IN FULL VIEW OF THE WORLD
The American Olympic team has just written a shining chapter in the history of sport, and its members are now piling back home with well-earned grins on their faces. In track and field they won 16 gold medals for the most brilliant record in half a century. In rowing, basketball and weight lifting they performed with high spirits and characteristic success. In swimming they were second only to the incredible Australians, who seem to have set about developing freestylers with the same zest and thoroughness with which they produce tennis champions.
In general, the Americans did well in all sports which are both 1) popular in American colleges and 2) included in the schedule of the Olympic Games. It is pleasant to report that even in Greco-Roman wrestling—a sport almost unknown in the U.S. and one in which the Americans were undertaking Olympic competition for the first time—the U.S. team actually won a few bouts before disappearing in the third round. They were good losers and absolutely refused to feel downcast. "Only one teammate is in the hospital, and he gets out tomorrow," said a grinning Greco-Romanist from Cedar Rapids named Dale Thomas. A Sioux City boy named Kent Townley reported in graciously exaggerated praise of his opponent that he "threw me so high in the air my nose started to bleed."
The Russians meanwhile reaped the fruit of their massive, painstaking (and state-subsidized) athletic program and "won" the Olympics. The score (under the American 10-5-4-3-2-1 point system) was: Russia 722 points, the U.S. 593—with Australia, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Great Britain finishing in the next five places. The Soviet press, which snapped critically at Russian athletes (particularly at track men and basketball players) during the early days of the Games, suddenly turned benign. Pravda jovially noted that the early lead run up by the Americans had finally been "liquidated."
Pravda's use of the familiar Communist term liquidated was as revealing as it was doubtless unconscious, since to the rest of the world it carried ironic overtones of slaughter in Budapest. But to the Kremlin brass hats, sport has long been just another form of politics, and the Russians have made it clear that their overriding interest in sports is victory—victory calculated to glorify the Soviet system. By last week Moscow papers were solemnly claiming Melbourne as another victory for "our own Communist Party and Soviet Government."
Unfortunately for the world effect of all this, the Russians at Melbourne disclosed themselves before the Games were over as men and women living under the pressure of vast uneasiness. They seemed well and truly fearful of their reception back home if they failed to win—and the strain showed to the world.
The revelation came gradually. The Russian track and field team, although beaten by U.S. college boys, behaved in an eminently sportsmanlike manner, and its great star, Vladimir Kuts, won the warm-hearted admiration of millions as well as two gold medals for his country. Soviet officialdom should have breathed a sigh of relief at the world's reaction. It did not. Russian hopes for victory were predicated upon the so-called minor sports—notably Greco-Roman wrestling, shooting and gymnastics (in which it is possible to win 42 gold medals, as many as in track and field), and they set about making certain of points with a dour crassness. Russian officials, in their final scramble for medals and points, reminded observers of a bunch of Molotovs—they were humorless, dogmatic, suspicious of competitors and bent on taking every advantage of referees and judges. Teammates criticized each other openly and bitterly for any failure.
Gymnasts, for instance, are supposed to warm up on the horse vault for no longer than five minutes; Russia's women competitors kept at it so long and so stubbornly that an embarrassed official was finally obliged to stop them physically by posting himself in front of the horse. The Russian soccer team resorted to rough measures in maintaining a slim 1-0 lead over Yugoslavia in the last half of their final game—at one point, despite the boos of 100,000 Australians, the Russian right winger, Boris Tatouchine, first pushed and then began kicking the Yugoslav back Nikola Radovic while the referee's back was turned.
The most dramatic violation of sportsmanship—and of all the precepts of effective propaganda—was the work of one E. Bogdanovskaya, a Russian woman who acted as a judge for the high diving. Solemnly, openly and consistently, she down-scored the U.S. divers. Even the winner, Mexico's 28-year-old Joaquin Capilla, was moved to comment: "It amounted to a competition between the nationalities of the judges rather than a competition of divers."
The world was left with two incandescent and thought-provoking impressions. First, to the Russian athletes it is not nearly so important what the world thinks as what the Russian masters think. Second, to the Russian masters it is not nearly so vital to persuade the world of victories truly won as to present—to 200 million Russians at home—the shiny gilt trophy of a "victory."