Just when things looked darkest, when Mexico City was about ready to ask the world to kindly go away somewhere on the other side of the Rio Bravo, along came the second week, and sane and predictable things began to happen. The swimmers, who had already moved into their stadium, began to ply the water in earnest. Farther downtown there were gymnastics—especially women's gymnastics, the girlie show of sport. In other sections of the city other competitors were also doing things—sensible things that people could identify with, like boxing and stabbing at each other with foils. And there was basketball, an especially dandy sport, because everybody really knew who would win after all. Finally the week took on such a well-ordered look that one International Olympic Committeeman was stirred to say these Games were the cleanest in history, which indicates he must have spent most of his time going out for tacos.
Even though swimming in particular, and lesser sports in general, helped settle down the Olympics, it was hardly a well-ordered week by ordinary standards. It was suggested that the reason why many of those track and field athletes had limped out of the stadium after the first week was that large sums of money had been stuffed into their track shoes by track shoe manufacturers. One athlete, unidentified, tried to cash a $1,440 shoe-company check right at the Olympic Village, which must have left his shoe man shaking in his striped spikes. There was a hasty move to sweep much of this news under the Tartan track, but a full investigation had to be launched. By way of explanation, Bob Paul, in his almost insoluble job as press-relations man for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, in two breaths, "Do not pay any attention to all these rumors," and, "We have a private investigator working on the case."
As if the shoe scandal, following the glove shindy, was not enough, a band of crusty officials decided to invalidate the bronze medal won by the Swedish modern pentathlon team. The culprit was a Swede who allegedly drank too many beers to steady his hand before the pistol shooting event. He managed to get his hand so steady, doctors said, that it was almost stiff. They found more than the minimum allowable amount of alcohol in his blood—and would Sweden please send back the medal? Well, the pentathlon shooters have always had a few belts to brace themselves, and the alcohol rule is indicative only of the depths of purity to which modern pentathlon has sunk. Back in the old days Russian Igor Novikov, who won a silver medal in Tokyo, occasionally got so rock-steady that he had to be carried to the shooting line, and at the 1963 world championships in Bern, Switzerland one competitor showed up sloshed, sang a few old drinking songs and waved his pistol at the crowd for special effect.
These were not the only troubles. The masseur of the Dutch cycling team was packed on a plane and sent home after unauthorized vitamins and medicines were found in his room and, presumably, in his athletes; Tom Evans, head coach of the U.S. freestyle wrestling squad, which picked up two silver medals, charged angrily that other nations were conspiring to throw certain matches; and five referees were withdrawn from the boxing ring because they "allowed contestants to take too much punishment."
As a final touch, officials got to worrying about maintaining a certain dignity in the closing ceremonies (in Tokyo one team marched in wearing suits, shirts, ties, coats, shoes and socks—and carrying their pants over their arms). The committee in charge revised the program, specifying blandly that each nation would be limited to just seven sober marchers, thus raising a howl from hundreds of athletes whose only reason for staying in town was to parade in that grand finale. Slews of people marched anyway.
But just as the whole thing seemed to be lurching out of control, the American swim kids, who do not compete in track shoes or shoot pistols, put the 1968 Olympiad back together again. For all those peripheral troubles, for all the talk of scandal, they made the Games more than worthwhile. "We are up to here in heroes and heroines," rasped that emotional wreck, Sherman Chavoor, the U.S. girls' team coach. "I mean, look at Debbie Meyer. Look at Mike Burton. Kids like this make America great. They are a dream team."
They were all of that. By Saturday night the dream swim team had swept five events, set four world and 17 Olympic records and had taken 58 medals—leaving 41 for the rest of the world to split up. From the start the swimmers had fought successive waves of stomach cramps and what 22-year-old Douglas Russell called The Altitude Monkey. "You get in that ol' pool, you start thinking about 7,349 feet—and suddenly that monkey jumps right in there on top of you," he said. They were also competing in what was by American standards a slow pool, with the water level just far enough below the gutters to create everything but whitecaps whenever swimmers competed. On the night of the storm-tossed men's 400-meter freestyle relay Ken Walsh climbed out of the water, looked at the pool and murmured, "It's murder in there. You make the turn and suddenly you're going bump, bump, bump over the waves. Almost enough to make you seasick." Still, the team had bumped its way through the course in 3:31.7, ahead of the Russians and Australians, for both world and Olympic records.
Then, of course, there were the performances of Debbie Meyer, who deserves a ticker-tape parade through her home town of Sacramento, Calif. Miss Meyer is 16, about to be beautiful, not old enough to wear makeup—well, maybe just a tiny hint of eyeshadow—with a businesslike tawny haircut and the posture of a coiled spring. "After this," she said last week, "I am going to go home and stuff myself."
Debbie won her event—and broke an Olympic record—every time she sprang into the pool and peeked over at her competitors from beneath her dripping bangs. On Sunday night she churned her way through the 400-meter freestyle in 4:31.8 and said, "I felt real easy all the way." On Tuesday she swam the 200-meter freestyle in 2:10.5 and shrugged, "I'll still swim one year more. Oh, well, maybe four." And on Thursday, after winning the 800-meter freestyle, she ran up to Coach Chavoor and hung her third gold medal around his neck. "Here," she said, "this one is for you." Then she thought it over for a while. "I'd like to swim in Munich in 1972," she said. "Of course, it depends on whether I make the team or not." Coach Chavoor simply gurgled.
Thus, through 33 events, did the swimmers and divers carry this stamp of marvelous purity. It was a sort of Gidget Goes Olympian quality that prevailed over all outside influences. Each night, as the events splashed on and the swimming stadium grew progressively more hysterical, there would be performances to make strong coaches wilt, highlights that left audiences weak. Claudia Kolb of Santa Clara, Calif., for one example, took two individual golds, setting two Olympic records in the 200- and 400-meter medleys, winning the latter from here to Guadalajara.