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We know there are other girls in the world who are strong...but we shall do well." The speaker was gray-eyed Galina Turova, Russia's leading woman track and field coach. It seemed there was good reason for the optimism she voiced in Lenin Stadium last week.
After watching 2,000 women competing in the All-Union Spartakiada—the U.S.S.R.'s Tournament of the Nations—I am convinced that, although no world records in Olympic events were smashed during their Moscow games, these girls have the potential. With the stimulus of international rivalry (a most powerful factor here), they can dominate if not sweep six Olympic track and field events out of the nine open to women. They have resolutely eliminated a number of "errors," as demanded by the 20th Communist Party Congress last winter, and Mother Russia is likely to be proud of her daughters at Melbourne.
FRIENDS AND HUSBANDS
There are all kinds of them—young and oldish, bean-pole thin and squat, pretty and ugly, blonde and brunette, provincial and sophisticated—coming from all parts of these vast republics. They have in common a will to win for their country. Besides, these games gave them a chance to make new friends and perhaps to meet future husbands—many of the top Soviet women stars have married fellow athletes.
Usually Russian girls get into athletics in high school. A few come in later, on their first job or through local sports clubs. They are immediately entered in competitions if they show any promise. For the girl who looks really good, there is unfailingly some coach to pass her up the line. The best girls study at various institutes of physical culture, particularly in Moscow and Leningrad, where they can concentrate on their sports as well as their studies. In a country where physical culture is a major science and physical well-being a cult, girls receive state subsidies to cover their basic costs of living and tuition, and at school allowances range from 300 rubles monthly for an undergraduate to 1,600 rubles for a postgraduate. Since the need to work her way through school is thus removed, the poorest student can have plenty of time for training. One young Olympic hopeful, a swimmer, happens to intend to major in philosophy, but even she will find time for regular workouts in her university's pool and will receive the greatest encouragement while doing so. Rewards of a career in Soviet sports are often intangible. They sometimes mainly mean that a talented girl can leave her tiny village for the far-off big city. New vistas are opened up to her because of her prowess. For top stars there is the lure of foreign travel. A girl who can break records will have the chance to see a lot of the world and learn how others live, eat, dress—and maybe think. Thus, a well-coordinated set of muscles can mean the difference between teaching in a city and milking cows on a collective farm.
Indifference to looks but admiration for athletic ability seems to be the keynote of the masculine view on Russian sportswomen. The girls themselves, far from indifferent about their appearance, self-consciously run combs through badly permanented locks before standing up for awards or in front of cameras. Many among them, particularly those who have reached the top and who have traveled abroad, wear lipstick and nail polish, relatively stylish clothes and occasional bits of finery.
During the Moscow games a new generation of women athletes began to emerge. Attractiveness and strength were combined in one heroine of the games, young Nina Vinogradova, a Leningrad student and recent bride who outpointed Alexandra Chudina, longtime champion in the women's pentathlon, who in defeat forced Vinogradova to a world record. There was an air of the queen is dead, long live the queen as Vinogradova drew the cheers and Chudina derisive whistles when they fought it out. Nina's face crinkles into a squinty smile and her eyes sparkle as she talks about her husband of one year, a light heavyweight boxer still a student of physical culture in Leningrad. She trains three times a week in two-hour sessions. Coach Turova and Nina agree that hurdles will be her forte at Melbourne, and both regret that the pentathlon for women is not an Olympic event. Another Olympic gold medal winner who went down to defeat was blonde Galina Zybina, shotput champion, defeated by her perennial rival, Tamara Tichkeivich. Tamara, weighing in at 225 pounds, heaved the regulation shotput 16.22 meters, Zybina a mere 15.98, well under her own record. At Melbourne these two girls and their third teammate, Doinikova, ought to sweep all honors in this event. Only 25 now, Zybina was billed after Helsinki as the world's strongest woman and, though stocky and muscular, she seems sylphlike next to her conqueror.
Perhaps the greatest popular heroine with Moscow track enthusiasts was pretty, dark-haired Galina Popova, who, as Galina Vinogradova (no kin to Nina), had set many a record. Returning to competition after a year's illness (she says her doctor husband diagnosed it as heart strain), she has yet to reach top form this year. Small-boned and with finely chiseled features, petite but hard as nails, olive-skinned Gala has the carriage of a champion. She warms up with a short bouncing step and wastes no time or effort on or off the field. This summer she has been concentrating on the broad jump, which she prefers and, according to some coaches, has let her 100-meter sprint slide. Even so, she managed an 11.5 (tying the European record) in a heat and won handily in the final with 11.6. While competing or training, Popova wears a serious, almost grim look, but off the field she is a relaxed, good-looking girl, well made up, with every one of her 110 pounds in exactly the right place, who is fond of dancing and theater. She trains intensively in Leningrad, helped by her husband, who carefully takes her pulse each morning and her blood pressure once a week.
The women who seem to worry Coach Turova most are not the Americans but those being trained in West Germany and Australia. These two groups could be a real threat to her girls. Turova notes that her girls have met most of their strongest competitors and have studied pictures of those whom they have not.