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The tendency of women to gather in small groups and talk about their everyday concerns has remained a constant in history, from the past of the kitchen midden to the present of the electric coffeepot. And the fact that a girl is a topflight swimmer or sprinter or discus thrower has no effect whatever on the ancient pattern; she will have a nice heart-to-heart with her feminine neighbors, even if she has to call in an interpreter before she can do it.
That's what Shelley Mann did the other day (in the women's quarters of the Olympic Village at Melbourne) when her visitors were Marlene Mathews and Betty Cuthbert, two pretty sprinters from Australia, Galina Popova, an equally pretty sprinter from Russia, and Mary Snow of the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Olympic team. Everybody spoke English but Galina, and nobody spoke Russian but Galina and the interpreter, and neither of these facts seemed to bother Galina at all.
She stood the other girls in a row in their stocking feet and measured her height against theirs; then she registered a vast Russian dismay on discovering that she was at least three inches shorter than anybody else. "Our coaches told us we were up against it," she mourned. "We are so small."
While Hostess Mann (who swims but does not run) stored the conversation on her tape recorder, Galina and the two Australian girls sprawled on the bed and discussed the event in which they will all three compete—the 100-meter dash. Marlene Mathews said that her own best time of 11.3 was made with the help of the wind. Did they have wind gauges in Russia?
Yes, indeed, said Galina, and the winds are very strong there, much stronger than in Australia. "But our coaches never let us run with the wind. Always against, for the training." It was the Australians' turn to register dismay.
Somehow the conversation (also following the ancient pattern) got around to men. Marlene showed her diamond engagement ring, talked of her plans for a March wedding, and accepted everybody's congratulations. Galina, questioned about her plans, confessed that she was already married, and had been for two years. Her wedding ring, she explained, had slipped off that day in the shower. "I was afraid I would lose it, so I put it in a little box."
"What is your married name?" Betty asked, and was swamped by the answer: "Galina Mikhailovna Vinogradova Popova."
"Galina is my patron saint," Galina explained. "I'm the daughter of Mikhail. My maiden name is Vinogradova and I married a doctor named Popov."
Shelley (who has been collecting samples of the various languages spoken in the Olympic Village) held the microphone of her tape recorder directly in front of Mrs. Popova and put a question: "Were you a better runner before or after you got married?"