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The big 'Little Olympics'
Robert Ball
September 08, 1958
Stockholm's spectacular meet suggested that Soviet supremacy may be on the wane
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September 08, 1958

The Big 'little Olympics'

Stockholm's spectacular meet suggested that Soviet supremacy may be on the wane

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Germany's gold medals created an embarrassing protocol problem, since the team included athletes from two Germanies with different national anthems, though the same flag. The organizing committee had decided to substitute an innocuous fanfare for the national anthem usually played during the medal presentation, but this did not suit the West German fans, the most numerous and vocal of the out-of-town guests. They simply stood up and began singing the Deutschland-Lied, and by the time the meet ended this improvisation had achieved the sanction of custom.

Britain's clean sweep of gold medals in the middle distances was most endangered in the 800 meters—a wild donnybrook featuring such as yet unrecognized tactics as shoving, gouging, kicking, shoulder-charging and elbowing. The organizing committee had asked for trouble by starting it at the end of the stretch, just at the beginning of the first turn, with no starting lanes leading around the turn. Naturally, at the gun everyone lunged for the post. In the first semifinal heat a hapless Dutchman was knocked to the ground and trampled on; in the second, the pack got so engaged in slugging on the first turn that it never separated at all, but went around two rib-bruising laps in a cluster, like an angry swarm of bees. In the final Mike Rawson, a Birmingham boy who does not shrink from body contact, drew the post. At the gun, seven rivals hurtled at him. Rawson was pushed off the track and onto the grass for a couple of steps, while the herd thundered past him. At the end of the first lap Rawson was far back, but his anger and determination were growing. Coming off the final turn, Rawson made his move from fifth, found a gap and slipped through to win in 1:47.8. The officials promptly disqualified him for stepping out. "Like hell I stepped out," Rawson protested. "I was pushed and lucky not to be thrown on my face." The judges reconsidered, and next day Rawson got his gold medal.

Most observers considered wiry Sergei Popov's marathon victory over the tough hill-and-dale course the outstanding performance of the meet. While the capacity crowd of 28,000 huddled under umbrellas eating varm korv (hot dogs) and drinking coffee to ward off the cold, the wiry Irkutsk electrician methodically slogged his way to a 2:15:17 win. Popov's run must be one of the greatest of recent years—yet Swedes thought it eclipsed last week, at the international meet at Gothenburg which followed the European Games, when the fabulous Australian, Herb Elliott, ran 1,500 meters in 3:36. This is more than two seconds under the listed world record, and is the equivalent of a 3:53 mile.

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