In 1960, when the Russians actually outscored the U.S. in total points and medals and officials here were probing through a veil of Bromo-Seltzer bubbles to get at the answer, alarmists publicly concluded that the Russians, who had scored heavily in events Americans traditionally regard with disregard (gymnastics, Greco-Roman wrestling), had caught us with our track and field down. Track and field is the showcase of, and the best reason for, the Olympics, and the U.S. has always been supreme. Indeed, the Russians had made serious inroads into our superiority, but the major blows struck at Rome were multinational and not Russian at all: Germany's Armin Hary (100 meters), Italy's Livio Berruti (200 meters), New Zealand's Peter Snell (800 meters) won in events Americans had come to think of as private property. It was embarrassing, yes, but it was also refreshing—competition from all over.
How, then, will the U.S. do this time? Better than ever, perhaps, and perhaps no better. The track and field team is the best ever assembled, one that by proven performances could break 15 of the 24 Olympic records. The Germans will not be as strong ( Hary is fat and retired); the Russians have nothing new to offer (their best are older and, despite the electrical prodding of Sovyetski Sport, looking tired). From where, then, will trouble come in this world of emerging athletic awareness? From more places than ever, that's where.
Bob Hayes will have to contend with the hunger of a Cuban, Enrique Figuerola, and a Canadian, Harry Jerome, at 100 meters, for example. Henry Carr has Trinidad's Edwin Roberts, Italy's Sergio Ottolina and Malaysia's Manicka Jegathesan to press him at 200 meters. Trinidad's Wendell Mottley should beat Mike Larrabee at 400 meters. And, like a recurring nightmare, there is Peter Snell (see page 56). At 800 meters or 1,500 meters, the powerful New Zealander is practically unbeatable, this despite reports that he had a slow, beatable summer (January and February, that is). American strength is such, however, that should Snell falter he could be taken in either or both—if Morgan Groth does not beat him at 800 meters, then Dyrol Burleson or Tom O'Hara could beat him at 1,500. And at 5,000 meters, an event an American has never won, Bob Schul is favored to upset Australia's Ron Clarke. Clarke, in turn, will extract his pound of flesh from, among others, Gerry Lindgren at 10,000 meters (a pound is about all the 119-pound Lindgren can afford).
Hayes Jones, Rex Cawley and Jay Luck continue to make us the best hurdlers in the world, but we now have the German, Manfred Preussger, to bother Fred Hansen and John Pennel in the pole vault; Poland's Edward Czernik to cut us farther back in the high jump; and Danek favored over Oerter in the discus. And for the first time since 1928 we will not win the decathlon. Formosa's C. K. Yang, second to Rafer Johnson in 1960, moves up, with Johnson retired. There is no Johnson or Bob Mathias on the American horizon. There is, however, a reasonable facsimile of Wilma Rudolph. Edith McGuire will sweep the 100 and 200 meters and provide the women's team with a good enough reason to make the trip.
American swimmers, too, are better than ever, if possible, and could win more medals than all the other nations put together. The great unknown is the Australians, who could contend in any of 10 races. They are unknown because they went into training on August 1 and haven't been heard from since. In basketball we have been looking over our shoulders for some time, and now, sure enough, the opposition is catching up. The Europeans, especially, have lost their clumsiness and are better shooters. They have even added the jump shot. The American team is not as good as it was in 1960, but it is possible that no amateur team ever will be.
We get better in gymnastics every year, but where we have one good gymnast the Russians and the Japanese always can counter with 10. In sports where our performers have at best been inconsistent, there are new American names to be considered as medal candidates: Jackie Simes, the cyclist; Don Spero, a single-sculler who could be the first U.S. winner since John Kelly in 1920; and three excellent wrestlers to follow the line of American successes of 1960—Dan Brand, Gray Simons and Greg Ruth. Once dominant in weight lifting, we are now third best, for no particularly sound reason. The boxing team will be strong again, superior in technique to anyone, and led by a flashy 156-pounder named Toby Gibson who has won 64 of 68 amateur fights.
On the 14th day of the XVIII Olympiad, it will have been determined that the Americans did exceedingly well, just well enough—barely—to accumulate more medals than the Russians. This will give Sovyetski Sport cause to breathe a heavier editorial breath, but it will not in the least impress Robbie Brightwell as significant. In Brightwell's way of thinking, the elements of Olympic significance are more than just gold, silver and bronze.