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Former local athlete, coach, Olympian offers simple word of thanks

Recent story brings outpouring of support for Clem Eischen, 93

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
2 Photos
Clem Eischen represented Clark County in 1948 Olympics in London, England as a lightning fast 1500 meter sprinter. Today he lives in Gresham and Tillamook enjoying the slower pace of retirement, but still holds oon to memorabilia like this poster and an Olympic flag,  Wednesday, July 16, 2008 .
Clem Eischen represented Clark County in 1948 Olympics in London, England as a lightning fast 1500 meter sprinter. Today he lives in Gresham and Tillamook enjoying the slower pace of retirement, but still holds oon to memorabilia like this poster and an Olympic flag, Wednesday, July 16, 2008 . (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Clem Eischen is thankful and doing well, even though his wife won’t let him go to the store.

Eischen has received a lot of warm thoughts in the past two weeks since The Columbian reprinted the story from his win in the mile at the 1945 state high school track and field meet.

And he’d like to say thank you.

“I have had a lot of people who I used to coach either at Shumway or Hudson’s Bay call me up and say ‘How are you doing, Coach?’ ” Eischen said. “That is really nice to hear. They tell me they saw the story in The Columbian. So they wanted to check on how I was doing and that they were proud of what I did. That makes you feel good.”

The story of his 1945 win brought back a lot of memories for Eischen, now 93.

After growing up in the Dust Bowl in Nebraska, his family moved to Vancouver in 1943 so his father could get a job at the shipyards.

Eischen enrolled at Vancouver High School for his junior year. He was interested in turning out for track and field, although a school administrator was not very encouraging.

“I got this dissertation on how great Vancouver High’s track teams were,” Eischen said. “I was told that if I wasn’t great, then it would be better not to turn out. That was a big challenge for me.”

Eischen did turn out for track. He wanted to compete in the 880-yard run, but Vancouver already had a talented half-miler. So Eischen ran the mile.

In the May of 1944, Dick Paeth of Vancouver High won the state title in the 880 and Eischen won the mile.

The next year, Eischen defended his state title in the mile.

“I could have run faster, but there wasn’t any competition for me,” Eischen said. “I won the race by 70 yards.”

Eischen then attended Washington State, where he became an All-American in track and field. After an outstanding freshman season, other big school like USC and Nebraska tried to lure Eischen away from Pullman, showing a different era in the rules around recruiting and tampering.

But Eischen remained at WSU. In 1948 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Evanston, Ill., Eischen qualified to the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.

“London was a wonderful host city,” Eischen recalled. “After the meet in Evanston, I was almost bowled over by kids trying to get an autograph. But in London, everyone was so polite.”

Eischen then broke into his best English accent: “Pardon me, sir, but could I bother you for an autograph?”

He was in good position in his heat in the London Games. But with 120 yards to go, a British runner cut right in front of him.

“My spike caught him on the heel, and I stumbled,” Eischen said. “I lost a few yards and I just missed getting into the final. The other runner was sorry, and he apologized after. With the long spikes we wore back then, I’m sure he had a sore heel.”

Eischen remembers the welcome he received when returned home to Vancouver. He also remembers a reporter from The Columbian interviewing him.

“I remember Jack Campbell as this nice kid from school,” said of Eischen of The Columbian reporter who would later become editor and co-publisher. “But when I got home from London, Jack came to my house to interview me for the paper.”

After graduating from Washington State, Eischen took up a job as a teacher at Shumway Junior High in Vancouver. A few years later, he moved to Hudson’s Bay High School, where he coached the track and field team from 1957-61. The 1961 team won the state title.

“And we did it without scoring a single point on the track,” he said. “All field events. … I was blessed with good kids at Bay.”

Eischen earned a master’s degree in physical therapy from Stanford in 1962 and opened SportsCare physical therapy in Gresham, Ore., in 1963. More than a half century later, SportsCare is still thriving with seven locations in the Portland area. Eischen’s son George runs the company and his grandson Kevin also works there.

A long career in physical therapy opened a lot of doors for Eischen. He served as a volunteer trainer at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

“All of the big countries had their own training staffs,” Eischen said. “We worked with the smaller, third-world countries that had nothing.”

In the nearly 50 years between his first Olympic Games and his latter experience, Eischen said the games largely remained the same.

“They were just bigger (in 1996),” he said. “And the athletes kept getting better and better.”

Eischen is retired now, living a quiet life with his wife Nancy in Gresham.

“I’m quite healthy, although I don’t get out much,” Eischen said. “My wife won’t let me go to the grocery store.”

That is why he appreciated all the recent calls and kind words in recent weeks.

And it prompted his call to The Columbian to say thanks.

“I’ve had a good life, and through all of this — and it’s been a long time — The Columbian has been nothing but good to me,” Eischen said. “I just wanted to say some nice things about The Columbian. That’s the thing to do if people are nice to you.”

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