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The blue-clad avalanche which was Russia seemed hesitant at times, but the over-all Soviet impact at Squaw Valley was irresistible. The U.S.S.R. won five gold medals and shared another in the eight speed skating events alone, almost twice as many as any other nation in the entire Games. Russia won its share of silver medals, too, and picked up a bronze medal in every third event on the program. By the time the VIII Olympic Winter Games were over last Sunday, the unofficial team score was so lop-sidedly in favor of the Soviet Union that hardly anyone even bothered to add up the absurd figures any more.
The story behind Russia's vast success at Squaw Valley was the same as it had been at Cortina: a massive sports program enveloping schools and clubs and labor unions and the military service, state encouragement, frequent outright aid to the specially talented, a fierce desire on the part of the individual to triumph, less for himself or his organization than for Mother Russia. Yet somewhere between Cortina and Squaw Valley, the Russians have changed. They have become more human. In the Olympic Village, where the athletes of 30 nations lived and ate and danced and sang and played, they were as much a part of things as anyone else. Suddenly, at Squaw Valley, the Russians ceased to be muscles without minds or personalities and became individuals. Some of them were very impressive individuals, indeed.
"Do I like Americans?" said Evgeny Grishin punctiliously. "Of course. They are just like us. Bill Disney is a good friend of mine. He is a wonderful skater with very fine technique. I like Carol Heiss very much. As a sportswoman, I am in love with her. As a girl? Of course, I am in love with her. Isn't everyone?"
Grishin, who won the 500-meter race, equaling his own world and Olympic record, and tied Norway's Roald Aas for the 1,500-meter medal, is one of Russia's finest athletes. He got two gold medals at Cortina and, before that, was the outstanding cyclist in the Soviet Union. At Helsinki as a cyclist in 1952, he became ill and could not compete, but he still thinks he was a better cyclist than a skater. "I was in training 12 months a year," he explains, "six months on bicycle and six months on skates. But my doctor suggested that for my heart's sake I should give one of them up. For some reason, I decided that I would keep up with my skating."
Grishin is also one of the world's most charming athletes, a tall, trim, intelligent man approaching his 29th birthday, with deep-set brown eyes, a big nose and a frequent, flashing grin. Inside the grin there are two bright gold teeth. He speaks only Russian but he speaks that articulately, very fast. He is a senior lieutenant in the Red army, a military man since 1950, although most of his work is concerned with physical education. Today Grishin is stationed in Moscow, where he lives in an apartment with his wife. "We have no children yet," he says. "We have been married only a year."
Evgeny was born and raised in Tula, a city of 300,000 about 100 miles from Moscow, and he is very proud of the fact that Tula was also the home of Leo Tolstoy. "They have a big museum for Tolstoy there," says Grishin. "I don't think they will ever build a museum for me." Still, he is a well-known man. "When I am at home," he says, "many people know me and I get a lot of telephone calls, but when I am in other parts of the country, hardly anyone recognizes me. I don't think being a famous athlete means as much in Russia as it does in the U.S."
In Tula, when he was very young, Grishin learned to skate fast by hitching rides on cars traveling along the ice-covered streets. "At the place where we stood in hiding," he says, "the cars would pass at about 40 kilometers an hour, so we had to skate very fast in order to catch them. Then we would hold on until we got tired or the police would see us. Usually they sent us home, but sometimes we would sneak back to catch more cars."
Today, Grishin would rather drive cars than chase them. "Automobiles," he says, "are my sickness. I am crazy about them. I own a Volga, it cost me 30,000 rubles [$7,500 at current official rate] a few years ago, although one would cost 40,000 rubles now. Do you know what I would like to do? I would like to race a Ford. In my dreams I race Fords, but they always neat me. I do not have enough cylinders."
Now that Evgeny has won four gold medals in two Olympics, does he plan to give up competitive skating? "Why no," he says, "why should I? It is fun. I will look forward to seeing you at Innsbruck in 1964."
Lydia Skoblikova is not quite 22, much younger than Grishin, and she was not even at Cortina four years ago; but at Squaw Valley she won two gold medals in speed skating, too, setting a world record in the 1,500-meter race, winning the 3,000 and coming close to winning a third medal in the 1,000, where she finished fourth. "Until Penny Pitou fell in the slalom race," she said in Russian, "I was afraid some other girl might win more medals than me. I am sorry that Penny fell, of course. She must be a very splendid sportswoman and I would like very much to have the chance to know her."