There is a touch of vaudeville and a hint of burlesque in gymnastics—which makes it one sport everyone can understand. The men gymnasts are wonderful flying machines in delicate balance, and all the girls are leggy, tiny-waisted creatures who uniformly manage to look strong and helpless at the same time. At last week's events they marched from stage to stage to the accompaniment of a scratchy recording of what sounded a lot like a Yukon saloon piano, and then, facing the audience, unzipped and wriggled out of their sweat suits in unison. And at the conclusion of each series of exercises, they would bounce off the bar and throw up their arms in a sort of "look, Mom" pose.
Good form has it that the audience is supposed to remain absolutely silent while the gymnasts are at work—coughing or vulgar gum-chewing is supposed to rattle them—but Olympic officials had best be prepared for a rowdy session at the real show next year. It is hard to keep Mexicans from clapping rhythmically when they are watching girls in full swing, and they have got to be forgiven an occasional fervent olé.
Japan's squad won 13 out of 18 gymnastic medals, but Russia's Nataliya Kutchinskaya and East Germany's Twiggy sisters, Marianne Noack, 79 pounds, and Karin Janz, 92 pounds, stole the whole show. It is perfectly safe to predict that, against these two tiny Reds, the rest of the world gymnasts are going to be in a whole lot of trouble.
After Karin had won the gold medal in asymmetrical bars and had all Mexico at her feet, she confessed that the attention she was attracting made her slightly faint. Then, checking her name and pictures in all the papers, she said, "I am a lot today." One Mexican police officer was so smitten with her winsome looks that he pulled off his badge and gave it to her in exchange for an autograph and a smile. "Uhhh, don't show it around town," he said. Then the girls, who are 15 and 16, lived it up by eating five ice-cream cones each.
There was still another week to go. which would include boxing, swimming, volleyball and a lot of stuff involving horses. By Sunday night all Mexico City was in the spirit of the thing, and it was clear that the country—which does not usually dig the full schedule of Olympic sports—was looking forward to the Games.
Consider Mexico's President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. Early in last week's program he made an inspection trip to all the Olympic sites. He arrived in a big bus, surrounded by security men in those rumpled J.C. Penney suits and tinted green glasses. Standing in the Olympic stadium, now surrounded by wiggling javelins and an occasional discus or two, he assured the waiting world that "everything required will be ready at the latest by the end of next August."
All right, then. There is no cause to worry. Forget altitude and cares. The beautiful thing about it all is that the 1968 Games will be the wildest, most passionate, emotional ever. Who cares if the sites are ready or not or the cement is still wet? The excitement is building up in that thin, light green air.
President Diaz spotted the new mood right away. He turned to an aide in the crowd and gave a long, complicated-sounding order. Freely translated, it said: "Hey, be sure to get me some tickets to this thing."