In a small working-class Rio de Janeiro home last week, a honey-skinned, hazel-eyed housewife named Elza Ferreira da Silva, packing her husband's suitcases, slipped scribbled notes, written in Portuguese, into his shoes, into his socks, into his pockets—notes that read "There's room on the shelf for another trophy" or "Bring back a medal for the kids" or simply "Win for me—love, Elza."
Now in Chicago for the 1959 Pan American Games, Brazil's Adhemar Ferreira da Silva gets a wifely boost with every change of socks. Judging by his past record he will go ahead to win—for Elza and Brazil—his offbeat, exacting, athletic specialty: the hop, step and jump—the longest leap in sports.
Known to all Brazil as Kangaroo, the lithe, long-legged Adhemar is probably the finest natural hop-step-and-jumper ever born. The first time he ever tried it he did 37 feet 5 inches. He's won the event in the last two Olympics, and he has set both Olympic and world records. Best athlete in Brazilian history and one of the world's alltime champions, Adhemar is easily the brightest star of all the Latin Americans at Chicago.
He's also a nice, easygoing guy who always totes his guitar to track meets. He sings in 10 languages—anything from sambas to Schubert—and enlivens postmeet parties with all-night song sessions. Then he goes to morning Mass. He's made friends from Moscow to Modesto, Calif., and still gets letters postmarked Melbourne and Helsinki from people he met at the last two Olympics. "I guess I was just born lucky," he says.
Actually, he was born dirt-poor, got nowhere in sports until he was 21, works hard at two jobs to bring up his kids and studies pre-law courses at night. Whenever he takes time out for a track meet abroad he must cram at night—sometimes until dawn—to catch up on classwork. With his responsibilities and years—he'll be 32 on September 29—his participation in sports requires genuine personal sacrifice. Asked why he keeps it up, Adhemar flashes a bright grin. "Pour le sport," he says, shrugging. "And for fun."
An unalloyed amateur in the classic Olympic sense, Adhemar has one real grievance: the Soviet Union's subsidized athletic system. "The amateur code is rigidly applied in the West," he says, "but it's flagrantly violated by the Soviet Union.
"I've got nothing against the Russians, and I'm not sorry for myself, but all amateur athletes feel the same way. Russian athletes are paid and pampered. They have the finest of facilities, full time to train and no worries about money. I can't afford time for training. I can't afford steak, let alone vitamins or high-protein pills."
Grinning, he adds, "But, man, how those Russian athletes sweat and suffer to win glory for the old Red flag! They're so afraid to lose, that sometimes they get too keyed up and can't win. I've seen it happen. Me, when I hit the track I've got no worries about Siberia."
In Brazil, which is one of the most tolerant nations on earth, Adhemar, a Negro, was brought up free from discrimination. "Complexes never took hold of me," says he. "I was a happy-go-lucky Brazilian kid. I never felt poor or oppressed or different. My folks worked hard, and we always managed to get by."