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John Underwood
October 05, 1964
Beset by conflicting ideals and moved by a variety of sharply defined emotions, the world's finest amateur athletes gather for the Orient's first Olympiad—and the largest one yet
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October 05, 1964

The Tokyo Games

Beset by conflicting ideals and moved by a variety of sharply defined emotions, the world's finest amateur athletes gather for the Orient's first Olympiad—and the largest one yet

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The striking thing—the most beautiful thing—about the Olympics is the way the competitors get along. They trade hats, stories and addresses, and sometimes they fall in love and get married. But there are unhappy incidents, too, and always at least one complaint about accommodations (the U.S. team threatened to quit the 1920 Olympics after they wound up in a barrackslike schoolhouse in Antwerp). On one occasion a Brazilian water polo team was disqualified for precipitating a riot, and an Italian fencer once challenged an official to a duel. A French official was punched in the nose by a pro-German gatekeeper (the team threatened to withdraw on the spot), and a hard-checking U.S. hockey team was accused of rowdyism. Eleanor Holm was dismissed from the 1936 U.S. team on the boat going over and was a pathetic figure weeping in the stands at the opening ceremony.

But most often the trouble that makes its way into print is precipitated outside the Olympic Village, and usually by administrators. Most consistently odious for America, of course, is the jurisdictional dispute between the AAU and the colleges, a dispute that has survived the years (it has-been going on since 1896, at the first Olympics), and was twice—in 1928 and again in 1962—arbitrated by the late General Douglas MacArthur. " MacArthur restored harmony" was a way of describing failures to resolve the dispute. The most recent case of bad judgment was a quote attributed to the AAU's Don Hull implying that American athletes under college scholarships could be disqualified by the IOC as professionals. His reasoning may have been dubious but his timing was propitious—he was reported to have said it during the week of the final U.S. track and field trials, when half of the finalists were college athletes. Fortunately, no more undermining was done and the issue passed.

Professionalism has been an inevitable charge at Olympic Games from the time the Emperor Nero fell out of a chariot race and declared himself the winner. The ancient Games rotted away because of the foul trade in athletic ability and were discontinued in 393 A.D. Modern Olympians have shown they are up to the same mistakes, but more often than not the incidents are more sad than scandalous. The magnificent Jim Thorpe had to return the gold medals he won at Stockholm in 1912 when someone discovered he had played a summer of semipro baseball in North Carolina two years before; Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, was shot down padding his expense account. Last month Mogens Frey, the Danish cyclist, was involved in a doping scandal and was dismissed from his team.

No two countries have the same standards of amateurism, and the professional problem is so confusing and the experience of coping with it so unsettling that this week the chancellor of the International Olympic Committee. Otto Mayer, resigned. He had threatened to do so for some time. An English sports columnist said Mayer had become "fed up with shamateurism," the absence of the Olympic-spirit, the nonexistence of the real amateur, the "blatant advertisement that makes the Games open season to a future lucrative professional career." It would be cynical to say that Mr. Mayer is not abreast of the times, but it would not be wrong to say that the problem is too broad in scope and subject to too many cultures and too many interpretations to bend like linguini into one flat pasta. A man's worth often is in direct proportion to his reputation, and therefore is it possible for a champion not to profit from his reputation? At what point do you determine that reputation has become a vehicle for "cashing in"?

Ultimately, of course, it narrows down to the individual Olympian, his excellence and what he does with it. Who are the Olympians of 1964? What do they think of their participation, the significance of their quest, the practicality of Baron de Coubertin's honorable creed, the price of a good cup of sake? Is it enough for them just to take part? The 1964 Olympians, many of the best of whom are pictured in their native countries beginning on page 43, come from Copenhagen and Prague, from Kingston, Barcelona, Belo Horizonte and Pampa, Texas. They speak in broad accents, and no accents, and some hardly speak at all. They do not all have pure hearts, and some would not argue with the poet that "If I should lose, let me stand by the road and cheer as the winner goes by," because they would think him daft. Some make great sacrifices to compete; others do not. Some are children of a great Depression, some of concentration camps. Some of them eat pheasant, and some of them eat pigeons they have caught with their hands. They are separately molded by separate societies, and they are variously motivated. They are all Olympians.

Robbie Brightwell is 25, very British and a high school geography teacher in Kingston, 10 miles southwest of London. No geography teacher in the world can run 400 meters faster than Robbie Brightwell. He was born in Rawalpindi, on the northwest frontier of India above the Ganges, the son of a British army officer. He remembers India as a place where he sneaked across a wall with his brother and sister to hunt birds and snake eggs and conduct scorpion races. At 15, at school in England, he "suddenly realized that I alone was responsible for my destiny."

"The 400 meters is an event for men," says Brightwell, who analyzes everything. "You must be calm but almost savage, have supreme confidence in yourself, be able to take punishment and still come up. Many athletes haven't the ability to punish themselves. I always feel intensely aroused when I lose. The ultimate victor is the one who perseveres."

When he trains, Robbie says, he nearly always ends up feeling ill "and very, very tired. Is it worth it? All the time you realize you are running for Britain. People expect you to win, and this hurts more than the physical punishment. My whole family is involved with this, the people up my street, the people in my town, the people at my school. Why do I inflict this pain upon myself, running in all weathers, with people laughing at the funny man? I don't know. A few years ago a psychologist said that this type of thing had one of three answers: a) you hated your father, b) you came from an insecure environment, or c) you came from an environment where there was little money. Which one applies to me? None.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's only one thing that drives me. I want to do well. I want to be the best. Sometimes, you know, I get so mixed up I don't know what I'm doing. The Olympics, I am vaguely aware of them—I know that on a certain day in mid-October I am going to run my bloody guts out."

Captain of the British team, Brightwell is also its unquestioned leader. Because of him, he says, "without being egotistical," it is a better team. He has shown them "a sense of leadership, a sense of fair play. They do not mind that I have had differences with the British board, and will have, too, as long as they act in a bloody hamhanded manner." (Brightwell goes rigid when it is brought to mind that the British Olympic Committee is financed mainly by whist drives, film premieres and garden fetes, and he was shaken recently when the government saw fit to contribute a beggarly �30,000. Said Robbie, "Makes you think they're ashamed of our sportsmen.")

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