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Amateur sport has attracted more dissimilar types than the wharves of Algiers and has produced more divergence of thought than the old League of Nations, but its fanciers do not lack a common bond: there is hardly one of them who has not sent an irate telegram to Avery Brundage. During his four years as president of the International Olympic Committee, Brundage has always operated as though the abstract Olympic Ideal was an absolutely realistic code of operation and as though professionalism was a skid road to hell; he is a stiff-backed fellow and a stickler for rules, and his broad, upright figure is continually illumined by a St. Elmo's fire of controversy.
Last week, however, Avery suddenly began getting hit by chain lightning. The world discovered (with the tardy publication of the rule book for the 1956 Games) that Brundage's committee, meeting last January at Cortina, Italy, had redefined amateurism—and had decided that an Olympic athlete must not only spurn pay before and during the Games but must pledge never to turn professional in the future.
The waves of protest which followed washed in from every point of the compass. "For 30 years," said Director Lyman Bingham of the U.S. Olympic Committee, "I have never disagreed with Brundage. But he's all wrong this time. As far as the U.S. is concerned he's shooting bullets at us and blanks at the rest of the world." Said Franz Stampfl, who coached Roger Bannister: "Absolutely unrealistic." Sports Editor R. G. Lynch of the Milwaukee Journal wrote: "This Cotton Mather of sport...would revive the scarlet letter as a P instead of an A." Sprinter Bobby Morrow announced that he would refuse to sign.
Brundage seemed genuinely astounded by all this uproar, but he did not back down an inch. "The new pledge," he said stiffly, "involves no change in Olympic rules whatsoever. Those who intend to capitalize on their athletic fame have never been eligible for Olympic competition. That the pledge should come as a 'bombshell' merely indicates how far we have deviated from true amateur principles."
Despite this stubborn stand, Brundage did finally seem to realize that the haphazard and tardy way in which the pledge came to the world's attention was unfortunate, to say the least, and he considered a loophole—delaying its actual application until after the Melbourne Games. The International Olympic Committee (which will vote on this point) would be very badly advised to take any other course, if only in fairness to the U.S. Olympic team, which was picked without knowledge of the new rule, and which would unquestionably suffer more damage than its competitors if the pledge were enforced this year.
A niggling matter of two pounds was all that kept Nashua out of the Brooklyn Handicap at Jamaica, and a lot of racing fans were hard put to understand why such a trifle should deprive them of the chance to see their favorite Thoroughbred in action. Everyone knows by now that Nashua's new owners mean what they say about refusing to let him carry more than 130 pounds in a race. So what was the point in Handicapper Jimmy Kilroe's virtually throwing Nashua out of the Brooklyn by assigning him 132?
The answer goes right to the heart of handicap racing which, lacking a cut-and-dried formula for measuring a horse's speed and stamina, must lean on the handicapper's judgment, to say nothing of his integrity. Handicappers must step in where even an electronic computer might fear to tread.
When Leslie B. Combs II announced the ceiling on Nashua's imposts last spring, it was unusual indeed. In fact, it amounted to an ultimatum to handicappers: if they wanted this great gate attraction to run at their tracks they knew the terms in advance. Combs reasoned that excessive weights could break down a Thoroughbred—a question on which horsemen are far from agreed. Nevertheless, no one can fault the syndicate for looking after the best interest of their horse, as they see it.