There is probably some sort of logical connection between Mr. Shearman's plight and the frequently voiced worry that the United States is going to be clobbered by the Soviet Union in the 1956 Olympics, for, like the worriers, Mr. Shearman is concerned with the possible loss of American prestige at international sports events. Unlike them, he is not worried so much about how we do. He just wants us to get there.
The concept of sport
The worry, mentioned above, over how well United States athletes will do in the 1956 Olympics is, in its implications, disturbing to those who feel that sports are supposed to be fun. This is not meant to be a criticism of those who are trying to organize wholesale training programs for American athletes but, rather, a rueful consideration of the peculiar position the world of sport is finding itself in as a direct result of the explosive flowering of Soviet athletics.
For instance, it is held that a program of carefully supervised intensive training would do much to build up American strength in track and field?the most important Olympic competition?and thus prevent the humiliation of our track and field team in the 1956 Games.
Now undoubtedly this is right. Such a program of carefully supervised intensive training would almost certainly improve the times and heights and distances of our better athletes and would uncover hitherto hidden talents in our lesser-known men. Our track and field team would be, as a unit, stronger and we would be in a good position to defeat the Soviet Union for the Olympic track and field team title.
Except that, technically, there is no Olympic team title in track and field nor any over-all Olympic team title. The Olympic ideal as expressed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, involved competition between individuals rather than nations. Honor to nations would derive from honor to individuals. This lofty ideal was unintentionally ruined and all but destroyed by the adoption of the practice of saluting a winner by playing the national anthem of his country and hoisting his country's flag to the top of the center flagpole. Any American who has had his otherwise well-controlled emotions tingled to the point of tears by the sight of the Stars and Stripes rising against a foreign sky and by the sound of The Star-Spangled Banner ringing out over a foreign land can testify that, one world or no one world, that's the flag and that's the tune he, as an American, wants to hear. By extension, we can understand why a Swede or a Finn or an Englishman might feel the same way.
This attitude is innocent and healthy in itself so long as it is a national pride in the individuals of the nation. But the Soviet Union stands for "collectivism," to use one of the multitude of euphemisms that disguise its totalitarian nature. The failure of an individual does not reflect the weakness of the individual; it implies a weakness in the state. The Soviet track and field team must, as a matter of national policy, be as strong and dominant as Soviet artillery or Soviet diplomacy. It is, therefore, a ward of the state and is nurtured under a carefully supervised and intensive training program. As a result, Soviet athletes win. They may not look upon winning as a particularly gratifying phase of the fun found in track and field. They may not look upon it as fun at all. But they win.
This brings us to a difficult, not easily answered question about intensive organized team-training programs: Do we feel strongly enough about national prestige?for this is certainly a question of national rather than individual pride?to follow the Soviet example and turn the Olympics into a battle between nations rather than a competition between individuals?
We think of Viscount Templewood, president of the British Lawn Tennis Association, who earlier this month discussed the possibility of Soviet tennis players competing at Wimbledon. He outlined the conditions under which the Soviets might be eligible and then added a comment on the Soviet attitude towards sport.
"Russians," he said, "evidently regard athletic victories as evidence of their national superiority. We must refuse to accept this concept of sport."