WOODY AND THE LADY, THE EXPLODED MYTH OF THE INVINCIBLE RUSSIANS, PRIDE AND LEE CALHOUN, EXOTIC SPORTS FROM THE U.S., OLYMPIC GAMESMANSHIP, OTHER AMERICANS IN AUSTRALIA
THE LADY AND THE COACH
The way Woody Hayes, Ohio State's head football coach, told it at the annual "football appreciation" banquet, it happened this way:
"I was walking across the field, head down, after we had lost to Michigan. A sweet little old lady suddenly crossed my path, and I almost knocked her down. I guess I looked rather irritated, but then I saw she was a friend. She was carrying an Ohio State pennant. I apologized. 'I beg your pardon, madam,' I said. 'No offense.'
December 10, 1956
"She looked me right in the eye and shook her pennant under my nose. 'That's just the trouble,' she said. 'No offense!' "
If the propagandists of the Soviet Union had not given such a brash exhibition of what might be called muscle-rattling before the Olympics it would be unkind to ask—but—what happened to the Russian juggernaut? The U.S., which permitted itself a great deal of self-doubt (and was spurred to a great deal of very healthy resolution) in the last two years, should take great pride in the answer: the juggernaut was practically dismantled by the greatest track and field team in history. In fact, it would be only slight exaggeration to say that the blue Soviet steam roller, stripped to its essentials, turned out to be Vladimir Kuts.
It would be improper to say that the juggernaut collapsed, for, despite the calamity howlers on both sides of the Atlantic who predicted an end of American supremacy in track and field, it never really existed. It would also be rash to predict that Russia may not yet claim, on the basis of an unofficial point total, victory in the Melbourne Games. The 400-man Russian team—biggest in the Games—is doing pretty well. The U.S.S.R. took 22 gold medals, 30 silver medals and 17 bronze medals at Helsinki in 1952 and—with 18 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze medals won by last weekend—may do even better this year. But the heart of the Olympics consists of the events in which young men run, jump or throw, and here the record is wonderfully lopsided: the U.S. won 15 times (an all-time record) and got 31 medals; the Russians won three times (Kuts's victories in the 10,000- and 5,000-meter races, plus a victory in the 20-kilometer walk) and got 21 medals.
There is nothing unfair at all in singling out track and field in this manner, for the Russians lusted to win in the main stadium too and were apparently confident of striking a good many telling blows there in a battle of behemoths. In many instances, it is interesting to note, the very professionalism of the Russians—and the fact that they had been told and retold that national prestige depended upon them—cost them medals in the end. Under the awful pressure they were often (notably in the cases of Pole Vaulter Anatoliy Petrov, Hammer Thrower Mikhail Krivonosov and Hurdler Yuriy Lituyev) unable to come close to practice performances. But the real story of track and field at Melbourne had nothing to do with the Russians—it was one of tremendous superiority by individual U.S. athletes, of great coaching, great spirit and, in many cases, of great valor, of peak performance under enormous stress. Hooray for our side!
THE ACHING MOMENT
There were few lonelier places in all the world during the last fortnight than the red brick-dust Olympic track at Melbourne. The athletes who stared up its empty lanes from the starting blocks had come not only to race other men but to engage in an ultimate act of self-exploration; in the aching moments before the gun sent them on their way each could rely only on his own strength, his own courage, his own speed. Few had more grounds for dismay—and few knelt at the starting line with more resolution—than Lee Quincy Calhoun, the tall (6 feet, 1 inch), slim (165 pounds) Negro youth from Gary, Ind., who won the gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles.
A high hurdle stands 3 feet 6 inches tall. There are 10 of them to be surmounted in the 110-meter race and a man, to win in modern competition, must run over them and through the tape in less than 14 seconds—at almost a sprinter's speed. His timing must be exquisite and he cannot allow a change in footing or a gust of wind to alter the rhythm of the three driving steps he takes between hurdles. Neither can he allow the fierce pressure of competition to alter his composure—or his form. As he stands at the start, the 10 hurdles can seem like 10 traps, each waiting to trip him—he must clear each, but only by a fraction of an inch.
Every athlete has his own devil to fight, his own cross to bear. Calhoun's was the last 50 yards of the race. He is a quiet, polite, soft-spoken youth with none of the love of show which often seems to accompany spectacular athletic talent, but even in high school he had little difficulty with the basic posture of the hurdler—the loose-hipped leg split, the instantaneous forward adjustment of weight, the precise handling of shoulders and arms which allow a man to step rather than jump the wooden barrier. At little North Carolina College, in Durham, his talent bloomed amazingly under the direction of his track coach, Leroy Walker. As a sophomore he was timed in 14.3 for the 120-yard high hurdles. He was drafted in 1954 and was attached to the Eighth Army's 111th Evacuation Hospital in Korea. Last winter, a civilian again, he became one of the sensations of the Eastern indoor track season—he set or equaled world records in 50-, 60- and 70-yard races and beat all the leading hurdlers in the U.S.
But last spring, outside again to run 120 yards, he made a disconcerting discovery: he could not maintain his blazing speed for the full race. He entered the Marine Corps Relays at Quantico, and USC's one-time star, Navy Lieutenant Jack Davis, simply ran away from him in the last 50 yards. Afterward Davis told a newsman, "Calhoun doesn't have the stamina to go the distance. He'll never be a good hurdler." Davis—who had lost the 1952 Olympic hurdles race to Harrison Dillard by an eyelash and was passionately bent on winning in 1956—might better have kept silent. From that day on Calhoun, too, burned to win at Melbourne. He drove himself through fast quarter miles to gain strength, and his hurdling times were dramatically lowered: 14 flat, 13.9, 13.7. Davis broke the world record with a dazzling 13.4 in one of the preliminaries of the AAU meet, but Calhoun beat him in the finals with a 13.6. They ran a dead heat in the Olympic trials.
For all this, a few days before the Games themselves, Calhoun had reason to feel that fate was turning against him—Davis, running on an uneven grass track at Bendigo, Australia, broke his own world record with a fantastic 13.3-second race and spoke confidently of lowering this to 13 flat. Calhoun hardly slept at all the night before last week's Olympic final. He went out to the track taut with nervousness. But he found himself curiously confident of victory. He burst off the blocks and led Davis through the first five hurdles by two feet. The Californian, a superb athlete, then began to close the gap. The pair were even on the eighth, even on the ninth, even as they crossed the 10th hurdle. But somewhere Calhoun found the power he needed. He won by inches in 13.5 seconds. "He shouldn't have said it," he said, almost gratefully, of Davis afterward. "I just had to win."
A brand-new American automobile, exported to any country in the world and parked on a busy corner, will draw an admiring crowd who understand instantly what it is for, how it works and how nice it would be to have one. But for some reason an American sport has a harder time catching on. Baseball and football made their bids last Saturday in Melbourne and London respectively and, though they were received politely enough, they didn't get the quick acceptance that would have gone to a new Chevrolet.
At the Cricket Ground in Melbourne a crowd of 100,000 watched a U.S. Army baseball team defeat a group of Australian All-Stars in seven innings 11-5. It was a bigger crowd than has ever watched baseball in the United States, but it was there primarily to see the Olympic Games, to which the baseball demonstration was a preliminary. An announcer with a close-cropped British accent tried to explain to the Australians what was going on.
In London, 23,000 people showed up for the football in Wembley Stadium. Most of them were Americans, though, for the game was played to determine the top European team of the U.S. Air Force. (The London Rockets of the British Conference played the Wiesbaden Flyers of the German Conference.)
Still, there was a good turnout of Britishers, as the Air Force had hoped there would be. Its public relations men (called community relations men) had advertised in the newspapers and put posters in the subway. "Fast...Rugged...Exciting," they promised, and urged the reader to "book early." They also offered the full range of trimmings that go with American football: hot dogs, cheerleaders, marching bands, card stunts and celebrities. The latter consisted of Actor Dana Andrews and a girl called Sabrina who, statistically at least, is a sort of British Dagmar.
As at Melbourne, a voice from the public address system explained the unfamiliar action. "What they go into a huddle for is to determine the strategy of the next play.... The London Rockets have two more downs to pick up 13 yards. If they do so, they get another four downs."
In general, the British spectators did not agree with the posters' claim that football was fast and exciting. A common complaint was: "Too slow—too many stoppages." But there were those who got the point, stoppages and all. "It's rather like our Rugby," they said. "And probably tougher."
Half time was perhaps the most fun to the British. They liked the stunts of the card section (made up of 300 teen-agers, the children of Air Force personnel who attend a dependents' high school near Teddington). And the jazz music and complex marching patterns of the 751st Air Force Band made them reluctant to queue up for the hot dogs.
There was one young man down on the field who was clearly a hero, even to the least knowing. Tony Small, a 24-year-old fullback from Longview, Texas, contributed four touchdowns to the final score: London 32, Wiesbaden 7. On the first of these, Small made a flying leap, intercepted a Wiesbaden pass and tore off a tremendous run. That message almost got through. While the Americans in the stands went wild, a tweed-clad English gentleman leaped to his feet and removed his pipe from his mouth in sheer excitement. "Oh ho," he said, and sat down.
In theory, the ideal competitor in the military pentathlon would be the leading man of a Franz Lehar operetta, and the perfect setting would be Ruritania, circa 1905. For this event was designed to test the beautiful skills that a soldier needed in the days of spurs and swords: running, riding, fencing, swimming and shooting.
Two gold medals are offered in the pentathlon—one to the best all-round individual and one to the team (three men) with the highest score. At Melbourne the Russians considered these facts, plus the grim fact that their delegation has proved to be merely the biggest, not the best, Olympic team. Then they added a sixth military skill to the pentathlon: strategy.
It was clear that they had about equal chances at both medals, but no shoo-in for either. Their own Konstantin Salnikov won the world pentathlon championship in Switzerland last year, but now he would be up against Lars Hall of Sweden. Hall took the individual medal at Helsinki in 1952 and was expected to take it again at Melbourne. So the Russians killed their chance at one victory in order to better their chance at the other: they axed Salnikov, their best all-round man. In his place they put Ivan Deriuguine, a powerful youngster who rides, fences and shoots badly but swims and runs very well. And so, with a chance to finish well up in each of the five events and with Salnikov hurt and bitter at being dumped, the Russians waded in.
It was heavy going at first. The Americans George Lambert and Jack Daniels took first and second place in the 5,000-meter riding event and nailed up a 560-point lead. Sweden, Finland and Hungary made the competition heavy and hard. But the Russian team gained 185 points on the Americans in fencing and 20 more in shooting. Then young Ivan Deriuguine had a chance to shine in his specialties.
He flashed through the 300-meter swim in a world-record pentathlon time of 3.46. And in the final event, a two-and-a-half-mile run, he and his hard-conditioned teammates finished third, fourth and fifth. They stood around casually recovering their breaths as the Americans (and many others as well) struggled to the finish and collapsed into the arms of teammates. The American margin was gone: Russia won the gold medal for team competition, America the silver one. George Lambert shook off his teammates and stood exhausted on his own two feet. "We were supposed to be tough," he gasped, "but they were tougher."
The individual medal went, as expected, to the versatile Lars Hall of Sweden. And the versatile Konstantin Salnikov of Russia, world pentathlon champion, got nothing at all, not even the chance to compete.
In the midst of the heavy news traffic from Australia comes a wire from Bill Talbert, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, which has a date with Hoad, Rosewall & Co. between Christmas and New Year's. The message:
"It is a little odd to come to Australia and not find ourselves the center of attention. Normally, newspapermen by the dozens are at our elbows. Small tykes pounce upon us for autographs, and observers lean over the fences studying our form. This year the early pressure has been eased somewhat by a bit of interesting sports business known as the Olympic Games which has all of Australia enrapt.
"So we have been able to train without too many outside interruptions. This is enough to make a Davis Cup captain happy. Our performance chart to date has not been what you might call sparkling, but our progress has been steady and good.
"In the New South Wales Championships at Sydney, our first tournament on arrival, not an American player made the quarter-finals. That may have been shocking to some, but to us it was the result of several factors, such as lack of condition, need for readjustment to grass and absence of topflight competition since our summer season closed. In the South Australian Championship at Adelaide three players, Vic Seixas, Herbie Flam and Sam Giammalva, reached the quarter-finals. Seixas and Giammalva, who are developing into a first-rate doubles combination, gained the tandem finals against Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall.
"I like the way we are progressing—slowly and surely. The mental attitude of our team is excellent, the physical condition is improving, we are not a discouraged, beaten team before the bell rings. From oldsters like Seixas and Flam to the kids, Sam Giammalva, Mike Green and Mike Franks, there is a lot of that old enthusiasm and college try. I think every boy on the squad is conscious of America's proud showing in the Olympics at Melbourne, and each is determined to match the showing, though odds are great against us.
"Hoad and Rosewall appear about the same as when they were in the States—no better, no worse, and that was good enough to win all major titles in the world. Hoad is recovering from an arm ailment and should be in top shape by Davis Cup time. Rosewall is the same line-splitting marksman of old. One thing is obvious: neither is invincible. Both have been beaten by players below the standard of our own. Under certain conditions they can be beaten again. It's our job to create those conditions, and we're working at it."
Australian papers please copy.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•Wait Till Next Year
Middleweight Champion Sugar Ray Robinson, who has postponed several of his fights before, put off his title bout with Gene Fullmer from Dec. 12 to Jan. 2. The reason: Robinson, hampered by a severe cold, has been unable to train.
•Gulliver's Travels in Lilliput
Oklahoma University scored its 40th consecutive victory with a 53-0 flattening of its traditional opponent (and traditional victim) Oklahoma A&M. A glance at the 1957 schedule shows that nothing much stands in the way of Oklahoma's 50th consecutive victory at next season's end except Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
•Fighting Irish Coaches
The coach and the ex-coach of Notre Dame made snappish headlines through the week. Frank Leahy called Terry Brennan's team (won 2, lost 8) "the nonfighting Irish," pronounced school spirit dead. To rumors that Leahy might help at spring training, Brennan replied, "Not while I'm the coach." But, after Saturday's 28-20 loss to USC, Leahy granted the Irish had played "like a real Notre Dame team."
•Who and Whom, Where and Why
Segregation laws, NCAA penalties and year-after ineligibility all affected bowl choices, with checkerboard results: Rose Bowl, Oregon State v. Iowa; Orange Bowl, Colorado v. Clemson; Cotton Bowl, Texas Christian v. Syracuse; Sugar Bowl, Tennessee v. Baylor; Gator Bowl (Dec. 29) Georgia Tech v. Pittsburgh.
He looks pretty good
But Coach says no;
Without a crew cut
He cannot row.