Unlike golf, tennis threatened to be ruined by the power swing. The big serve struck audiences as a big bore, and though club tennis and junior tennis were on the increase everywhere, bad behavior and poor technique by spoiled brats at Forest Hills and Wimbledon threatened the amateur game's status as a major sport. While seven years ago amateur tennis was sacred, now open tennis, on the pattern of open golf, seems the sole salvation.
No longer pawns
Nor have indoor activities escaped these revolutionary times. The first Russian-U.S. chess tournament played here was in 1954, arousing as much general interest as a girl scouts' pancake race. This was clearly not a U.S. sport and never would be. Yet six years later an American junior team beat a Russian junior team in a world championship. Last month the British magazine Chess noted there were 25 U.S. tournaments scheduled, and added with characteristic British bluntness: "Amazing." More amazing: in Milwaukee this month 1,383 children took part in a day-long chess tournament. They were the finalists from 4,000 entrants.
And if America's men and women were keeping their sporting waistlines by exercising 3 million strong each day with such television physical culturists as ubiquitous Jack LaLanne, they were surely gaining avoirdupois sitting at bridge tables by night. The American Contract Bridge League, which sanctioned a modest 100,000 duplicate tournaments in 1954, found itself with a record 250,000 to oversee last year. The game itself changed; hosts of complex bidding systems elaborated on the old, faithful point-count approach until the sole certainty about a suit a partner bids is now the likelihood that he doesn't have it.
But bowling best epitomizes the change that has overtaken every sport since 1954. Born of the automatic pin-setter, reared lavishly with vast capital and full-grown in chrome, fluorescent lights and razzle-dazzle, bowling managed in seven years to get America out of the alleys and into the lanes. The modern bowling establishment is as respectable as a split level and as encompassing as a supermarket. Often open 24 hours a day, it has wooed and won the family trade with everything from baby sitters, to free lunches, free lessons and free leagues. In 1954 there were 17 million U.S. bowlers. Now there are an estimated 32 million. A professional intercity bowling league, with teams in 10 cities, is scheduled to begin play before paying spectators this October.
Thus the look and language of sport changed in the U.S. as it never had before. The changes came quickly, because the pace of life itself quickened. The jet engine helped, television helped and, of course, peace, albeit an uneasy peace, helped most of all.
So perhaps it is not surprising that the most significant fact about the new look of sport is that it has proved to be international. The enthusiasms that grip us now plainly grip everybody. Thus John Thomas was high-jumping in Japan, the Russians rowing at Henley, the Italians nearly winning the Davis Cup and a South African taking our Masters trophy. American horses jump at shows in Aachen, French horses trot at Yonkers, and Venezuelan ones race at Laurel. A Czech team defeats an English team to win an international soccer league title in New York, Jack Brabham enters our "500" and Briggs Cunningham drives at Le Mans. A Briton wins a small fraction of the middleweight title from one American, while a Cuban nearly wrests a very large fraction from another American. And at the Olympics less than a year ago a German wins the 100 meters, an Italian the 200, an American the 400, a New Zealander the 800, an Australian the 1,500, a Russian the 10,000 and an Ethiopian the marathon. Sport has not merely completed seven years of change, it has gone through seven years of exciting growth.