk out of a novel one day. Athlete, movie actor, decorated soldier, traveler who lived in Tahiti for a while, artist, photographer, as handsome as a model and blessed with a kind of enviable restlessness. Didn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald make him up?
He was Charlotte’s first Olympian. He won bronze medals in the decathlon in 1948 in London and in 1952 in Helsinki. A lot of years have passed and a lot of things have happened in sports in this town but in terms of glamour, no one, no Hornet or Panther or stock car driver has dimmed his light.
He’s 81 years old now and still has his movie star looks and still throws the shot and the discus in senior competitions and would still be running footraces if his knee hadn’t decided to get old before he did.
He belonged in the Olympic decathlon, a two-day, 10-event examination of body and soul, because he didn’t like limitations, only possibilities.
Even today, he denounces the “repetitive things that run through most of our lives.”
Simmons felt the decathlon paralleled his life and perhaps influenced him.
“I chose 10 events and not just one pigeonhole,” he said. “I didn’t want to do just high hurdles or the shot. I wanted to do it all. I suppose I still do.”
Even as a football player at old Central High School, he chose a different route. In a 1940 game against a strong Salisbury team, Simmons, who had played only one quarter for the Wildcats, got the call to replace star running back Davey Coates, who was injured. Simmons gained 196 yards and scored five touchdowns, all in the first half.
Coates came back the next week and Simmons went back to sitting on the bench. Asked why, the coach, Vince Bradford, said, “Simmons busts too many signals.”
The same thing would be said of him at the University of North Carolina. He was playing behind the great Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice but he was strong and fast and had enormous talent. Why didn’t he play more?
“He doesn’t run through the holes he’s supposed to hit,” said his coach, Carl Snavely. “He busts too many signals.”
Simmons saw a different way, a better way for him. He saw possibilities.
He left North Carolina, where, he confesses, he did not star in the classroom because so many of the courses bored him. He went to the University of Southern California, where, even though he was not enrolled, he trained under famed track and field coach Dean Cromwell and with some of the best track and field athletes in the world. He called it “on the job training.”
Before Chapel Hill, there was service as a ski trooper in World War II. One day he was crossing a field in Italy and the next day he awoke with a Purple Heart on his chest.
After the Olympics, there was a decade in movies and television. His biggest role was in “South Pacific.” He was set to play the lead opposite Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” until producers changed directors and the new man wanted Paul Newman. Clint Eastwood and Simmons were close in their early Hollywood years, jogging and surfing together and spending a lot of time “displaying our sunglasses, like movie stars.”
When the movie and TV roles diminished and he found himself doing commercials, Simmons quit. He became an accomplished artist and photographer, settled back in Charlotte and cruised on through life.
Now he smiles and says, “I’ve never really done anything to my ultimate. I’ve done them, then said, well, I know how to do that and now I’ll move on.”
Just a ne’er-do-well. Busts too many signals.

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April 11, 2008

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