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From the first, it was apparent that these Winter Olympics were not going to lack revolutionary fervor. The fabled Russians, doped to win almost half of the 27 gold medals, were winning medals all right, but not all of them were the right color. Girls from Germany and America and Poland kept popping up in places where it was apparent they didn't belong, and the fiercely dedicated little Scandinavian cross-country runners were proving that their particular sporting tradition is still a treasured thing—and the equal, in the production of champions, to any form of mass assault. At the same time, the opposition which was disturbing the Russians in the snow along McKinney Creek was even less polite to the Austrian racers on the slopes of the great mountains surrounding Squaw Valley. What the rest of the skiing world has been seeking for a long time—the end of Austrian domination in the glamorous Alpine events—began to take place. Some of the boys and girls moving fastest down the mountain were still Austrians, true enough, but a lot more were wearing the sweaters and parkas of Switzerland, Germany, France and the U.S.
The earliest days of the Games produced a horde of heroes. There was Roger Staub, of course, the handsome, laughing Swiss boy who blazed down KT-22 on Sunday to win the men's giant slalom before more than 40,000 spectators in Squaw Valley and everyone in the United States who could get near a television set. There was Heidi Biebl, the 19-year-old German girl who conquered a remarkably strong field and a treacherous turn to win the ladies' downhill race. There was Helga Haase, another fräulein who failed to read all her opponents' press clippings and stole the 500-meter speed skating event, to the uproarious delight of a by now more-or-less united East and West German team. There was the Canadian duo of Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, who with their daring grace scored as decisive a triumph as any skating pair had ever achieved in the Olympics before. There was Klas Lestander of Sweden, who popped 20 shots into the targets, a perfect score, to win the strange biathlon event; and Maria Gusakova of Russia, an amazingly attractive girl who slogged more than six miles through the snow to lead a U.S.S.R. sweep in the first ladies' cross-country event, and then, after hastily applying lipstick, proceeded to charm several hundred members of a curious and unbelieving press.
Perhaps most of all, there was Sixten Jernberg, a wonderful, wiry little Swede with a soulful face appearing like a white ghost from out of the woods bordering McKinney Creek. When Sixten Jernberg, arms pumping like pistons and skis sliding gracefully over the snow, pushed his long nose across the finish line to win the 30-kilometer race and the first gold medal of 1960, the Winter Games were finally, truly, officially open. The athletes had taken over and the show began to be fun.
Jernberg is 31 years old, and for five years now he has been the greatest cross-country skier in the world. He won a gold medal at Cortina and two silver medals, and although he is getting old, as athletes go, he could conceivably win as many here. America is a land of green grass and blooming fields, not of ice and snow, and to Americans cross-country skiing is an idiot's pastime; at McKinney Creek on Friday there were fewer than 1,000 spectators out to watch the 30-kilometer race, compared to the 50,000 who might have gathered in Finland or Sweden or Norway to see the same event. Yet Americans, too, would have to love Sixten Jernberg; because we are a nation capable of appreciating the courage and determination and skill required of a superb athlete, we can also understand what makes him go—even across 20 or 30 miles of snow.
The cross-country runner is a solitary poet of motion: he wastes nothing, not strength or mind or terrain. Like a ram-jet gulping oxygen to keep the propulsion system going, he soon reaches a peak of efficiency where output balances intake and then he settles down to a steady, mile-consuming stride which never seems to vary. No one does this better than Jernberg.
"If he has a secret," says Sven Wiik, coach of the U.S. team, "it would have been found out by now. Everybody has had a chance to study his skiing. There is no secret. He told our best runner, Mack Miller, 'You just keep it up. There's nothing out there on the track that you get for nothing,' and I think that's it. He has worked for what he gets."
Wiik is small, has a long, droll face and, in his peaked cap, looks a little bit like a woodland elf heading for a hollow tree. He was born in Sweden himself and can appreciate Jernberg's tremendous devotion to his craft.
"Sixten's tempo is so fast," says Wiik, "that no one else can duplicate it. Where other skiers rest on the glide, he never does; he is already into his next stride. He always sets a faster, harder tempo. Notice that when he starts to use the ski pole, it bends like a bow. And he has the perfect temperament. He may look sad but he is not a pessimist. A cross-country runner is out there a long time, and he has lots of time to think. He can get discouraged, talk himself out of a race. A good skier has to be happy; he shouldn't think about sad things."
Jernberg was full of happy thoughts on Friday. He started out No. 43 in the big field which was being sent away at 30-second intervals, and from the first he began to cut down the runners out ahead. Away from the little stadium, off on the lonely trails with only his fellow competitors and a few near-frozen course police for company, he passed the other runners on the hills, between the trees, down the open slopes, one after the other. It was evident, right away, that he was going to win. A teammate, young Rolf Ramgard, ran very well to finish second, and the best of the Russians, Nikolai Anikin, came on strong to capture third. America's Miller finished 27th, but this was hardly a disgrace; he was only 12 minutes behind Jernberg, and never before had a U.S. skier, at 30 kilometers, done so well. Still, it was Sixten's race. At the finish, 1 hour 51 minutes 3.9 seconds after he began, the onetime Swedish blacksmith and woodcutter was embraced by his team captain, Siggie Bergmann, and Prince Bertil, head of the Swedish delegation. He was the first champion of the 1960 Games. Others were coughing and collapsing; Sixten didn't seem to be breathing much harder than Prince Bertil.
HAPPY THOUGHTS OF THE 50