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The capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has not yet been exposed to the high-powered hyperbole of Mr. Cassius Clay, but it got a fair sample of his technique last week from the team of U.S. track stars who dropped into Moscow to spread goodwill and the gospel of U.S. athletic superiority.
"Each of us," the young hurdler Rex Cawley told anyone who cared to listen as the team met the press in the ornate lobby of the Stalinesque Leningradskaya Hotel, "is the best America has to offer in his field. You can't argue with success."
"They have just two chances to beat us—slim and none," said High Jumper Gene Johnson.
"The only thing that we try to do now," added Relay Man Paul Drayton, "is to keep sharp. We have a good team—fabulous quality and great depth."
These self-appraisals fell on Russian ears much as Clay's predictions fall on those of skeptical Sonny Liston. "The style of the Americans is inferior," opined Olympic champion High Jumper Robert Shavlakadze, who was unable to compete against the Americans himself because of a leg injury. "The technique of the jump is more defined with the Russians. With the right technique, your John Thomas [who was not there] could do 7 feet 8� inches, but he doesn't know how to jump."
Russia's women were no less critical, but considerably more helpful toward their American counterparts. After watching America's discus thrower Cynthia Wyatt at practice, the U.S.S.R.'s Amazonian Tamara Press, who outclasses all the women in the world at the discus and shotput, shook her head in sad disapproval. "First she moves from her shoulders," explained Tamara, "and then from her pelvis. It should be the other way round. It works like a spring. The American men know how to throw the discus. Why don't your American men teach the women? If the Americans really wanted to, they could be good."
The world's best woman javelin thrower, Elvira Ozolina, frankly wondered where in the world America's Fran Davenport had learned her technique. Fran confessed she picked it up by herself from watching others. "I never had a coach," she said. "You should start throwing before you make the full turn," said trim Elvira sadly in a we'll-just-have-to-make-the-best-of-it tone, "but don't give up your way now. Before competition it's bad policy to change."
As the two-day meet got under way at Lenin Stadium, Soviet Coach Gabriel Korobkov assured the Americans that they would "find the Soviet team good friends but tough competitors. Welcome to Moscow," he added in English, "and there will be a good fight."
"We are ready," said America's Coach Payton Jordan confidently.
To avoid the heat of noon, each day's events were scheduled to last far into the evening. Only 30,000 fans turned up to fill the 103,000 stadium seats on the first day, and before it was done what they had witnessed was enough to make Coach Jordan's confidence fade like the Moscow twilight. "Fate sometimes plays strange little tricks," he philosophized.