ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO SPRINT
Verbatim exclusive from Australia, as furnished to readers of the
New York Times
"The wet and rather cold weather that had obtained here during the training period undoubtedly has set back some of them. The spinsters, particularly, have not been able to let out as they would like to."
FUN & (OLYMPIC) GAMES
The great cheer which rose when the Olympic flame was lighted at Melbourne last week was more than just a salute to tradition; it was, at least in part, the same sort of applause which vaudeville audiences once gave the juggler who balanced a set of dishes on his head without breaking anything. The juggler at Melbourne was Australia's 19-year-old Miler Ron Clarke, last of the 2,750 relay runners who brought the flame across the continent. Clarke had hardly entered the stadium before it was apparent that he was the recipient of an infernal machine as well as an honor. The aluminum torch he carried was loaded with burning magnesium, and as he galloped (his time for the quarter, 80 seconds) around the track it smoked, sputtered and threw sparks like an old wood-burning locomotive. His bare arm was painfully burned.
When he started up a stairway leading to the top of the stadium it became apparent that the final rite, too, was going to demand a certain rakishness of spirit. The big golden Olympic cauldron burns gas, and those in the audience who had ever approached a gas oven with a match could not help but watch the courier with beady fascination as he advanced on it. He had the deft touch—he raised his torch high, the cauldron whooshed and threw up a mighty flame, and Clarke sprang back completely intact, to receive the cheers of his countrymen.
Clarke was not the only noncompetitor to contribute to the flavor of the Games, and the Olympic stadium did not have a monopoly on open gas fires. Melbourne was almost as proud of a huge torch which has been hung, for atmospheric purposes, above the intersection of downtown Flinders and Swanston streets. The great gadget weighs 3� tons, stands 65 feet high, and belches flame from a 20-foot mouth; 250,000 people gathered to watch it turned on just before the Games and caused the worst traffic jam since the Queen's tour. Staid Melbourne boasted almost three-quarters of a million dollars' worth of other decoration—buildings were strung with lights, flags and bunting, and flowering windowboxes were everywhere.
This gaudy background and the transient ship-cruise atmosphere attendant on the Games was heightened by a good many peripheral alarums and excursions—one Nina Paranyuk, 34, a stewardess from the Soviet steamship Gruzia, made almost as many headlines as Vladimir Kuts when she went into hiding ashore and stayed hidden despite angry cries of Russian officialdom and the best efforts of the Australian cops. And the street costumes and native ritual of many a competitor add to Melbourne's exotic air: Pakistan's white-turbaned athletes kneel facing Mecca five times daily, the Japanese basketball team bows gravely to the audience before every game, the Nigerians boast rich green coats piped with yellow, and at least one Fiji has emerged in public wearing a lap-lap and sandals.
Some of the noncompetitive efforts of the athletes themselves are causing almost as much talk, at least in the Olympic Village, as their more publicized feats in the arena. There is probably no more persistent topic of conversation in the city than the high wire fence which grimly divides the men's and women's quarters at the village—and even divides husbands and wives, such as the Hungarian swimmers Arpad and Kati Domjan. Scarcely a male in the camp has not designed, at least in imagination, a portable ladder capable of surmounting it.
There is other minor drama behind the scene. The Russians—too confident of winning the broad jump, the hammer throw and the 50-kilometer walk—ordered three big cakes to celebrate their victories. They lost all three events and refused the cakes. The Australian caterer, a man of ironic humor, gravely delivered them, free of charge, at the U.S. camp. The Soviet athletes, however, still smile: the property-minded Reds, in a species of old-fashioned Yankee barter, think they are fleecing the U.S. team members day by day by trading old Russian club badges for U.S. Olympic team badges. They seem unaware of the fact that the American athletes have equipped themselves with from 20 to 30 official pins apiece for just such trading and are collecting all the Soviet hardware in sight.