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While a powerful U.S. team at the Second Pan-American Games toppled records and captured most of the available gold medals, scores of finely trained athletes were being toppled by the Mexico City air—or rather lack of it. In the rarefied 7,600-foot atmosphere, well-conditioned young men from the lowlands dropped like flies. The games became a battle against altitude, and the only effective weapons were tanks of oxygen.
The American team entered this battle strangely unprepared. Some athletes arrived in Mexico a week before the games, time to acclimatize themselves; others did not get there until shortly before their events. U.S. team physician, Harry R. McPhee, drew an obvious conclusion: next time any U.S. athletes compete at such altitudes, they should arrive on the scene at least 10 days early. That much time at least is necessary to get used to diluted air.
Edgar Friere ( Brazil) clutches side as he gasps for air.
Cynthia Mills ( Jamaica) crumples after 60-meter dash.
Frank Rivera ( Puerto Rico) collapses after 800-meter.
Like wounded after battle, athletes lie prostrate on the stadium grounds following the 10,000-meter run. These men are inhaling oxygen supplied by Guatemalan officials from their team's supply. Many teams, including U.S., brought none.
Mal Whitfield takes oxygen as a precautionary measure after finishing second in qualifying heat of 800 meters. Realizing the effects of altitude, he saved his strength in the preliminaries; but despite this, in the finals the two-time Olympic winner faded in last 100 yards when "my legs got heavy" and finished fourth.
Winner and runner-up of record-breaking 400-meter hurdles, Culbreath and Jaime Aparicio ( Colombia) both require oxygen (left). After a few whiffs, bespectacled Aparicio congratulates still-dazed victor (below). Though many of the athletes collapsed from lack of oxygen, they suffered no untoward effects.