Last summer, when the world had only one moon, Photographer Jerry Cooke spent a month in Russia for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. His assignment: to report on the Soviet revolution in sport and the enlarged part sport now plays in the daily life of Russians.
Russian-speaking Cooke traveled more than 5,000 miles within the Soviet Union. He stayed in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Yalta, Sochi and Odessa, among other cities, also dangled his bare feet in a rural Caucasian stream with farm workers lazing on a Sunday afternoon. Although occasionally slowed down by low-level bureaucratic mazes, Cooke sportwise had the run of Russia, went where he wanted to go and saw what he wanted to see. Wanting to see sport, he saw plenty of it.
His report, 24 pages of photographs (16 of them in color) plus a written commentary, comes next week. It is one of the most important stories SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has ever published.
Its importance lies in the fact that it presents an aspect of the Soviet Union with which the rest of the world is not familiar—of millions of people who swim and fish, ride, jump and sail, play soccer, tennis and basketball and', to no one's surprise, do setting-up exercises. It shows graphically how seriously the Soviet Union takes the matter of physical fitness, but it is also a rare view of the Soviet citizens at play, a documentary on certain attractions of sport as characteristic of Georgia, U.S.A. as they are of Georgia, U.S.S.R.
In addition to a story, Cooke hoped to bring back a bearskin. But for a month, from the Gulf of Finland to the Black Sea—no luck. On the very eve of his departure, feeling like a man who couldn't find a coffee bean in Brazil, Cooke got a telephone call from his guide, who was at GUM, the largest store in Moscow. She had found a bearskin at last, fresh in from Siberia. "Buy it!" said Cooke. "And ask them to wrap it for me."
GUM wrapped it—in the standard Moscow wrapping paper. Packaging in Russia has not advanced quite so fast as space exploration and that is how Jerry Cooke happened to come home not only with more than 100 rolls of film but with one silver-brown bearskin, trussed up in a dozen assorted and rather crumpled issues of Pravda. Few of us would understand the language on the bearskin's wrapping, but next week almost everyone, I feel sure, will understand at once the message from Cooke's rolls of film and the story that comes from his own notebook.