Everywhere the competition will be fierce. Out of 98 countries, 87 have entrants in the Olympics. Smaller nations have entered as never before. There are no competitors from Albania, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Salvador and Tanganyika. But the likes of Ghana, Surinam, Somalia, Monaco and San Marino have entered, bless their sporting little hearts.
Many athletes from such countries have entered without adequate coaching or equipment. Ceylon's Linus Diaz will attempt the marathon and the 10,000 meters, sustained chiefly by advice mailed to him from such great names of running as Emil Zatopek and Dr. Roger Bannister. A Haitian named Philome Laguerre, the only Haitian entered, has decided to take on the weight lifters of the world on the strength of what he has learned from a correspondence course.
As the Games drew near there were startling and heartening feats here and there. More than 400 young athletes strove to earn 42 places on the U.S. swimming team and broke three world records in the struggle. Jeff Farrell, the world's best sprinter, underwent an emergency appendectomy just six days before the U.S. trials but placed fourth in the 200-meter freestyle special and so won a spot on the relay team (see page 54).
While their coaches groaned at news of the U.S. records, the Australian swimmers were merely stimulated. They went out and set a flock of records of their own.
These individual braveries are in the spirit of the Games, bred in the ancient Greek idea of the virtue of the individual, and rise above the sour politics of our time. As always, there are political dissensions. For example, the Germans, West and East, are teamed up in fact by the rules but not in spirit.
"We may speak one language and compete under one flag, but there is no way to make us one team.... We will be two camps competing as one—and looking over our shoulders at each other." That, spoken by Wilhelm Pollmans, technical director of the West Germans, summed it up.
There have been other summations. The Italian Communist newspaper L'Unità has threatened that Benito Mussolini's name might be removed by force from an obelisk near the Olympic Stadium and urged that the words "Duce, Duce, Duce" be expunged from a sidewalk. The Communist suggestions, little more than demands that those who disagree should have their throats cut from ear to ear, have been ignored. Other Romans seem to feel that mementos of Mussolini and Caligula have their place in history.
Political troublemakers cannot be avoided in international competition on such a scale. Loudmouths who don't know the difference between a long cheer and a short beer are always obtruding on these events.
Despite the offstage distractions, these promise to be the most magnificent Games ever held. The Italian committee, its funds bolstered by returns from a football pool, has spent perhaps as much as $70 million in its preparations. These Games will be held in an atmosphere of splendor against a backdrop of Rome's ancient grandeur, studded with the modern beauty of freshly constructed arenas. Pier Luigi Nervi, the great architect, has contributed the Palazzo dello Sport (Sports Palace), the Palazzetto dello Sport (Little Sports Palace), and the Stadio Flaminio, a football stadium. One of Mussolini's contributions is the Olympic Stadium itself, the largest in Italy and one of the largest in the world, which seats 100,000 normally and will seat 110,000 for the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field and the grand-prix jump.