A wonderfully exuberant Italian turned from the track, extended his arms to the world at large and cried hoarsely but soulfully, "My hands, my voice, my heart! All of them I give to Livio!"
He had a faintly comic-opera air about him and a look of pure amazement, and somehow he seemed to epitomize these Roman Olympic Games in which so many things have gone so dramatically wrong—at least for the United States.
He was applauding—ecstatically—the victory of Italy's Livio Berruti in the 200 meters, an event traditionally American. Berruti is a dark, handsome man who runs, in the poetic words of his coach, like "a lovely, bounding impala." In this race he tied the world record (20.5) and soundly whipped the three American finalists—Les Carney, Stone Johnson and Ray Norton. The day before, the well-drilled and numerous German partisans at the Stadio Olimpico had barked, " Hary, Hary, Hary," in unison to hail the victory of Armin Hary over Norton, Dave Sime and Prank Budd in the 100 meters.
Indeed, after four days of track and field competition, this Olympic meet seemed likely to be the worst for the U.S. in modern history. The mighty fell regularly: John Thomas, the nonpareil in the high jump, finished third to two Russians; Norton, the world's fastest—nearly—human, finished last in the finals of both the 100 and 200 meters; Harold Connolly, the world record holder in the hammer throw, could do no better than eighth.
There were reasons, and they were advanced eagerly by athletes, officials and the press. The U.S. team had been sent to the Games tourist class. There was a 14-hour trip on a propeller-driven plane from New York to Bern, a track meet in Bern, then a 15-hour train ride to Rome on a crowded, hot train, with the tired athletes jammed six to a compartment. In Rome a good 90% of the U.S. team succumbed to the "Roman skitters," a virulent variety of diarrhea. A smaller, but significant, percentage suffered from an overweening sense of superiority which led them to relax training. One unidentified official was said to have said that he saw a cabload of athletes arrive at the Olympic Village at 2 a.m., in defiance of an 11 p.m. curfew. But the most cogent reason for the American disappointments was the immense improvement in athletic ability in the rest of the world. The two sprint winners—Hary and Berruti—are dramatic examples of this.
Hary set a world record in the 100 meters in Zurich on June 21. He is a small, compactly built man with a large ego, a quick temper, and a singularly uningratiating arrogance. Most track experts, who know and dislike him, were prone to think that the record was the result of his jumping the gun. Hary is, indeed, apt to jump the gun whenever he can. But he is also the best sprinter in the world.
Asked about his penchant for gun-jumping before the 100-meter final, Hary said, "Rudolph Valentino was called the Thief of Hearts. As far as I know, he was never in prison. So what I do is not a crime. I am the thief of starts. It goes back to the rules of the game, and I'm a born player."
The very competent starter assigned to the 100-meter final kept a tight hold on the six-man field. There was one jump in which both Dave Sime and Hary went. But neither was charged with a false start. Then Hary alone anticipated the gun, left his blocks early, and the field was again recalled. Hary was charged with a false start. (Two false starts would have automatically put him out of the competition.)
The six finalists went to the blocks again, and the 70,000-odd people in the stands were deathly still. Sime set his feet, saw a rough patch in his lane and reached out and patted it down, hard. The hollow plop, plop, plop of his hand against the dusty red track sounded clearly throughout the stadium. The starter said "via," and the runners raised in their blocks. The quiet hung on. Then, at the shockingly sudden crack of the gun, they were away.
Hary, Sime and Norton left the blocks in the same wink of an eye. At three yards, Hary had established a narrow but noticeable margin. At 10 yards, he led by a full pace, and at 20 yards he was two steps ahead of Sime, more than that ahead of the rest of the field.