This was to be Oerter's last Olympics if he lost. He brought his wife Corinne and the Oerter daughters, Crystiana, 9, and Gabrielle, 7, and they sat out in the rain to watch him. They kept wishing for Jay Silvester, the favorite, to trip. Not to get hurt, just to trip.
"Corinne said if this was it she wanted the girls to see it," Al said. "The day after I won she quit talking that way. She has mentioned Munich and 1972 about six times since breakfast." The Oerter timetable now calls for at least two more Olympics. He says he will continue to improve until he is 40.
As the track and field part of the Olympics ended, the U.S. team had won 15 gold medals, 6 silver, 7 bronze, for a total harvest of 28, which was 15 more than the Russians, 20 more than the eye-catching Kenyans and easily ahead of anyone else. And already out of the wings and into the pool that is certain to become their personal victory parade were the U.S. swimmers. When the women's medley relay team beat the Australians, barely, for the first swimming gold, 17-year-old Catie Ball said of the Aussies: "They swam much out of their class. Really."
The men's team was shot through with the turistas ("They're taking pills, but I don't see how you can avoid it, all this greasy food," said Coach George Haines) but won the 400-meter freestyle relay anyway. Donald McKenzie upset the Russians, Nicolai Pankin and Vladimir Kosinsky, in the men's 100-meter breaststroke. "I didn't think I could lose," said Pankin.
It was quickly determined, however, that the renowned Mark Spitz would not win six gold medals, as everybody thought. Spitz finished third and Zac Zorn finished last to Australia's Michael Wenden in the 100-meter freestyle final. Ken Walsh was second. It was also clear that Sue Pedersen was going to win the freestyle crying championship. Even after finishing second to teammate Jan Henne in the 100-meter freestyle (another teammate, Linda Gustavson, was third for a U.S. sweep), she stood there on the victory stand bawling her pretty blue eyes out as they played The Star-Spangled Banner.
Heat and the altitude contributed to a grim week for the rowers—winners and losers alike. They were no better able to cope than were the distance runners. An Australian here, a Frenchman there—they keeled over like Hollywood Apaches. One Danish rower had to be lifted into a first-aid boat in the middle of a race.
Those who won the gold were the ones who persevered, as did the West German eight-oared crew. This was to be a battle with the Harvard crew, the Shaggies (they wore un-crew cuts), and at the start it was Harvard trailing New Zealand. But at the end it was the West Germans all alone, and deep in the admiring heart of Coach Karl Adam ("They are completely worn out. It seems impossible, but they were able to row to the absolute limit of physical exertion"). The West Germans were a long time getting to the point where they could enjoy the victory, unless enjoyment is lying around coughing and vomiting.
Harvard finished last in its bid for a small miracle. Only hours before the repechages, Harvard had to juggle its boat when one of its number came down with the usual. The Harvards were still good enough to get to the finals. "We just couldn't keep up," said Coach Harry Parker. It was a low finish for a high hope: the U.S. had boats in all seven finals, but managed only a silver in pairs-without-cox and a bronze in double sculls.
Right from the time he walked into the stadium on opening day, that Russian flag thrust out in front of him (he used only one hand), Leonid Zhabotinsky was obviously something to be reckoned with. Known as Zhabo, he is the champion of all weight lifters, and the guy who thought he could reckon with him was handsome Joe Dube of the U.S., pretty imposing himself at 315 pounds. Someone reported to Dube that Zhabo was sick after eating a whole cantaloupe, skin and all. "Hell," said Dube. "I ate a whole cantaloupe last night and I didn't get sick." Dube lifted the good fight, but he could do no better than third and Zhabo again got the gold. "It was my eating habits," Dube said forlornly. "I'm a Southern boy, I need that good Southern cooking to get by on."
With seven games played and their winning streak at a stunning 73, it was obvious that the U.S. basketball team was not nearly as bad as people had said—and the Russians and Yugoslavians had hoped. In fact, Coach Hank Iba had his team looking so slick that there was hardly a spectator left who thought anybody else had a chance. The Americans did in Yugoslavia with oldtime ease, and seemed capable of beating the Russians (mechanical as ever) on instinct alone. Kansas' Jo Jo White and a 6'8" junior college product named Spencer Haywood were the stars, but the catalyst was Iba, who worked out a special offense for the Olympians, then drove them long hours until they loved it. " Coach Iba is the biggest asset we have," said the team captain, Mike Silliman of Army. "I don't think he'll let us lose."