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WHY CAN'T WE BEAT THIS GIRL?
September 30, 1963
Pretty girls from all over the world are competing in track and field—and having fun. But where are the Americans? They are at home, demurely avoiding physical stress and missing out on a very good thing
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September 30, 1963

Why Can't We Beat This Girl?

Pretty girls from all over the world are competing in track and field—and having fun. But where are the Americans? They are at home, demurely avoiding physical stress and missing out on a very good thing

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The beautiful young girl with the auburn hair is a Russian named Valentina Maslovskaya. She not only looks better than the girl next door, she most certainly can run much faster. Valentina is a member of the Soviet 400-meter-relay team, and the reason American girls cannot beat her is that most of them will not even try. Our girls golf, swim, ski, skate and perform in most other sports, but they dodge track and field as though it were a combined course in weight lifting and wrestling. Actually, as the pictures on this and the following pages show, running has not diluted the natural loveliness of Valentina and other European track stars any more than playing flanker back ever dulled Frank Gifford's handsome cast. But you cannot convince the American girls. And if you could, it would not matter much because there are so few coaches here to teach or even to encourage women's track.

The odd thing about all this is that emancipated American women have long since dropped the philosophy that playing fields are strictly for cheerleading, and gymnasiums made only for sock hops. Everyone this side of Bonnie Prudden—even Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue—is for women's athletics. Indeed, Mrs. Vreeland believes a girl's "physical vitality and stamina" is more of an asset than her ability to select clothes. And Helen Gurley Brown, the Hugh Hefner of the unmarried girl (Sex and the Single Girl), provides—in order—all sorts of reasons why athletics are for womanhood: 1) men hang around athletics, 2) "you get to liking your body" and 3) girls look cute in skating outfits and tennis whites.

Neither expert, of course, claims that any girl looks good in track clothes, which are as chic as the daring bathing outfits of the early '20s. But some improvement is being made. The European girls are warming up these days in those formfitting stretch pants. Maybe soon someone will persuade Teddy Tinling, the successful designer of fetching tennis tutus, to turn his considerable talents to draping female sprinters in something more appealing than men's underwear. That will clear one especially important hurdle.

But the fault with American girls' track is not just sartorial. The real problem is that there is so little of it, and the reason for that probably goes back to 1928, the year women first participated in track and field at the Olympics. After a squabble over U.S. team leadership, professional women physical education instructors were left off the U.S. team's staff. Scorned, the phys ed teachers at most high schools and colleges immediately eliminated instruction in the techniques of running, jumping and throwing. "Ladies should not perspire," the new thesis said, "or show signs of physical stress or strain." This thinking still holds 35 years later, encouraging otherwise athletic young girls to retreat behind the pose of frailty when it comes to track and field.

Predictably, the result has been a bad-to-worse American showing in international competition, which reached new depths in the recent U.S.-Russian track meet when, because of two disqualifications and one fall, the team actually finished with less than a minimum score. Outclassed, out-loved and out of fashion, our girls may have lost heart. "Where there is neither love nor hatred in the game," Nietzsche wrote nearly 80 years ago, "woman's play is mediocre."

There is, however, some hope. Such coaches as Ed Temple of Tennessee State and Roxanne Anderson of San Francisco's Laurel Club have at least kept women's track alive. And now the Women's Board of the U.S. Olympic Development Committee has helped create the National Institute on Girls' Sports to deal with all sports but chiefly with track and field. It will meet next month for the first time in Norman, Okla. The institute could well set up a plan to increase opportunity and interest for girls in track and field, and it should provide a forum for better coaching methods (the Russians were appalled at the techniques of some of our girls). The institute would do well, too, to put a stop to those feeble jokes about girl broad jumpers, to make those outfits more attractive and to find a stylish Miss America who high-hurdles.

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