London 1948 Olympics: The Cookie Does Not Crumble (Part 3)

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The below is an excerpt from the 1978 book, Olympic Shooting, written by Col. Jim Crossman and published by the NRA. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

1948—London: The Cookie Does Not Crumble (Part 3)
By Colonel Jim Crossman

When the American rifle shooters got to England and began to read the fine print in the program they got a most unpleasant shock. Some of their equipment was illegal. American riflemen were used to shooting on all sorts of ranges and firing points, from a wrestling pad indoors to a solid, hard, rocky firing point outdoors. Some of these firing points can be tough on the elbows, so shooting coats were developed which were well padded on the elbows. The left arm of the coat usually had considerable padding on it to protect it from the rifle sling and, of less importance, the shoulder had padding to protect the shoulder from the rubbing and pressure of the rifle butt, even if not from the recoil. At one time each shooter had made his own, but by 1948 there were good commercial coats on the market and most everyone stuck with them.

The rifleman also used a glove on his left hand to protect his knuckles against the sling swivel and to protect his hand and wrist where the sling ran across the back of them.

The Olympic rules eliminated the padding on the left arm and reduced the size and thickness of other padding. Nothing would do but for the Americans to change their coats, and many a weary hour was spent taking pads off coats and sewing other pads back on There was no restriction on the amount of clothing the shooter could wear so, to make up for the missing padding, the Americans put on all the heavy shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts they could stand.

It was finally decided that the gloves were all right for thickness, but the gauntlets would have to go and they were all clipped off to conform.

While the coat and glove problem affected all the rifle shooters, the free rifle squad ran into a problem with the kneeling position. While many American shooters, especially the young and agile, turned one foot flat and sat on it in the kneeling position, the new Olympic rules provided that the toe must be on the ground and the foot vertical, which meant the shooter sat on his heel, a position calculated to bring maximum discomfort to his foot. To avoid permanently disabling the shooter, it was permissible to put a small cushion under the instep. To people accustomed to sitting on the side of the foot, this position was torture. Doc Swanson and Frank Parsons immediately rushed out and bought ski boots, with their heavy, thick soles, hoping that this might help. But between the new position and the changed coats and gloves, the team was not happy.

In the 300-meter 3-position free rifle match, all the Americans shot much better in the match than they had in the tryouts at Quantico, Parsons by 21 points and the other two by 35 points each, despite the fact that they were having gun trouble. Art Jackson was getting along all right with his Winchester Model 70 heavy barrel rifle, but it was not in the same class as many of the foreign rifles. Frank Parsons and Doc Swanson were trying to use the two Martini falling-block rifles they had shot in the 1930 UIT World Championships with 1930 ammunition. Parsons’s rifle finally gave up the ghost and he shot the match with Swanson’s gun.

Although they went to London and bought heavy-soled ski boots in which to shoot the new, uncomfortable kneeling position, they were having trouble. As it ended up, they were not particularly strong in any position, with Swanson high man in 10th place. His 1079 score was well behind Grunig’s winning score of 1120, Janhonen’s 1114 and Roegeberg’s 1112.

Although the drop-block Martini-type action had been the standard for years, most of the Europeans, including the top three, had switched to a short-action bolt rifle built around the short 6.5 mm or 7.5 mm cartridge, and most of them were shooting selected factory ammunition.

The rapid-fire pistol shooters had difficulty getting in enough practice, since there were a lot of shooters. While Chow, Roettinger and Layton were shooting the Colt Woodsman with the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, they found, as in 1936, that most European shooters were using special pistols chambered for the .22 Short cartridge. The Walther Olympia was still popular, with the Italian Beretta giving it competition. Diaz Saenz Valiente of Argentina was using a Woodsman, modified to handle shorts and equipped with a compensator to reduce recoil and muzzle flip. The British had encountered trouble in getting equipment and had put compensators on their Hi-Standard pistols, but ended up shooting the match with Walthers.

Two strings at each time limit were fired on the first day and two on the second for the 60-shot total. Shooters were ranked first by number of hits and then by score, so it was of primary importance to make all hits. Time was counted from the moment the targets started turning to face the shooter until they started turning away from him.

While there was no problem with a shooter getting off an early shot, there was a possibility of a shooter firing just as the targets were turning and of getting a long “skidder” shot on the paper. To police this, the rule specified that if the shot hole in the paper was more than two bullet-diameters long, the shot was scored as a miss.

And this Phil Roettinger found out on the first day of the match, when he had a long hit smack in the center of the 10—scoring value of zero. The same thing happened to John Layton the next day and while he and Roettinger ranked high among those with 59 hits, there were 22 shooters with 60 hits. Bob Chow shot almost as well as he did in the tryouts for 60 hits and a score of 553, but it was only good enough for 13th place.

For a time it seemed that the match might go to Argentinian Diaz Saenz Valiente with 571, but Karoly Takacs of Hungary came through with a great 294 and a 580 total. If ever a man deserved the trophy, Takacs did. Prior to World War II he shot in the World Championship class, but effectively seemed out of shooting when he lost his right hand during the war. But nothing daunted, he taught himself to shoot with his left hand and won the gold medal!

The Americans thought they might do well in the slow-fire pistol event. Much American pistol shooting was done slow-fire, granted at a shorter range and at much easier targets, in a shorter time limit and with different guns. Still, it was slow-fire with the pistol.

Once again the matter of equipment raised its ugly head. While the rules permitted almost anything in the way of a pistol, once again the Americans went over with their standard guns, in this case the Colt Woodsman. It takes considerable time and training to switch from a gun such as this to the free pistol, with its long barrel and sight radius, set triggers and form-fitting grips. So even if proper guns had been available, it would not have been easy to decide to switch.

Karl Frederick had brought along his old S&W single-shot pistol, the one with which he had won the gold medal in 1920. A week before the match, Joe Benner decided to use Frederick’s pistol. He was the only one of the three to improve on his tryout scores. Both Walsh and Brooks dropped down and ended in 13th and 17th.

Joe Benner, with his borrowed pistol and only a week of practice, tied for second with Schnyder and Ullman, although he lost in the tie-breaking and was pushed down out of the medals to fourth place. E. Vasquez Cam was clearly in first place with 545, while R. Schnyder, Switzerland, was in second after the ranking process was finished. Schnyder was the son of a former UIT World Champion in the free pistol. In third place was a familiar name—Torsten Ullman, who won the event in 1936. In addition, you will recall, he placed third in the rapid-fire match that year. In 1948 he placed fourth in the rapid-fire, once again proving his versatility at these two pistol events which require such marked differences in shooting technique.

U.S. shooters and their guns were at home in the smallbore rifle prone match, 60 shots at 50 meters on a target with a 10-ring of about ¾ inch in diameter and an X-ring a bit over ⅜ inch across. All three shooters had superb equipment. In fact, the U.S. equipment designed for the smallbore game was ahead of most of the foreign 3-position equipment. Tomsen was shooting a Winchester Model 52 rifle with a special barrel made by Eric Johnson. Cail also used a Johnson barrel mounted on a Remington Model 37 action. Cook used a Remington Model 37 equipped with an electric barrel-bedding device invented by Pete Brown. The bedding device permitted the shooter to adjust the fore-end pressure on his barrel to give the best groups.

The one thing the Americans did not like was the method of putting up targets. They were accustomed to the U.S. practice of putting up several targets at once, so if they wanted to shoot fast they could rattle off the shots and get it over with. Cook was famous for shooting a long string of shots fast when conditions were right, sometimes running off a 20-shot string in two or three minutes. American conditions allowed an average of a minute per shot. Olympic rules, on the other hand, permitted 3½ hours for 60 shots. The targets had to be hung on the frame and shot one at a time.

Walter Tomsen and Art Cook—“The Cookie”—each got off to a good start, with a possible 100 on their first target. They kept up the pace on the second. On the third, Tomsen dropped his only shot out of that tiny 10-ring and went on to finish with the great score of 599×600 and with 42 hits in the ⅜-inch X-ring. Cookie was going along fine, until in his last string he blew up and came completely undone—he shot a nine. So he ended also with a 599, but he had hung a little closer to that tie-breaking X-ring and when the counting was all done, Cookie had 43 shot in the X—just the right amount to beat Tomsen.

Cook had always been fond of shooting, but did not begin it seriously until 1939 in Boy Scout camp. It took a while for his championship caliber to show through, and it was two years before he won his first award—a booby prize! His success so encouraged him that when it came time for college, he looked for one with some shooting activity. he did not have to look far, as the University of Maryland had an active program under the guidance of Col. Harlan Griswold. Shooting with this group, he began to turn in great scores and no one was surprised when he shot his way onto the Olympic team. Those who knew him best were not surprised that, shooting under tremendous pressure, he brought home the only U.S. shooting gold medal since 1924. The medal was engraved “to Arthur Cook” but it should have been engraved “to The Cookie who would not crumble!”

Arthur Cook

Photo: Sadly, Arthur Edwin “Art” Cook, “the Cookie that would not crumble,” passed away on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. At age 20, Cook was the youngest shooter to win an Olympic gold medal until 17-year-old Kim Rhode took home the gold in women’s double trap 48 years later at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Remington Model 37 “Rangemaster” he used is displayed at the National Firearms Museum at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va.


Read more: 2021 U.S. Olympic Shooting Roster Complete After Smallbore Trials

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