SI Vault
John Underwood
October 31, 1966
In another part of the Mexican capital there was a rather different scene of disorder—the Little Olympics trial run for the 1968 Games. There, results were as expected: mild chaos and utter exhaustion
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October 31, 1966

Way Up High And Out Of Breath

In another part of the Mexican capital there was a rather different scene of disorder—the Little Olympics trial run for the 1968 Games. There, results were as expected: mild chaos and utter exhaustion

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"Nothing could prevent me from going to live on Mount Hood and train there," says Grelle, "except money. I've got to earn a living. And I am not interested in making the Olympic team just to get a sweat suit."

Grelle and Young believe that the American effort may already be lagging and, in Young's words, if provisions are not made pretty quick "there will be some more of those black Wednesdays and black Fridays and black Tuesdays that the press complained about in Rome in 1960." Grelle thinks that some of the younger, better American distance runners who are now in college—Ryun, Lindgren, Nelson, Riley, etc.—ought to be sent to the mountains in the summer to prepare.

The Russians, who were under such close scrutiny at Mexico City last week, had trained in three groups: one stayed in Moscow, one spent half the time in the Caucasians, the third was in the mountains full-time. The Japanese sent only distance runners.

The Little Olympics, if they must be called that, suffered from an interminable series of blunders and a heavy-fisted press that began with an AP report: "All is chaos," and ended with a front-page cartoon in a Mexican newspaper that depicted "Disorganization" on the platform winning the gold medal. Bearing in mind the history of such trial-run events (they never go smoothly), the criticism was not fair. But if it serves to remind the Mexicans of the logistical truth that you should be able to handle 800 athletes now if you expect to handle 8,000 later, then it will be a lesson well learned. There is still another year to smooth and tidy. A full Olympic dress rehearsal is scheduled for 1967.

There were the little things that could mean a lot if they happened at the Olympics proper. Lights fail during gymnastics competition. Opening flag ceremony ditched, because East Germans do not want to be called East Germans. East Germans go home in huff. Boxers and gymnasts compete in same arena at same time. Mexican Navy refuses to release boating results. Wrong Czech cyclist announced as winner. Program schedules suddenly changed. Mexican boxer awarded half a gold medal even though he is unable to fight in final bout because of an earlier injury. TV cameraman given spot to shoot his pictures behind chainlink fence. Americans, uninformed, have no representation in track and field parade.

Sometimes even the translations needed explanation: salto de garrocha (for pole vault) means literally "goad-stick jump." The director of the Italian cycling team said kindly of the officials: "They do well as long as they don't have to move around too much." He said this right after the official automobile escort for the cyclists got together for a three-car pileup.

There was a time, too, as there always is two years before an Olympiad, for long-range criticism and foul weather forecasting. The head of the Japanese sports promotion committee wanted to know why work had not begun on the Olympic Village (which must house 10,000) and why the Mexicans had not bothered to consult with the Japanese. Did the Mexicans realize the magnitude of the games, the scope of the games? One European said flat out that he feared "These people cannot do it." Where was the money coming from? Would it be enough? And where are they going to put all those people who are sure to pour south across the Rio Grande in October of 1968?

Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand quit his $14,000-a-year job as coach of the Mexican distance runners, claiming politics ("I failed as a politician"), predicting disaster and wondering out loud why the Mexicans did not make better use of Bill Easton, the American coach who is also there helping as a paid adviser (there are five U.S. coaches working with the Mexican national teams and 14 coaches from Communist bloc countries, although none from Russia itself). " Easton just sits in the stands, watching the chaos in front of him," says Lydiard over his shoulder.

If there is cause for alarm, it is far too early to be sure. These are old refrains, heard two years before almost any Olympiad. Sometimes IOC President Brundage steps in and tells the dawdling parties to shape up or watch out, as he told the Australians in 1953. Told them, in fact, that the 1956 Olympics would be transferred if they did not get moving. He said in Mexico City last week that he has seen the Mexican timetable for construction and that he had no doubt they would keep the schedule. "They see no reason to put up structures in advance and let them lie idle. I am inclined to agree."

A visit with Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, who heads up the Olympic organizing committee and is himself an architect who was one of the designers of Mexico City's magnificent anthropological museum, is sure to calm the waters and quiet jittery nerves. V�zquez' answers are straight, his demeanor unruffled; he says the Mexicans are "absolutely not behind" and the only money problem is the problem of being able to spend it all—300 million pesos—intelligently. He says that by Dec. 31 ground will be broken and progress underway on the remaining venues: the 22,000-seat sports palace for boxing and basketball, the 15,000-seat Olympic swimming pool, the 15,000 seat velodrome (for bicycle racing) and the Olympic Village, which will be able to handle 10,000 athletes.

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