Grut was the most talented in a long line of great Swedish pentathletes and administrators and his contribution will live on for many years to come.
Grut’s overwhelming domination of the 1948 Olympic Games was a feat that can never be repeated. In those days, results were decided by placing positions in each event, 1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd and so on. The winner being the pentathlete with the lowest overall score. With a total placing score of only 16, Grut was a full 31 place points ahead of the silver medalist. He won three of the five events outright (riding, fencing and swimming).
Of course such a sensational victory was bound to draw the attention of the media. Even in 1948, newspaper reports tried to turn him into Mr. Perfect. It was said that he would avoid standing next to a smoker even outdoors (quite difficult to do in 1948) and that the only break he ever took from his rigorous training schedule was to escort his sons to church on Sunday morning.
Perhaps even more significant than his breath-taking victory in 1948 was his enormous influence on the sport as Secretary-General of the UIPM from 1960 to 1984. Grut managed the Swedish team until 1960 before devoting himself to serious UIPM business. While fellow Swede, Sven Thofelt was UIPM President, it was Grut whose executive role as Secretary General enabled him to change Modern Pentathlon into a modern sport well-respected by the IOC.
Grut’s father, Torben Grut, had been the architect who designed the 1912 Olympic Stadium and, according to Grut’s biography ‘If I remember correctly..’ (1994), he was a driving force behind his son’s early success: Grut won 25 Swedish National swimming titles between 1931 and 1936. Wille had been a good student and was all set to study medicine at Cambridge when the collapse of Ivar Kreuger’s business empire in 1932 robbed the Gruts of all their money. So enormous was Kreuger’s influence that he controlled 64% of the entire Swedish Stock Exchange and thousands were bankrupted by the collapse.
Instead, Wille Grut became a soldier. That cost his family nothing and set him underway on a highly successful sporting and military career. As a young man, Wille represented Sweden in the swimming at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he also watched the pentathlon events. In witnessing the German, Handrick’s win which brought to an end the unbroken success of Sweden did he vow revenge for his home country? Whatever his motivation, he became Swedish Modern Pentathlon champion five times between 1939 and 1948 and took a silver medal in the Winter Olympic Pentathlon of 1948. By the time he arrived in London for the 1948 Summer Games, he was only a month short of his 34th birthday. Grut’s sporting career would have been even greater had the world not been at war and he had been able to compete in more international competitions.
He later rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Swedish army and was a much-admired leader of his men. In his early training, Bengt Uggla, who had placed 4th in the 1920 Olympic Modern Pentathlon, told him, ‘Play sport until the day you die, but do not let sport be the death of you’. Grut remembered this and, at 98 years old, had only recently cut down on his daily swim and gym workouts. In recent years, he lived with his family in the Swedish lakeside town of ?stersund. Sadly, a broken leg in a fall last spring prevented him from attending the London 2012 Olympic Games.
A highly intelligent and affable man, Wille Grut smoothed the way for the survival of Modern Pentathlon in the modern era. Of the respect due to the great pentathlete-administrators of Modern Pentathlon, our sport owes him the most.
Willie Grut will never be forgotten, may he now rest in peace.