SI Vault
Roy Terrell
July 24, 1961
Valeri Brumel jumped higher than anyone ever had, but U.S. track men were faster and stronger. They won a duel of giants in Moscow's Lenin Stadium.
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July 24, 1961

The High Meet The Mighty

Valeri Brumel jumped higher than anyone ever had, but U.S. track men were faster and stronger. They won a duel of giants in Moscow's Lenin Stadium.

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For two days the sun blazed down on the crowd of 60,000 in Moscow's Lenin Stadium and on the two teams of superb athletes wearing the white uniforms and the red uniforms of the two great rival nations of the earth. This was the third dual meet between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and in excitement and achievement it far surpassed anything that had gone before.

A world record was equaled in the first running event by wondrous Wilma Rudolph. Five other world records were broken as Saturday stretched into Sunday and the meet drew toward a close. The sun disappeared, the lights came on, and down on the field a tall, handsome boy from Russia and his even taller American opponent danced through the most dramatic high-jump contest ever seen. Russia's Valeri Brumel won, and he set a world record, too. The American, John Thomas, lost but only after a marvelous effort.

The meet was a struggle worthy of the nations and athletes involved. Each side won a victory. Each side suffered a defeat. The American men outscored the Russians 124-111, the Russian women beat the American women 68-39. The men's final score almost duplicated the results at Moscow in 1958 (126-109) and at Philadelphia the next year (127-108).

America had sent a young team, its youngest ever, to face the Russians, and it performed very well. With an 18-year-old shotputter from New York named Gary Gubner winning one first place, and a 19-year-old quarter-miler from California named Ulis Williams winning another, the Americans led by 10 points at the end of the first day. It was a margin the Soviets found impossible to dent.

In these same hours, while our boys were winning, our girls were getting beat. But with Wilma equaling her 100-meter world record and helping set another in the 400-meter relay—and capturing the hearts of Muscovites as she had captured the hearts of Romans—no one was too concerned over the final score.

Another memorable performance came from the American men's 400-meter relay team, which chopped almost half a second off a world record. Still another was turned in by two Russian girls, Tatiana Shchelkanova in the broad jump and Tamara Press in the discus, who added to the existing marks. And finally there was Ralph Boston, as unbelievable as ever, who broke his own world record yet again, surpassing 27 feet in the broad jump for the third time this year. And, of course, there was Valeri Brumel—who jumped 7 feet 4.

As an international athletic competition, the meet was a splendid success. As an instrument of international accord, it probably did little to settle the Berlin crisis, but otherwise it worked out just fine. The Russians were pleased to have American athletes back in Moscow, although not always sure what to do with them, and there was not an incident worthy of the name. None of the team members mentioned disarmament or asked for a copy of Dr. Zhivago at the Lenin library or threw a used caviar carton into the Lenin-Stalin tomb. The exchange rate for U.S. lapel emblems and red stars held steady on the trade market at one to one, and the Americans politely refused to give up 1960 Olympic pins for those bearing Khrushchev's picture. "Man, what I couldn't do," said U.S. decathlon man Dave Edstrom, "with a Jackie Kennedy button here!"

The travail of travel

But it was neither in the fields of athletics nor diplomacy that the 58 U.S. boys and girls found their greatest reward. This came when they reverted to type as that much maligned creature, the American tourist abroad. For 10 days they were amused and confused and fascinated and irritated. By the time it was over, the team was agreed that every American should visit Russia—once.

Soviet officialdom got into the act even before the chartered Pan American DC-7C left Idlewild. The flight originally was scheduled to depart New York on Saturday evening, a week before the meet began and arrive in Moscow at 9 p.m. Sunday. At the last moment the Russians said nyet. It seemed that an air show was scheduled for Tushino Airport on Sunday afternoon, and American DC-7Cs were not invited. "We won't get there until six hours after the air show is over," Pan American told the Russians. "And, anyway, we're going into Sheremetyevo, which is across town." "Nyet," said the Russians, making an overnight stop in London necessary. "This means one less day for the kids to get acclimated to Moscow," said disgruntled U.S. Coach Jim Elliott.

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