For 12 days the Iron Curtain was pulled back while 10,000 Russian men and women showed their mass progress in 20 sports and tested their strength for the 1956 Olympic Games
August 19, 1956

Hours before the spectacle would begin, from all over Moscow the people had come by bus and trolley, in taxis and on foot, to the great new, orange-tiled Lenin Stadium beside the Muscova River. Most of the 100,000 filing into the stands were coarsely dressed—a vast and joyful bleacher crowd carrying or wearing coats against the unseasonable temperature and the threat of the gray skies. There was an occasional burst of smart color in the clothes of some ladies, and many men wore the fresh-pressed pants and jacket that in Moscow generally distinguish the "employees" (white-collar workers) from the "workers." On the way to their seats some stopped to buy hot dogs (which by Yankee Stadium standards were terrible indeed) and to buy cheap colored pop. On a big sporting day the Russian stomach, like any other, is as indestructible as a dye vat. Some forked over their precious rubles for good currant cakes, ice cream, caviar and beer. On the paths to the gates, hawkers, barking with capitalistic fervor, offered programs, bouquets of victory flowers and medallions stamped with peace doves and pictures of Lenin.

Most of the crowd were Muscovites, but through the stands there was a scattering of tanned farmers. There were some with the dark Magyar and Mongolian features of the outlying republics, come perhaps thousands of miles to revel in the spectacle of the Spartakiada, the Russian festival of progress and power by 10,000 athletes in 20 sports. This Spartakiada (pronounced Spar-ta-K√Ωa-da and so called in honor of a slave who revolted against the Romans) was the first since the war to which athletes have rallied from all the Soviet republics. From the outset it promised to be the world's greatest sports show, held with a dual purpose: to celebrate the Russian boom in sports of all kinds and to test the best of the Russians for the coming Olympic Games. Through 12 days of pageantry and competition in the vast main stadium and lesser venues, spectators would have a chance to see whether their best athletes were as good as ever in traditional Russian sports, and to see how good their best now were in the sports Russia has borrowed from the Western world.

While loudspeakers poured an odd mixture of music into the stadium—Tea for Two, songs by the Red Army Chorus and St. Louis Blues, sung by Paul Robeson—a small fleet of black limousines swept through the gates and disgorged Premier Nikolai Bulganin, Communist Party Chief Nikita Khrushchev and a coterie of lesser leaders. The music blared on until interrupted by a reminder that the Communist Party had made this whole new stadium possible. The Red flag was run up and doves of peace fluttered skyward. The crowd cheered local heroes bearing banners of their home republics in parade behind a portrait of Lenin. Then through a full afternoon the crowd was charmed by the mass dancing of schoolchildren and captivated in a very bourgeois way by the dancing of leggy teen-age girls. These were followed by the incredibly precise acrobatics of 1,000 gymnasts and by the equally precise free exercises of 2,300 trade union athletes.

Sandwiched between these spectacles was the first test of a topnotch Russian bound for the Olympic Games. With the gun crack starting the 10,000-meter run, 30-year-old Vladimir Kuts, the stocky sailor from the Ukraine, was out and away from the field. The crowd became apathetic—the outcome of a foregone conclusion—until the loudspeaker blared out, "Now Kuts has beaten his own previous he is running faster than ever before." Kuts finished in 28 minutes 57.8 seconds, beating his own Soviet mark but 15 seconds shy of the world record set by the Hungarian Sandor Iharos. Kuts's performance epitomized most of the subsequent performances by male trackmen: good, but not good enough for an Olympic gold medal. There were some exceptions. Leonid Seherbakov, runner-up at Helsinki four years ago, kicked and wriggled out 52 feet 11 inches in the hop, step and jump, proof enough that he has chance for an Olympic victory. The best of the Russian 400-meter hurdlers, Yuriy Lituyev, was ailing; the others, who led the world until Glenn Davis and Eddie Southern blazed through the U.S. trials, showed no improvement. Winning the hammer at 207 feet 8½ inches, Mikhail Krivonosov still holds an edge over the rest of Europe and the U.S.

The Russian women, for four years the wonders of track and field, broke no Olympic event records, but this was scarcely a disappointment. Their times were still beyond the reach of most of the others in the world.

After the gala Opening Day of the 12-day Spartakiada, the attendance in the big stadium dropped off. The average Muscovite went back to work. Through the week the more avid spectators hunted out the competitions in lesser sports going on around town. In the new Luzhniki basketball court, hard by the big stadium, there was something new to be seen. At Helsinki the short Russian basketball men had made a stout, ball-freezing attempt to beat the U.S. Now here on the Luzhniki court the game of "Tallboy" (see page 54) was making its debut. Among the determined short men was a Russian tallboy, Vasiliy Akhtayev. Seven feet 6½ inches tall and 404 pounds heavy, Akhtayev displayed a consummate skill for standing under the basket and dropping the ball in. Elsewhere on the court he has the poise of Primo Camera and a somewhat fearful habit of thudding into everybody. "He is very dangerous," Coach Sergei Bessonov announced, his tongue sliding slightly into his cheek.

In the other sports—minor sports we would call them here in the U.S.—the outlook ran from dark to bright. At the Stadium of Young Pioneers, there were the gymnastics, a sport at which Russia has long since passed the pioneering stage, and through giant swings, dislocators and arm stands, the top performers moved almost flawlessly from start to dismount. Any one of them at a fast glance seemed good enough to maintain the supremacy Russia established at Helsinki.

At the Dynamo Water Station a Muskovite eight-oar crew of veterans (average 29 years) beat Leningrad, using a stroke that seems longer and more efficient than that of the Russian boat that pressed our Navy crew in 1952. The best single sculler of the Soviets—Master of Sport Yuriy Tchukalov—looking his best, was beaten by an 18-year-old upstart, Vyacheslav Ivanov. In the light of these performances, Russia might get two of the three places in Melbourne. An hour after being upset in the singles, Tchukalov, pairing with Alexei Barkutov, beat the Russian pair who won the Henley doubles sculls last year, doing a fast six minutes and 47 seconds over near perfect water—a time which ordinarily is good enough for a first in international competition.

Among the boxers competing in the old Dynamo Stadium and among the wrestlers and weight lifters at Moscow University, most of the sure bets came through. In boxing and wrestling, where no man can be measured except against his opposition, the Russians can only venture a guess that they will be at least as strong as 1952, when they won four and 10 medals respectively. Their weight-lifting strength can be measured. Russians in the lighter weights broke four world records, and seem well fixed to divide the weight-lifting honors with the U.S.

The party newspaper Pravda, in addition to its other duties, has lately been giving a good bit of advice to the Russian world of sport, jabbing a particularly sharp pen into the backside of Russian swimming, which actually has come along as well as one should expect. Swimming Coach Vladimir Gubanov has a simple enough answer to satisfy anyone: inside Russia there are too few pools, and on the outside there are too many Americans, Japanese, Hungarians and Australians.

In track and field, where the overall performances of the Russian men were mildly disappointing, Coach Gabriel Korobkov offers no excuses. For Russia he sees perhaps two gold medals and for the U.S. a fairly solid victory. "I don't not see," Korobkov announced, as the Spartakiada went into its final days this week, "how the Americans can fail to win at least 12 gold medals. They'll probably win 14 in the 24 men's events. We expect such things from Americans."

The thousands competing in 20 sports at the big Spartakiada were the cream skimmed from hundreds of district and regional competitions entered by 17 million Russians during the past year. Considering that this vast depth of raw material may not yet produce more than a few gold medals in some sports, a Russian coach might feel the need of an excuse, but he should not. To judge by the vigor and enthusiasm of the topnotch athletes striving for the team and the youngsters cavorting en masse at the Spartakiada, the effort seems worthwhile even if no one wins at Melbourne.







100 meters

10. 5 Boris Tokaryev


10.3 Bobby Morrow

200 meters

21.2 Ardalion Ignatyev


20.6 Bobby Morrow

800 meters

1:50.3 Vladimir Tsimbalyuk


1:46.4 Tom Courtney

10,000 meters

28:57.8 Vladimir Kuts


30:52 Max Truex

400-m. hurdles

51.2 Igor Ilyin


49.5 Glenn Davis

Pole vault

14 ft. 4 in. Victor Chernobay

14 ft. 11¼ in.

15 ft. 1 in. Bob Richards

Hop, step & jump

52 ft. 11 in. Leonid Scherbakov

53 ft. 2½ in.

51 ft. 4¾ in. Ira Davis

Discus throw

172 ft. 3¼ in. Otto Grigalka

180 ft. 6½ in.

187 ft. 8½ in. Fortune Gordien

High jump

6 ft. 6¾ in. Vladimir Palyakov

6 ft. 8¼ in.

7 ft.½ in. Charles Dumas

Broad jump

24 ft. 6 in. Oleg Fyedoseyev

26 ft. 5½ in.

25 ft. 8½ in. G. Bell, J. Bennett

Hammer throw

207 ft. 8½ in. Mikhail Krivonosov

197 ft. 11¾ in.

197 ft. 7½ in. Albert Hall

Javelin throw

257 ft. Victor Tsibulenko

242 ft.¾ in.

244 ft. 11 in. Cy Young

*For events through Monday, August 13

PHOTOLISA LARSEN AND JAMES WHITMOREPARTY CHIEF KHRUSHCHEV, PREMIER BULGANIN AND MALENKOV (L TO R) ATTEND OPENING DAY PHOTOLISA LARSEN AND JAMES WHITMOREHOPEFUL GIANT, 7-foot 6½-inch Vasiliy Akhtayev, gave up volleyball for basketball to help Olympic team whose short men placed second to tall boys of the U.S. in 1952. TWO PHOTOSLISA LARSEN AND JAMES WHITMORETeen-age boy-girl teams form fascinating human patterns of youthful grace as they go through mass calisthenics to such un-Russian tunes as 'Tea for Two' in Opening Day ceremonies. The boys opposite have just dropped hoops over the girls' heads. Pairs of slender six-year-olds (above) join their hoop-skirted older sisters in native dances PHOTOLISA LARSEN AND JAMES WHITMOREFAIR LADIES, smiling samples of the health that Russia has sought through mass sports programs, leave the stadium after performing. While the top athletes came from all 15 of the Soviet republics, most teen-age demonstrators were from Moscow.