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Then along came Russian and Cuban relay teams, breathing easily in the no-calorie air, and tugged on their track shoes. Before anyone could say, "You can't expect to run fast in Mexico," the girls of both teams equaled the world mark of 43.6 seconds in the 400-meter relay, and the Cuban men's team ran just close enough to the world record—38.8 seconds—to make it look easy.
In that same practice meet Mexico's Juan Mart�nez loped along for 5,000 meters in 13:59.8, the best ever run at that altitude, and then Kenya's Wilson Kiprugut whizzed 800 meters in 1:45.9, another startling time. By Saturday athletes were taking bigger breaths, and little Doris Brown, recently of the Los Alamos Browns, got off the bus from the airport and ran a test 800 meters. She clocked it in 2:06.6, beating Abby Hoffman of Canada, and then went back to the Village to finish unpacking.
"The altitude, it bothered us for five days," said a Belgian field-hockey player named Andr� Musch, "but after that it is finished."
Understand, all that was inside the Olympics. On the outside, a few blocks away at the 90,000-student National University, and a few miles away in Tlatelolco, which is the Levittown of Mexico, the division grew sharp, tense and more tragic.
The students and the army had been feuding for weeks before the Olympians started arriving, and by the time the Games were pulling together the crisis had worsened to the point of explosion. There had been rioting, gunplay and a general smashing-up of things on the university city campus. President D�az had appealed for all sides to calm down while the strangers were in town—citing such items as image, the fact that visitors could get hurt, Mexico's big investment in tourism and, finally, motherhood ("Please keep your boys and girls off the streets").
But inside the medical center on campus, surrounded by smashed windows, barricades of classroom chairs and splashed paint slogans saying NO VOLVEREMOS, which means, "We will not turn back," members of the student strike committee took a different view.
"We like the Olympic Games," one of the leaders said, "but we feel our cause is more important. These should not be related, because Mexico has spent a lot of money on the Games. But that is the way it is. The generation gap everyone speaks of has grown to worldwide proportions now. It is everywhere. Your way of life, with your mechanism and your Olympics, does not suit us."
That was Wednesday. The students would rally that evening, he said, on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. From there they would march on a nearby school—still occupied by police—and liberate it. They came by the thousands. The plaza sits in the center of Tlatelolco, a condominium housing project. Several of the marchers had made special signs for the occasion—brightly colored posters, many of them showing the Olympic ringed emblem in the foreground—with drawings of police bayoneting students in the background. There were grim invitations for the world to come to these bloody Olympics and other invitations to stay away.
After a while the belligerent scene became almost festive; it might have been a student pep rally on the campus of the University of Kansas, seeking free love. A strike leader, speaking from a balcony, had called off the proposed march. Too many soldiers waiting with guns, he said. And then, while students and spectators milled around, came the scene that was to leave its mark on the 1968 Olympics.
It was dark. A green flare suddenly arched high overhead to light the scene and the plaza exploded with machine-gun fire and students running in panic. Soldiers had them surrounded and for three hours and more the place rang with gunfire.