For Frank Shorter, the marathon was to be no more than an enjoyable 26-mile romp through the ancient streets of Cali, Colombia with his close friend Ken Moore, the United States' premier marathoner. Shorter had already won a gold medal in the Pan-American Games, running through a howl of Colombian boos and a hail of wadded paper cups to take the 10,000 meters, and he was content. That is, as content as a resident of the squalid Pan-Am village could be The U.S. officials, of course, were comfortably quartered in the plush Intercontinental Hotel.
By nature what Bertrand Russell would call a clear thinker and not one to issue flamboyant statements, Shorter stood the village as long as he could and then exploded. "Someday I would like to organize the athletes and demand that the officials live in the same facilities as the athletes. Here, they don't even come over to the village. They have little walkie-talkies, and their orders issue forth from their tower of elitism. 'Headquarters to village. Headquarters to village.' " Or as Bouncy Moore, the U.S. long jumper, expressed it, "The word comes down from the ivory towers to the place of the cold showers."
A typical room at the village had six bunk beds with mattresses that were no more than slabs of foam rubber laid on wooden planks, no hot water and open-air toilets that were even money to back up. One night the U.S. girls were chased out of their dorm by an army of rats. All of the dorms had open corridors overlooking the courtyard, which most of the 4,000 athletes quickly discovered made an excellent garbage pail. The combination of a hot day and a strong breeze was murder.
There was a lot of grumbling from the athletes, but none was aimed at the Colombians, who were warm and generous hosts. For the last six months their country has been plagued by more rain than it has had in the last 10 years, causing damaging floods and wiping out any possibility of the use of concrete in construction. And the food was good, hot and more than plentiful. Even the weight men were happy about the mess halls, which is a world record.
"It's a big production and all, a lot of money in it, and the Colombians are trying as hard as they can," said Ralph Mann, the world record holder in the 440-yard hurdles (48.8) who cut short a tour of Europe to compete in Cali. "But when you think about the Pan-Am Games, it still comes down to getting on the starting line with a bunch of 53-second guys. I must be stupid to have come back. But I guess a lot of us are stupid. What gets me is that people think coining here is glamorous. And they get teed off when we complain. There are a lot of guys here who gave up a lot to compete. We may be celebrities, but we sure have to pay for it."
While Mann, who went on to win his event, was having his problems getting up for second-rate competition, the U.S. basketball team was finding itself on the other side of the fence. The competition, mostly meaning Cuba, was proving too much to handle. In its division, the U.S. lost to Cuba by four points, beat Brazil by two points and walloped little Surinam by, well, 80 points. With only two teams in each division moving to the finals, for the U.S. everything came down to last week's game between Cuba and Brazil. If Cuba won, then it and the U.S. would move to the finals. But if Brazil won, that would make it a three-way tie, and they would add up the point differences in each game, low points out. U.S. Assistant Coach John Bach said he hoped the Cubans and the Brazilians had never heard of that old American game known as the fix.
On the point scale the only way the U.S. could be eliminated was for Cuba to lose to Brazil by five or less points. "And if they do try to cut it that close they could job themselves out of the finals," said Bach. "I just hope they don't call the New York gamblers and ask them how it's done."
Ha! With 2:47 left to play, the Brazilians led by 13. But from then until the final buzzer, they took only three shots, coming close on none. And they began to lose the ball on steals. And Cuba started to score. With 10 seconds remaining, Cuba's Alejandro Urgelles Guibot made two foul shots, and Cuba had lost—by five points. The Cuban and Brazilian players embraced and danced around the court. Without a scorecard, you couldn't tell the winners from the losers. When questioned about the strangeness of his team's play in the closing minutes, the Brazilian coach smiled and said, yes, he thought the U.S. team was much stronger than Cuba, and, double yes, he was tickled to death that it was Cuba his team would be facing again in the final round.
Meanwhile, Shorter and Moore managed to endure two days at the village before fleeing to the apartment of friends. "That first night was unbelievable," said Miler Marty Liquori. "About dawn everybody was so exhausted from trying to sleep through the bedlam, we were ready to fall off no matter what happened. Then this big thing starts flying around the room. It was an animal. It was too big to be called a bug. I was scared to death it was going to fly down and carry me off. Thank God for Shorter. He got up and killed it with a track shoe. He should take it home and have it mounted."
That done, Shorter put his mind on the 10,000, the first running event of the games. At the three-mile point, Colombia's Alvaro Mejia, Boston Marathon winner, made a move to pass Shorter, tried to cut in too soon and got a sharp elbow in his ribs.