Recent Olympics Bring Recollection of Local Weightlifter, Paul Anderson

Johnson City resident, Peggy Harvey Street, a member of the Harvey Family Singers, called the Press recently to remind readers that Paul Anderson, a former Elizabethton weightlifter, won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympic games held in Melbourne, Australia.

Paul was born on October 17, 1932 in Toccoa, Georgia. After winning a football scholarship to Furman University in 1950, he returned to his parents’ home in Elizabethton one year later with a strong desire to become a weightlifter.

Paul began developing innovative ways to lift weights and increase his strength. For example, he would squat all day every other day and on alternate days, work on the bench press. He placed objects in concrete to lift them and would sift through junkyards in search of heavy objects to use. 

In 1955, the muscleman broke two world records at the World Championships in Munich, Germany and became world champion in his weight class. Upon his return home, then vice-president, Richard Nixon, thanked him for being a goodwill ambassador for the United States.

In 1956, the 304-pound contender became an Olympic gold medal winner, beating Humberto Selvetti of Argentina. Although both men lifted the identical amount of weight, Paul won because he weighed less than his competitor. It was during this time that he turned professional.

Mrs. Street said her husband, the late A.J. Street, became acquainted with Anderson about 1954: “A.J. liked to skate a lot back then and spent a lot of time at the Recreation Building. I believe it was there where they first met.

“When my husband and I were dating, we often took in a movie at the Majestic or Sevier Theater. Frequently while attending the theatre, we would meet Paul and his date, a pretty petite blond lady. Back then, people dressed up when going on dates. I remember seeing Paul dressed in a beige suit and a shirt with a pointed collar. His neck was so big that he probably couldn’t get a tie around it so he just left his collar open.”

Peggy said that soon after Paul won the 1956 Olympics, she and A.J. saw him again at the Majestic Theatre, not in person, but on the big screen during a Movietone Newsreel. When news of Paul’s winning an Olympic gold metal was announced, the crowd whooped and hollered; this was their local hero from neighboring Elizabethton.

In one Newsreel scene, Paul is shown with his hands and feet bound so as to keep them from bursting under the tremendous amount of weight he was lifting. 

Paul was invited to appear on the hit quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret,” emceed by Garry Moore, He amazingly lifted the panel, consisting of Faye Emerson, Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows and Henry Morgan. He also appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. A Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspaper showed a picture of him lifting his wife into the air with one hand. In a movie clip, he was seen carrying a large cow around on his back. Paul was even able to lift the front end of an automobile. An impromptu visit to his garage in Elizabethton often found him doing squats with 800-900 pound motor blocks.

In 1961, Paul and Glenda, his wife became devout Christians and took the gospel message inside prison walls. Later, he founded the Paul Anderson Youth Home for troubled youngsters in Vidalia, Georgia. Over time, he received many letters from appreciative fans, including one in 1963 from J. Edgar Hoover.

The “World’s Strongest Man” died in 1994 at the age of 61, but not before leaving an impressive mark on the world of sports. Thank you, Mrs. Street for reminding us of him.