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Lord Alexander hurled his Olympian thunderbolt in Montreal, while revisiting the country he once served (1946-52) as King George VI's Governor General. He was the same Alexander who led the Allied forces to victory in the Mediterranean in World War II, who won his field marshal's baton in the liberation of Rome—and who set records for the mile and two miles at Sandhurst. As a lithe lieutenant of the Irish Guards, Alexander won the Irish Amateur Mile in 1914 with a commendable time of 4:33. He grew up in the full bloom of gentlemanly amateurism in British sport, today heads the crusty Marylebone Cricket Club. Yet, in Montreal...
"People now have to work so hard to make a living," said his lordship, "that they are hard put to find the time and the energy for rigorous training. Expenses which they receive...help them out. Take the Russians. They aren't amateurs and they aren't professionals. They are actually civil servants."
Old Harrovian Alexander should have known that creeping civil servantism was a big reason for the decline and fall of the original Olympic Games. In the sixth century B.C. Solon started handing out 500 drachmas to any Athenian who came home from Olympia a winner. Soon leading athletes were drawing free meals and free front-row seats at public spectacles. The Sacred Games became profane, bribery became commonplace, and the cities of Greece bid competitively for the services of the Olympic heroes. By the fifth century, the top musclemen of the day were worshiped as demigods.
For a long time the athletes lived it up handsomely in Hellas. Gradually they became an indolent class unto themselves, stylishly pensioned, supported and bribed by the state, and organized into synods, or unions, to protect their privileges. Most Athenians were, of necessity, vegetarians; the athletes gorged on steak.
Inevitably, Greece's kept athletes began to look like Strasbourg geese, bred and fattened for the public to venerate. Had he consulted his history books, Marshall Alexander would have discovered that great generals, like Epaminondas and an earlier Alexander, scorned the professional Olympians as being too useless for military service. Had he looked at the marbles and painted artifacts in the British Museum, he might have discovered why: the graven likenesses of Greek athletes by 300 B.C. show a race of muscle-bound pinheads. Compared to the statues and the murals of their sleek-sinewed ancestors—amateurs all—the state-supported athletes were sorry slobs indeed.
The Greeks had a word or two for them. "Of all the countless evils throughout Hellas"—Euripides wrote it down—"none is worse than the race of athletes...Slaves of their belly."
THE FLYING QUEENS
The student rosters of most U.S. colleges are not exactly choked with female basketball players; girls seem more inclined to dream of hitting it rich in Hollywood than of sinking the old casaba from outside the foul line, and college men are generally left unchallenged to reap the sports headlines. The reverse of all this is true, however, at Wayland College (enrollment 482) in Plainview (pop. 18,000), Texas—home of the Hutcherson Flying Queens, who have just won the women's national AAU basketball championship for the third time in a row. If Wayland's basketball court boasted a marquee it would just have to read, like Minsky's: "Girls! Girls! Girls!"
Wayland's men's team has a hard time when it hits the road. People are forever saying, "Oh, you fellows come from the same school as that girls' team." They can only comfort themselves by reflecting that a man—a wealthy Texas rancher named Claude Hutcherson—was the cause of it all. In 1949, when Wayland's president asked Hutcherson to see what he could do about helping out, few people even in Plainview were conscious that girls played basketball at the little college. Then, as now, most girls' basketball teams of any consequence were supported by industrial concerns. Hutcherson, however, set out to make Way-land the best in the world.
He began by flying the Wayland girls to their games—thus giving the team a certain glamour, and at the same time advertising the fact that his various enterprises include a flying service. He bought the team flashy blue and white uniforms, pledged himself to pay their expenses and made it plain that he didn't care how far they might have to travel to find suitable opposition. Girls all over Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma suddenly started hoping that they could be Flying Queens too—40 or 50 hopeful young women now show up at Wayland each year to try for the team. Wayland's varsity coach, Harley Redin, is now in charge of the girl players. They have become, he says, "The first fast-breaking team in women's basketball."