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Sheathed in copper and glowing like a sun, the Sports Palace (below) is the architectural gem of Olympic Mexico. It will seat 25,000 spectators for basketball, a sport which resembles the sacred game that was the national sport of Mexico before the arrival of Spaniards, the bull and the pelota. Sport was an integral part of Mayan and Aztec life, and the ballplayers, the runner, swimmer and gymnast shown in this color portfolio are the most vigorous of pre-Hispanic sculptures. They are shown with the modern facilities that will house the October Games. The sculptures and the stadiums are followed, on page 53, by a guide to Mexico in this Olympic year.
THIS YEAR MA�ANA IS A DIRTY WORD
One thing is sure, despite all rumblings to the contrary: Mexico City will be ready for its Olympics. It may not be ready until the moment the runner descends the Pyramid of the Sun to bring the Olympic flame to the opening ceremony on October 12, but it will be ready. The road to October has been a bumpy one, strewn with such potholes and boulders as protests about the altitude and the threat of an African boycott. But the Olympics are so important to Mexico that the men in charge have been galvanized rather than stymied by the difficulties. The Games, as they did to Japan, represent more than an athletic World's Fair—they are a means of proving to the world that Mexico is no longer a stepchild in the family of nations.
The chief organizer of the Games, Pedro Ram�rez V�zquez, is also Mexico's leading architect, builder of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology, the finest museum structure in the world, and two of the Olympic venues shown in the preceding color pages. His staff works with a 20th century engineer's approach, completely contrary to the clich� of ma�ana Mexican bureaucracy. Every Olympic structure has been topped off with a paper-flower-garlanded crucifix, the Mexican steelworker's way of celebrating the placing of the highest piece of steel, and shifts of workers are laboring 24 hours a day to complete the roads, the sidewalks, the flower gardens, the hotel rooms and the street signs.
One of the most difficult engineering problems in all of Mexico is the one of fitting bodies into available beds by night and into seats at the Games by day. And Ram�n Alatorre, the man in charge of the Oficina de Control de Alojamientos, or Office of Lodging Control, is the man in charge of happiness or despair for the Olympic tourist. Alatorre is the nephew of Gustavo D�az Ordaz, the President of Mexico, and he has brought to his Olympic office from his former job as public-relations director for the Mexico City branch of J. Walter Thompson a sort of professionalism that caused one recent visitor from New York to comment, "I did not expect to find that sort of thinking south of the Rio Grande."
The rumor that Mexico City is all sold out is false. It is true that most of the 50,000 beds in hotels are taken, but Alatorre's office has a listing of more than 17,000 additional ones in homes and apartments. More beds could be made available—25,000 have been offered in homes—but the committee does not feel that the city, the streets, the stadiums, could accommodate more than 70,000 visitors comfortably at one time or more than 100,000 during the 16 days of the Games. Tickets and lodging go hand in hand—no tickets are being sold without confirmed bed space, and each applicant must buy seats to at least one event every day he is in town.
As at all Olympics in the past, serious late starters—and that means anyone starting right now—probably can find a way to get there. Various U.S. travel agents offer packaged Olympic tours, and many have places still available. Almost all of them require the purchaser to buy a trip that will include from five to eight days in Mexico City and as many or more days touring Veracruz, Acapulco, Oaxaca, Cuernavaca or Taxco, like it or not. The reason for this is that travel agents in the U.S. have had to book their space from the old-line Mexico travel wholesalers who were given control of selling hotel rooms. These agents broke the 16 days of the Games into two or three blocks so that they could use the Mexico City hotel rooms they were allotted and the tickets that go with them as a come-on for selling more expensive tours. Many U.S. travel agents are so incensed by the scheme of things that they refuse to handle Olympics bookings. In defense of what may seem a touristic hold-up, Ram�n Alatorre says that the tour plan was based on actual practice during the Tokyo and Rome Olympics—visitors came for an average of six days of the Games and then toured the country for the rest of the time.
Unitours of Los Angeles (1543 Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles 90015), for example, has a 16-day tour that includes three days in Guadalajara and three touring Mexico City before the Games, then eight days of the Olympics. The cost is $574 per person for air fare, Olympic tickets and twin-bedded room at the Continental Hilton or the Alameda in Mexico City. John Gibson of Los Angeles (3285 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles 90005) has nine-day trips (Oct. 8-16, Oct. 16-24, Oct. 24-Nov. 1) priced from $555 to $777, with the entire time in private houses in Mexico City, but with side trips to Xochimilco and the pyramids. Tickets to some of the Olympic events are included in the price.
Track & Field News, published in Los Altos, Calif., has been advertising its Olympic tours for a year. It has now sold all of the space it held during the track-and-field events, the first eight days of the Games, but finds itself more or less stuck with dozens of rooms after October 21. Rooms are in apartments near the stadium and cost about $10 per person per night; you arrange your own transportation.
G.T.S. Travel of 1435 Fourth Street, San Rafael, Calif. has a variety of tours, including as many as 10 days in Mexico City, for $521 from San Francisco. In Houston, John Hancock (Chamber of Commerce Building) still has space on seven of his eight Olympic tours. A typical one: four nights in Acapulco and four in Mexico City for $210 per person, air fare extra ($88 round trip, coach, from Houston to Mexico City). Olympics tickets are extra, as well, and these cost from $22 for the best opening ceremony seats down to $4 for the cheapest reserved seats at most events.