There were three Australians, three Americans, a Japanese and a Frenchman in the final race—nervous men all, who went to their marks with a touch of the brave reluctance of French royalty mounting the guillotine. Henricks, who has not lost in a hundred races since 1952, seemed the most nervous man in the great, silent building—the 100-meter freestyle is like the high hurdles on the cinder track, where a poor start or one slip can mean ruin. His start was only ordinary, and he was a tenth of a second back as the field hit the water and the race foamed into being. He came into the turn on his wrong hand and lost another tenth-second in so doing. His teammate John Devitt was at his side almost all the way to the finish, but Henricks boiled in, the ultimate winner—with Australians Devitt and Gary Chapman second and third. "First place," the announcer boomed, "Henricks, Australia." He paused and then cried, amid happy pandemonium: "A new Olympic record of 55.4 seconds."
With the Games two-thirds finished, some important, if hardly startling, conclusions can be drawn. The U.S. remains the world's leader in most men's field events and in all races up to and including the half mile. From a mile upward, that supremacy vanishes abruptly and passes to the Europeans, mostly because the best middle-and long-distance runners are of post-university age, a point at which Americans do not have the incentive at home to keep in training.
The fastest women in the world are Australian, British, German and Russian, the first two because of the emphasis placed on girls' athletics at their schools, the two latter because they are encouraged by their governments for prestige reasons. (One of the best German girls, Gisela Kohler, remarked that she had run in public competition 150 times this year before coming to Melbourne. Most of the U.S. women runners had been in no more than a couple of meets this summer.)
Other competitions have been dominated by nations whose traditional mastery is usually simply equated by the greatest number of hours regularly put in by the greatest number of people at a given sport. U.S. basketball leadership is still as unquestioned as that of the Indians at field hockey; the best fencers are still Hungarian, Italian and French.
The Russians continue the sporting progress they revealed to the world at Helsinki and even more strikingly at the 1956 Winter Games, but this progress may be slowing down. There are signs that this is particularly true of team sports. Russian victories in international team sports have been based on a combination of maximum physical conditioning and rigorous training in tactical essentials. Now some other nations are also learning about conditioning and coaching and are proving that when these are allied to individual brilliance they can be more than a match for a mechanized strategy which does not lend itself to improvisation. At Melbourne the Soviet soccer team, two or three years ago the world's best, has been held to a tie by the humble Indonesians. The water polo squad had been beaten by the Yugoslavs and the basketballers by the French. Nonetheless, by keeping everlastingly at it and entering full squads of competent athletes in every conceivable division, the Russians stand a good chance to pick up points in Melbourne's closing days—quite conceivably enough to give them arithmetical victory by unofficial point systems.
In Melbourne last week a diet of high drama was beginning to seem like normal fare and the city's fevered existence—something like life in a disturbed, if happy, ant heap—the normal state of affairs. The influence of the Olympics spread far from the arenas. Television aerials sprouted on visiting warships—even, in fact, on the periscopes of submarines—as navy crews followed every development of competition while afloat as well as ashore. The telephones at the U.S. section of the Olympic Village rang night and day as Aussie girls strove to communicate with the roomfuls of handsome athletes. The San Francisco Examiner's Curly Grieve leaped to a typewriter in a press room set up for multilingual composition and wrote for some minutes before discovering that his machine was equipped with Chinese characters. And poker-faced Soviet athletes gathered daily around a poker-faced Australian aborigine—to take lessons in throwing a boomerang.
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