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The world of sport?as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED begins, with this first issue, to write and picture its week-to-week history?is in a new golden age.
This is a new kind of golden age. Granted, it cannot yet match?man for man, woman for woman?all the superstars of the 1920s and before. Still, for world-wide interest and participation, for huge crowds and vast audiences, for smashed records and astonishing performances by outsiders and underdogs, this new golden age in scores of ways outstrips and outdazzles them all.
As if no other world existed, the world of sport is crowded with action and excitement and filled with high sports spirits. Sports are booming everywhere. The Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Ceylon, Indonesia, Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nationalist China and South Korea get together in the Asian Games. Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Spain, Lebanon and Syria find common ground in the Mediterranean Games. All the nations of the earth are training for the next Olympic Games, scheduled for Australia in 1956.
Paced by soccer (spread to the four corners of the earth by England and now the No. 1 game of the world), sports of all kinds are on the upswing in what, only a few years ago, would have seemed unlikely places. Cairo, Egypt has an athletic stadium as big as California's Rose Bowl and Rio de Janeiro has one just about twice as big. India is pushing a big sports program in all its principal cities and will have a monster stadium, named in honor of Prime Minister Nehru, in Delhi. In Ceylon, the city of Colombo had to get a new stadium started when half of the crowd was turned away from the India-Ceylon soccer games.
Here in the United States, Americans are participating in sports as never before. Tens of thousands of pin boys are kept leaping by 20 million bowlers and, quite properly, the 60,000 bowling alleys around the country include one in the basement of the White House. The favorite outdoor sport is fishing. Last year 17,652,478 citizens took out fishing licenses and eight million more fished where licenses either were not needed (along the coasts) or were not likely to be asked for. Hunting licenses totaled 14,832,779.
Three million Americans go skiing every winter, a half-million own sailboats, a half-million more prefer inboard motorboats and three million fasten outboards to all manner of rowboats, skiffs and even cabin cruisers. This activity is not confined to the sea-coasts; for instance, 4,000 boats are registered on Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border.
There are five million golfers (and again, there is a White House symbol in the putting green outside the President's office). There is softball to be played (the Amateur Softball Association of America claims a million players) and basketball is a year-round sport and topic No. 1 in thousands of U.S. towns. There are horseshoes to be pitched in a million back yards and croquet balls to be tapped by belligerent believers who insist that it is the only worth-while game in the world.
When Americans are not playing or working, frequently they are looking on as sports spectators. Although they fill the bowls and the ball parks and the grandstands at the race tracks (when attractions are good enough) they also have time to look in on television. With all its varied sports programs, TV has made millions of new fans?including, for wrestling, Maestro Arturo Toscanini, the symphony conductor, and Mrs. Harry S. Truman, formerly of the White House.
Kids up and down the country who never set foot in a big-league ball park are now able to look over the catcher's shoulder at the All-Star Game and World Series. And, at the same time, there is not so much baseball on television (only New York and Chicago stations carry the full schedule) that the kids have quit playing the game themselves.
But is sports' new golden age long on quantity and short on quality? Nothing of the kind. Mount Everest, the unconquerable top of Creation, was conquered last year and its lofty neighbor, K-2, was climbed last week. The superstition that no man could run a mile in four minutes has been blasted not once, but twice. Roger Bannister, a British medical student (now a doctor) did it in 3:59.4 and before the ink was dry on the record books, an Australian butterfly chaser named John Landy did it in 3:58. (The two of them met last week in a new golden-age dream match at the British Empire Games in Vancouver, B.C. (see p. 20).