The Canadians kicked one of their top sprinters, Bob Martin, off the team for sneaking a pal into the Village, and the IOC—no more Mr. Nice Guy—showed its muscle by catching a 66-year-old trap-shooter from Monaco popping amphetamines. They threw the old guy right out on his pill bottle.
The U.S. managed to get through the first week of the Games without any such incidents, and stirred in a few surprises along the way. The men dominated the swimming to a greater degree than expected, and by Sunday the U.S. had picked up two gold, two silver and three bronze medals in track and field. The basketball team pushed through the early rounds undefeated, substituting speed and depth for height. As the boxing eliminations advanced, U.S. fighters in the lighter weight divisions were making like a bunch of miniature Alis.
Out in the Montreal suburbs, 23-year-old Joan Lind of Long Beach, Calif. rowed to a silver medal in the single sculls, finishing just half a length behind two-time world champ Christine Scheiblich of East Germany. Another silver, in the men's coxless pairs, was won by Mike Staines and Calvin Coffey of Philadelphia's Vesper Boat Club. Don Haldeman of Souderton, Pa. blasted his way to a gold medal in trapshooting. Lee James of Manchester, Pa. won the silver medal in middle heavyweight weight lifting. Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the equestrians. Tad Coffin of Strafford, Vt. was the top individual in the three-day event (the first American ever to win that gold), while Mike Plumb of Chesapeake City, Md. won the silver. They joined Mary Anne Tauskey, New Vernon, N.J., and Bruce Davidson, Unionville, Pa., in winning the team event for the first time in 28 years.
But in many respects, the most fascinating aspect of the Olympics for Americans is that the Games have evolved into a summer television series. The real saga is not in Montreal but on Sixth Avenue in New York. This process seems to have begun in Mexico City, specifically when ABC Sports President Roone Arledge concentrated on the two-day decathlon drama won by Bill Toomey. It bloomed in Munich with the coronation of Olga Korbut and it has only been refined and augmented in Montreal.
The nightly network spectacle has brought Olympic sports a huge new audience, much of it learning about the Games and its principals solely through the ABC lens. Because virtually every shot that goes on the air is selected by Arledge, he is now, in many respects, the head of the Olympics in the U.S. Arledge acknowledges that he carries "an incredible responsibility," and indeed, there is nothing like it in all of sports. At other events—everything from football games to bowling—the action pretty much dictates the coverage. In the Olympics, with so many different and often unfamiliar competitions, Arledge must decide what gets exposure and who gets advance buildup. "We try to personalize it all as much as possible," he says.
So in the U.S. the Olympics are now the Arledge Follies. Some time ago, Frank Shorter was asked if he were upset that track stars didn't get the money and celebrity other athletes did. "No," he said, "I came into it knowing the situation. And besides, I got much more fame than I ever imagined possible in my life just because Roone Arledge decided to push the Marathon in '72."
The power of TV already has affected several Olympic events. The sprints, for example, used to be high glamour—everybody waited breathlessly to see who would be the next World's Fastest Human. But the sprints rush by too quickly to interest a general audience. At least that is TV's decision. Longer races (where the experts can discourse on strategy) provide better drama; better still are events that build. The decathlon and gymnastics are ideal starring vehicles. In TV parlance, Nadia Comaneci was nothing more than a spin-off from the Olga Korbut Show.
"We figured Comaneci would be big for us," Arledge says. "People may be discovering her for the first time, but we've been working her into Wide World for a year or more now. And in the second week, Shorter is attractive enough to be big again. We'll go with that. And Bruce Jenner, of course. He could really come out of this hot. He's charismatic. I think he could be another Dorothy Hamill."
Jenner is clearly positioned as the second-week Comaneci for another reason: he is photogenic. The Olympics, unlike other U.S. sports spectacles, draws a solid female audience—sometimes they are in the majority. "When you're in prime time," Arledge says, "the women control the sets. The men may get Sunday afternoons, but women rule the sets at night." Thus, in America the modern Olympic stars tend to be white, appealing young girls or handsome men. Howard Cosell has been getting nowhere trying to promote a teen-age black boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard; the Olympics are playing living rooms, not barrooms.
Skinny little Comaneci was the female star, not Kornelia Ender, the East German swimmer, who is every bit as outstanding in her specialty but a strapping fr�ulein, a little too strapping for women viewers to identify with. This is the same audience, remember, that made Dorothy Hamill's hairdo a national rage. Those are not Fabulous Moolah's fans staying up late to watch Princess Anne in dressage.