Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Come one, come all! See ferocious little hellions no higher than your knee wrestle like grizzlies! Thrill to the riptide excitement of water polo! Marvel at the deadly grace of tae kwan do, Korea's answer to a kamikaze attack! Gasp at the spine-tingling suspense of the horseshoe pitch! Feel the pain of the infamous, gut-wrenching race-walk! And look out! Here comes that slambang free-for-all—team handball! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
Like a carny barker at full bellow, David Rivenes of Miles City, Montana has been delivering his spirited pitch to the world for most of his 68 years. A sideshow unto himself, he is the irrepressible promoter of an impossible dream: "Getting everyone interested in all the sports that no one is interested in."
A tall order, but then Rivenes (rhymes with marines) comes on like a one-man invasion. Typically, the fact that he had no idea what the luge was didn't deter him from helping to introduce the sledding event to the U.S. No obstacle is insurmountable, he contends, no mountain too high to climb. Not even the one in Montana on which he built an Olympic-size luge course that has everything but, alas, snow.
And there was no stopping Rivenes last summer when he staged a surfboard championship right there in Miles City, a cowpoke town that hasn't seen anything resembling a wave since the fat lady did a belly flop in the local swimming hole. "The difficulties only make the job interesting," says Rivenes. "The problems only make the results seem more worthwhile."
Problem No. 1, he says, is expanding the vision of a nation that has been focused on a handful of traditional sports for so long that it's blind to the joys inherent in other games. That myopia doesn't hamper the talented few who might excel at baseball, football or basketball, he says, but where does it leave the multitudes who fail to make the cut?
On the sidelines, usually, and while Rivenes applauds the recent surge of interest in participant sports, he feels it's only the beginning. Among other pursuits, his work with juvenile delinquents has convinced him that the benefits derived from sports are far too valuable for America to settle for anything short of fun and games for everyone. "If someone wants to play, let's help them," he says. "If they don't know how, let's teach them and spread the enjoyment around."
Ever the patriot, Rivenes believes that one of the long-range dividends of his efforts will be Stars and Stripes forever. He explains, "I am of the opinion that American boys and girls are the strongest, quickest and smartest in the world. Yet for too long now we've been seeing the Russians and East Germans beating our pants off in sports we've never even heard of. Moreover, they've been learning our games while we've been confining ourselves, concentrating too much on school sports. If Americans get involved in any sport at the grass-roots level, they can beat anybody in the world. They've only got to discover events like luge and team handball."
Which leads to problem No. 2: getting the show on the road. To shout "Play ball!" is one thing; to organize the forces that make the play possible is quite another. And that is Rivenes' forte. For all his maverick ways, he is no backwoods Barnum thumping his drum in the wilderness. He works within the system, or rather plows through it with a winning mix of "sweet-talking" and "ramrod-ding." One measure of his success is that he once ascended all the way to the presidency of that formidable bureaucracy, the Amateur Athletic Union. And who would dare label as far-out a man who in 1966 was honored at the White House by President Lyndon Johnson as Fitness Leader of the Year?
From peewee boxing and the Junior Olympics right up to the U.S. Olympic Committee, Rivenes has his hand in. Name a sports committee, and he is either on it, has bypassed it or will invent it. That snowy head among the well-tanned, for example, that pale countenance etched by the icy Chinook winds, is Rivenes vice-president of the World Surfing Federation. "Why should Californians have all the fun?" he wants to know.
Or Austrians, for that matter. As vice-president of the International Luge Federation, during his swings through the Alps, Rivenes has free run of a 100-room castle, a gift from Count Wohlgemuth. In Seoul he was whisked to meetings with then South Korean Prime Minister Shin Hyon-hwack by limousine and motorcycle escort, a style befitting a member of the executive committee of the International Tae Kwan Do Federation.