WHERE WERE YOU ON D-PLUS-2?
During the eight years he spent on the world's championship tennis courts, Art Larsen could never quite live up to the reputations of such fellow Californians as Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzales. To be sure, he won the U.S. singles championship in 1950, but he was a soft-stroking southpaw who had to rely on inspired competitive determination to supplement his rather ordinary strokes. Not only that, but as a youth with a flair for center-court dramatics and off-court high jinks, he found himself listed as a "bad boy" in the books of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. In Genoa last year he created a minor international stir by slamming a ball at a ballboy in a fit of bad temper. On another occasion he yelled to a Paris mother in the stands, "I can't play with your baby crying," and thereby nearly loosened the seams of Franco-American friendship.
But, despite his troubles, Larsen kept trooping along in his own carefree way, an entertaining character to most of his fellow players. With a penchant for enjoying himself and teasing the tennis brass, he would say, "This amateur tennis racket is a good life, and I like it." As a matter of fact, he was lucky to be alive to enjoy the good life. During World War II, Larsen, who had once been a promising tennis prospect on the municipal courts of his home town of San Leandro, was an infantry machine gunner, hitting Omaha Beach on D-plus-2 and campaigning all the way to the Rhine. After the Battle of the Bulge he was never quite sure what had happened to him, but he was separated from his unit for two days. At the end of the war he had six battle stars, two unit citations, a case of badly shattered nerves and a most indecisive future. It was then that James B. Moffet, an old tennis friend from San Francisco, took charge and guided Art through a program of readjustment. Moffet, who is a USLTA committeeman, revived Art's interest in tennis and helped boost him to the top rungs of the game. Whenever Art's eccentricities got the best of him on the big-time circuit, Moffet would shout to impatient officials, "Where the hell were you guys on D-plus-2?"
Through it all Moffet never lost his faith in Larsen or his affection for him. "I've helped a lot of players," he says, "but none of them was ever as grateful as Art. He was always generous, but extremely sensitive. After a match he'd wonder out loud to me, 'Jim, why don't I get more applause?' "
The tennis career of Art Larsen ended abruptly six weeks ago. Riding his motor scooter along San Francisco's Eastshore Freeway at dusk, Art was thrown into a culvert, his skull smashed and the entire left side of his body lacerated. That night in the Castro Valley's Eden Hospital an operation was performed to remove clotting from the brain. For 20 days Larsen lay unconscious, and today, although he can utter a few tragically incoherent phrases, the former champion has total paralysis of his right side and has lost the sight of his right eye.
The cost of Larsen's hospitalization is tremendous, perhaps as high as $100 a day, and far too much for his father, a retired California highway patrolman, to shoulder alone. So a group of his tennis friends have rallied to the support of an idea proposed by Doris Hart and quickly seconded by such people as Don Budge, Dick Savitt, Budge Patty and Jack Kramer. These and others will stage a series of benefit matches beginning on Jan. 11 in New York's Seventh Regiment Armory (tickets and information available at the offices of World Tennis, 82 Beaver Street, New York). In making the announcement a solemn and serious Budge summed up the feeling of men who have known Art. "I think Larsen is one of the best sportsmen of all time. Now I'd like to see a real tennis show—to show the sort of fine gesture that tennis is capable of on behalf of one fine kid who needs our help."
HONOR WITHOUT CHEERS
In the first place, the 1,500-meter swim is not the most exciting event in the world for spectators. In the second place, Melbourne, unlike Sydney several hundred miles to the northeast, is able to control its enthusiasm for swimming. In the. third place, this particular event was only a qualifying heat, and so had to share the crowd's interest with a concurrent competition in platform diving and the public-address system's preoccupation with announcements of illegally parked cars and lost parcels. And yet, for the few who recognized the drama, this qualifying heat was to be one of the most treasured memories of the 1956 Olympic Games.
In an earlier heat, the two 17-year-olds, Murray Rose of Australia and Tsuyoshi Yamanaka of Japan, had battled it out. Rose took first place with a new Olympic record of 18:4.01, with Yamanaka touching only a fraction of a second behind him. The times of both men were within four seconds of the world record of 17:59.5 that Rose had hung up a month before to break the existing record held by George Breen, the 21-year-old American.
Now it was Breen's turn to qualify. It was also time for a competitive round of platform diving, scheduled on the theory that the 1,500—all by itself—is a long and dull race.