The decision, ostensibly made by the members of the Russian track and field team, to call off the meet with the U.S. in Los Angeles later this month because of American policy in Vietnam is a deplorable intrusion of politics into sports. The Russians claim the athletes themselves resolved not to compete, but their statements ring of party propaganda.
Perhaps even more reprehensible is the well-founded suspicion that Russia canceled the meet, as well as a series of games with a strong U.S. basketball team, because it felt it would certainly lose. The poor showing of the Russian track team at a recent meet in Odessa, coupled with the usual excellence of the U.S. men and the extraordinary achievements of the U.S. women at their national championships two weeks ago, foreboded defeat no matter what contortions the Russians might have resorted to in scoring the meet. As a State Department spokesman phrased it: "They saw a bad licking staring them in the face." In this respect, then, Vietnam may have been used merely as a particularly nasty excuse.
Perhaps it is naive to believe that sport can transcend the unrealities of international power politics or, indeed, remain as some kind of oasis of sanity. But since its inception in 1958, the U.S.- U.S.S.R. meet has provided a welcome relief from the stresses, bitterness and despair of the Cold War and has proved that not only the athletes but the people of both nations could still get together and have a good time.
We vividly remember the Russian and U.S. teams gaily parading arm in arm around the track at Stanford at the conclusion of the 1962 meet as a crowd of 80,000 stood cheering. We also recall the competition in Moscow in 1963. Khrushchev and Harriman, who had been negotiating the test-ban treaty, were at the stadium. Darkness was falling. The air was electric. In the last event Valeri Brumel, who had missed twice, finally made a world-record high jump, and Khrushchev and Harriman impulsively leaped from their seats and hugged each other.
"We cannot visit a country whose rulers are violating the elementary rules of humanity on our planet," Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan parroted. What about violating the elementary principles of sportsmanship, Ter? We can only hope that The Ter, Tamara Press, Brumel, et al. are properly ashamed of their performances as puppets.
A BLISTERING PACE
Russ Chaffee, a 39-year-old high school math teacher from Sayre, Pa. has been swimming the entire 440 miles of the Susquehanna River from Cooperstown, N.Y. to Havre de Grace, Md.
Last week, on the 20th day of his swim, Chaffee passed through Harrisburg, Pa., and he had only one complaint: his feet hurt. Pennsylvania is in the midst of a drought, and Chaffee has had to walk much of the way.
"The lack of water has slowed me down," he admitted. "I've scraped my stomach on the bottom. Some of the areas are so rocky I have to wear socks and flippers to keep from cutting my feet. In fact, the blisters from the first couple of days are just starting to heal."