The United States, once the unquestioned champion of the world in track and field competition, has become a second-class track power.
Avery Brundage, a big, heavily muscled man of 71 who was once the unquestioned champion of the United States in all-round track competition, is the authority for this blunt statement. Mr. Brundage is now the President of the International Olympic Committee, among other things, and he is not a man to mince words.
"We are becoming a nation of spectators," he said the other day. He was sitting in a spacious office in the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago. He wore a white shirt and a belligerent expression, and he sat erect in a swivel chair behind a wide desk.
"We are soft," he said, looking across the desk at a visitor, who put out a cigarette immediately. "You take Olympic medals as a standard and we were overtaken long ago in track and field. Australia, on a per capita basis, won 10 times as many medals as we did in the last Olympics. And the European countries are progressing much faster than we are."
He stopped a moment and swung the swivel chair around so he could look at a multiarmed statue of an Oriental god which adorns his office.
"I think it was Voltaire who said that history is a parade of nations climbing the stairs of civilization, passing other nations descending," he said. "Go back to the early Olympic Games—1896, 1900. We practically monopolized them. Before the war we had won as many Olympic medals as all the rest of the world combined. Since then if it weren't for our Negro athletes we would be out of the picture."
Brundage has a blocky, strong face, and he speaks with the deep conviction of a man used to running things.
"The trend here is toward a race of nonparticipant spectators," he said. "We're all lazy. I'm lazy. A lot of things have happened to bring this about. I go back to the time I was competing myself here in Chicago. Almost every week we had some sort of meet—picnic, neighborhood—out in the suburbs. We had track teams sponsored by athletic clubs. Many, many athletes competed. Now that era has passed. And there's the auto.... The auto takes people out into the country for recreation and to the golf clubs. Chicago had maybe two or three golf clubs 40 years ago. Now I imagine there must be 200. To be a champion athlete means hard work and long, arduous hours of training, and with the improvement in our standard of living fewer people are willing to submit to the demands of training. They want to sit in the stands and be entertained."
He swung back to glare across the desk again at his visitor. "We can indict the colleges on that," he said. "They emphasize spectator, not participant, sports. They run programs for prestige and gate receipts and not for what should be the primary purpose—the participant. You can't blame the athletes or the coaches or the athletic directors. It's right up at the top—the presidents and chancellors and the trustees. Those are the people who allow these conditions to exist."
He tapped a pile of letters.