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The rain had stopped but the mist clung to the Autostade where the Americas vs. Europe track-and-field meet was about to begin. The stands were built to hold 25,000, but less than a third that number were in them—and who could tell how many had simply spilled over from Expo 67, lured across Route Bonaventure Road by merely another set of bright lights?
Across the boulevard on the islands dividing the St. Lawrence River from the Lemoyne Channel of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Expo continued to jump. The Hovercraft, the vessel that rides on air, had gone down in fumes the evening before when it took a hit right in the plenum and became just another wet-bottomed boat, but it was now back in operation and packed to the gunwales with Expopulators (the Montreal Gazette's word for the people who have been visiting the pop and popular fair in unexpected numbers) as it roared across the channel to the exhibits on Ile Sainte-H�l�ne. Fainting records continued to be set in a wooden pyramid of a building where the Man and his Health exhibit offered—in unmistakable color—open-heart surgery and the birth of a baby. A man from Manitoba asked the usher why they did not have seats for the viewers so they would not make such a clunk when they fainted. "Ah, but monsieur," replied the usher, "how then would we know when they have fainted?"
At the Autostade, however, enthusiasm was well under control. The promoters tried to make up for the lack of over-weening enthusiasm with fanfaring trumpets and roving spotlights, but the spotlights served only to further illuminate the shoddy condition of the infield where, in order, Expo had paraded circus elephants, soccer players, soldiers demonstrating war, Maurice Chevalier, lacrosse players and horses, all helping to rip up the turf in the days preceding the meet. Three times the infield had to be re-sodded. The track itself, a rubberized asphalt produced by Uniroyal, had been laid down only two days before the meet began.
When the Europeans came on the field for the opening ceremonies they were dressed in new stark-white uniforms with blue trim and an E on front. They were eight abreast. Their heads were held high, their columns kept straight and they looked like the Coldstream Guards. The Americans, by awful contrast, looked plain cold. There were only 21 of them, about half the team. Tiny little patches that identified them as "Americas" had been sewed on their dark blue suits to cover their Pan-Am Games and USA insignias. They advanced in a kind of moving slump, their heads turning this way and that as if they were inspecting a strange place.
Adrian Paulen, head of the European delegation, and a little Dutchman who 40 years ago was himself an Olympic runner, said he could not believe it. He had been busy pushing photographers around and shooing unauthorized people off the infield ("I suppose they think I am a mean man; maybe I am") and trying to get this meet to look less like a free-for-all and more like the significant international event it was supposed to be. And now this. He said it looked like the Americans were not taking it seriously, which was bothersome since the Europeans were. They had been getting ready for four months through a series of elimination meets, he said. The only reason the Russians were not there was because they were involved in their 50th-anniversary Spartakiada, but they would surely not miss the next one.
"We will have 80,000 people watching in Stuttgart, if it is held there in 1969," he said. "You can quote me." The meet, he added, would be the "highlight of the year" for the Europeans. He did not understand the Americans.
"We thought it would be a big team," he said, "with new uniforms like ours, and here we look and they have on these clothes, and one man still has USA on his chest, and some of their good men are not here. I feel we have lived up to this occasion more than they have. But this is the first meet between the continents. Let us see how it goes, and then let us live up to it in the future."
How the meet went was how it looked. The classy Europeans were stronger than even their own experts believed, although no one had flat-out predicted an American rout. They won 109-100 as their men, rallying from 10 points down after the rainy first night, took six of the 10 events on the second night, when the rain turned to wind and cold and the crowd was even smaller. In five of those events they finished one, two. The European women won 60-55. The Montreal press, woefully uninformed about track and field, called the Americas team "second-class."
It was not second-class. Ralph Boston is not second-class; Ron Whitney is not second-class; Randy Matson, Wyomia Tyus, Willie Davenport and Otis Burrell, to mention only some of the team's stars, are not second-class. What the team was was incomplete. And disoriented. And tired. And finally, after a day of arguing with AAU officials over the ramifications of travel allowances and those make-do uniforms, very angry.
The team's defeat raised not so much the question of its ability as it did an old wound of a dilemma: How far should track-and-field athletes be extended and to what pains must they go before being used by track promoters becomes being abused by them?