THOSE KONRADS KIDS
This is an article from the Jan. 20, 1958 issue
Sometimes I beat Lorraine. Sometimes she beats me," mused the seal-slick young sprat at the Olympic poolside one year ago. "It's not too discouraging."
This was pretty casual talk for a 14-year-old immigrant boy to be making about Australia's top woman swimmer, but young Jon Konrads was not boasting. Scarcely more than dog paddlers when their parents brought them to Sydney from Latvia in 1949, Jon and his kid sister were soon providing some stiff competition for the native-born Aussie swimmers whose top stars swept the Olympic pools in 1956.
Last week it began to seem as though 15-year-old brother Jon Konrads and 13-year-old sister Ilsa Konrads might well be the two best swimmers in the entire world.
Early in the week Ilsa, whose ash-blonde hair is stained a permanent pale green by constant chlorination, took the water against the great Lorraine Crapp herself and became the second woman in history to swim 440 yards in less than five minutes. Then, before a bug-eyed crowd of 4,000 at the New South Wales championships, she hit the pool like a projectile to smash the women's world records in both the 880-yard and 800-meter distances.
Three days later, fortified by a steak dinner, Jon Konrads shucked his red sweat shirt, gazed calmly at his opposition (which included three Olympic champs) and went flat out to shatter men's world records in the same two distances.
MILES AND MR. O'MALLEY
Major league club owners are expected to ratify next week the recommendations of Commissioner Ford Frick's four-man committee on territorial rights. These recommendations, you remember, are that any city with more than 2 million population (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Detroit) may have two major league teams and that any new ball park must be at least five miles from an existing one. If a hollow laugh is heard during the ratification proceedings, it can come from only one throat: that of the nomadic millionaire, Mr. Walter O'Malley.
Nothing could matter less to Mr. O'Malley at this moment than the five-mile limit which was proposed as a way of reserving Manhattan and The Bronx for the New York Yankees. Mr. O'Malley and his Dodgers have done nothing but put mileage between themselves and anything resembling a ball park since Los Angeles received them with a round of welcoming luncheons and dinners and sentimental speeches—all destined to be followed by a solid succession of kicks in the pants. Mr. O'Malley has been frustrated at every turn.
His proposed deal to acquire Chavez Ravine in the heart of downtown Los Angeles as a stadium site is stalled by a referendum to be voted on in June.
His dickering with the Coliseum has been fouled up by an assortment of difficulties including rental terms, position of the playing field (the sun would shine in batters' eyes), etc.
His flirtation with the Rose Bowl at Pasadena has been snafued by the threat of another referendum sought by neighboring residents who resent the potential intrusion of baseball crowds. Also, by the bowl's inadequate lighting for baseball.
All this left Mr. O'Malley with only his own Wrigley Field, a 22,000-seat minor league ball park. To use it, he would have to add at least 3,000 additional seats to bring it up to major league standards.
And, with opening day a dozen weeks away, time was pressing.
This week, after a disappointing conference with Pasadena city fathers, a badgered Walter O'Malley announced a—possibly—final decision: he and his peripatetic Dodgers will settle down, for the next two years, in little Wrigley Field. O'Malley, who once moaned at having to get along in one of the smallest ball parks in the majors (Ebbets Field seats 32,000), will now be going all out for 25,000 or so.
The news hit Brooklyn at 3:35 Eastern Standard Time, January 13. It certainly seemed like O'Malley's unlucky day. Brooklyn took the sad news with remarkable lightheartedness.
HOT WORDS ON THE ICE
Britons in general are quick to hail the triumphs of their Commonwealth heroes. One of the greatest of these heroes is certainly Sir Edmund Hillary, the sporting New Zealand beekeeper who braved the windswept heights at the top of the world to claim the peak of Everest as a jewel for the diadem of his newly crowned Queen. But about the best Hero Hillary could get out of Britain last week, after becoming the first man in 46 years to traverse the 1,200 forbidding miles of antarctic ice between the Ross Sea and the South Pole, was a cluck of national disapproval and a stern headline in London's Daily Mail: POOR SHOW, SIR EDMUND!
One thing was that a careless clerk at the Ross Sea Committee in New Zealand inadvertently dropped a transcript of a private communication from Sir Edmund to his boss on a pile of innocuous press releases ready to go out to the newspapers. Within hours the world was suddenly made aware of an exchange of words between Explorer Hillary and his immediate superior, Dr. Vivian Fuchs, that was hot enough to sear the primordial ice.
Each of them pushing southward over the snows from opposite sides of the Antarctic Continent, Fuchs and Hillary are together responsible for the Commonwealth's contribution to South Polar research during this International Geophysical Year. Each commanding a small, separate exploring party, their original plan was to meet at a point some 450 miles north of the pole on Hillary's side. When Sir Edmund's group, traveling fast across relatively easy terrain in specially equipped farm tractors, got to the rendezvous, Fuchs was still hundreds of miles away on the opposite side of the pole. Traveling over soft snow in an exceptionally mild (only 20° below zero) polar summer, pausing often to take scientific measurements, blocked by vast stretches of difficult ice, the British scientists had fallen behind schedule. Hillary radioed for instructions. None came. Radio communications were too bad.
Three days later, when the atmospheric conditions had cleared, Sir Edmund got the word from his boss. Move on another 100 miles, it said, and establish a fuel base. But the word came too late. Impatient, tired of waiting and itching to move on to the goal that beckons every antarctic explorer, Hillary had already started on a mad dash across the remaining miles of ice and snow that stood between him and the pole.
Fuchs was furious and made no effort to conceal it in a two-way radio conversation that took place soon afterward. His pique was in no way lessened by the fact that triumphant Hillary replied by urging his boss in no uncertain terms to abandon his own attempts to cross the polar continent this season, get to the pole itself if he could, store his equipment, go back to London and return for another try later on. "I have informed Hillary," Dr. Fuchs radioed headquarters in London, "that there can be no question of abandonment. I do not agree with his view that continuation of the journey this late in the season is an unjustifiable risk, but I do not feel able to ask him to join us and lend the help of his local knowledge. We will find our own way."
It was harsh talk to crackle among the frosty silences, but by the end of the week all was once again serene and peaceful. Without the help of that careless clerk in New Zealand, maybe no one would have heard of the dispute at all. Sir Edmund was busy once again making plans to set up the necessary fuel depot. Fuchs was still driving across the ice toward his goal. "It is our job," Sir Edmund Hillary said, "to see that he makes it as quickly and safely as possible."
Roger Bannister, the tall, thin, blond, pale, fragile-looking Englishman who won lasting fame in 1954 when he ran the first four-minute mile, took a belated public curtain call last week and displayed once again the rare qualities he is composed of.
The occasion was SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S luncheon to honor the men it has chosen in each of the past four years as Sportsman of the Year. Bannister was the man for 1954, Johnny Podres for 1955, Bobby Morrow for 1956 and Stan Musial for 1957. As a trophy of the award each received a replica of an ancient Greek amphora, or urn, decorated with drawings of athletes in action and bearing the inscription: "Whether it was over an extended period or only for an hour or an instant, his performance was such that his fellowmen could not fail to recognize it as the revelation of pure excellence."
Bannister, the first Sportsman of the Year, spoke. He and his wife had, he said, composed some lines of verse in honor of the occasion and with the audience's permission he would essay a recitation of same. The good rhymes were his wife's, Roger added, the poor ones his own. With an apology to John Keats, he plunged into 53 lines of verse:
...O Grecian urn, fair object of delight,
How shall I wrap thee on my homeward flight?
And what will the man at the customs say
When I thee gently on the counter lay?...
Standard procedure, in this country at any rate, is for an athlete to stand politely, accept his due, speak sincerely and briefly, and then sit down, thanking the good Lord that that's over with. But here was an athlete, one of the greatest of all competitors, holding an audience in the palm of his hand while he performed, so to speak, one of his own works.
...There is no price on this Grecian urn...
For it brings a message you dare not spurn.
Avoid the corruption that came to Greek sport
Which finally turned their ideals to naught.
We must use sport in a friendly way
To fight mistrust, keep suspicion at bay....
He finished with a bow to his fellow Sportsmen:
An urn created 500 B.C.
Now passed as a symbol of sport to me;
A connoisseur's trophy, rare and unusual,
Received with Podres, Morrow and Musial.
John Keats, had he been present, might have complained of the Ogden Nash influence in the snapper, but in the history of acceptance speeches Bannister's Ode has to go down as another revelation of pretty pure excellence.
TOM SAWYER, CHESS CHAMP
Bobby Fischer, the 14-year-old chess sensation of Erasmus High in Brooklyn, won the United States chess championship one wintry midnight last week. He finished the Rosenwald Tournament in the Manhattan Chess Club ahead of 45-year-old Samuel Reshevsky, one of the half dozen strongest players in the world, meanwhile casting uneasy glances at the gallery, as if he feared the truant officer might be among those witnessing his victory.
At the moment, Bobby's relations with the school authorities are excellent, though in the past he has had as much school trouble as the average American boy. In fact, the new champion is more like a Mark Twain youngster, and less like an infant prodigy, than any youthful genius who has excelled at the game. Tall, skinny, gangling, with long, bony features that occasionally explode into a wide, toothy grin, fidgeting restlessly, scratching his head, or suddenly bounding up after a brilliant move and stumbling over his big feet, he suggests a Tom Sawyer dumfounded at finding himself completely surrounded by chess players.
Bobby learned the game when he was 6 years old, taught by his 10-year-old sister, Joan. Chess circles became aware of him three years ago (SI, April 30, 1956) and his mother, a nurse who knew nothing of chess, began telephoning acquaintances for advice on what she should do about invitations her son was receiving to play in Havana and other distant places. According to Mrs. Fischer he was an ordinary, happy-go-lucky youngster, no trouble at all, when suddenly he started spending all his time at chess boards, neglecting his homework and paying little attention when spoken to. Then two years ago he entered the national junior tournament at Philadelphia and the mystery was solved: he was a chess master.
His record since last July has no equal. He won the junior championship again, the youngest player to do so, and the only one to win it twice. In August he won the National Open at Cleveland over 175 contenders. After enrolling for his sophomore year in high school he entered the Rosenwald, winning the $600 first prize, custody of the Marshall Cup and the right to enter the zonal tournaments that will decide who is to go to Moscow to play for the world championship.
Bobby's victory last week did not automatically entitle him to membership in the ranks of chess immortals. His game is still uneven, startlingly expert when he is interested but liable to grow perfunctory when he is bored. Some of the strongest American players were not entered in the Rosenwald. (For that matter, the Russian masters have regularly beaten all American champions except Reshevsky.) But the main accidental element in Bobby's triumph was Reshevsky himself. He was late in reaching the tournament because he was playing in a match of international masters in Dallas, and, obviously tiring, drew his game with Bobby and lost to two young players he had often beaten in the past. He entered the final round half a point behind Bobby, who won eight games and drew five. Playing William Lombardy, Reshevsky launched a wild, desperate attack in a final drive to tie for first place. He failed, but chess club regulars were shouting and applauding as he resigned.
Somebody remembered that his defeat gave Bobby the tournament. But the new champion of the United States was running out the door before the cheering had died down. He had to get home to Brooklyn. After all, he was due in school next morning.
ANYONE CAN YODEL
To the naive city dweller, distraught with the clangor of bustling humanity, the finest thing about mountains may well seem their vistas of limitless silence. For the real Alpinist, nothing could be further from the truth. Long before they learned the art of skiing from their Scandinavian cousins in the North, Swiss mountaineers were making the snowy passes ring with a caterwauling that echoed from the peaks as though an entire people were in the throes of an adolescent voice change. Perpetuated through the years as a folk art, the mountaineer's wail came to be known as yodeling, from the basic sounds (yo, di, le, yo) involved in its perpetration.
Over the mountains the echoes ricocheted, into France, into Italy and into the little Bavarian valley where one Magnus Bucher first saw the light of day some 30 years ago. The challenge of the mountains ringing his birthplace turned Magnus into an accredited Alpine guide and an Olympic skier before he was out of his teens. Their melodic echoes filled his heart with delight.
Years later, when Champion Skier Bucher followed his old friend and Olympic teammate Willy Schaeffler to America, U.S. skiers were fascinated by his yodeling. "Can we do it too?" they asked, and Magnus graciously responded with a neat manuscript of his own authorship bearing the challenging title: Anyone Can Yodel.
Magnus' pupils were happy as larks, if not quite as melodious, but the city folk who publish books turned a deaf ear. Magnus' first effort to publish his own book was a failure: his collaborator pocketed $150 of Magnus' bank roll and left town. Magnus at last found himself a printer who actually printed his text for $320. Then came the problem of selling it. With no money left for promotion, Magnus piled a stack of the books on the counter of a local store in Boulder, Colo. and was amazed to see the first 25 copies selling like ski wax. A squib in a national skiing magazine boosted sales to 400. This could scarcely be called a bonanza, but Magnus, now a man with a mission, carried on. Last summer, in Hollywood, he sank what little money he had left in an LP recording which covered the yodeling course by ear. Cost: $349. Bucher's bank balance: $56.
Two months ago, when Magnus appeared on the quiz show What's My Line? listeners from coast to coast filled the mails with requests for texts and records of Magnus' course, enclosing the cash to pay for them. Unfortunately, however, Magnus had overlooked the necessity of providing an address, and since he could not afford a telephone, not even the postman in Boulder, Colo. knew where to look for him. All the letters went back to their senders, and Magnus Bucher, a Ph.D. candidate at the local university, was right back where he started.
By last week, things were looking up for the young man whose heart is in his throat. A jukebox promoter was angling for his record. Another TV show was making interested noises, and Magnus himself had converted his college quarters at 1146 Pleasant Street, Boulder into a conservatory bearing the impressive label: Bucher's School of Yodeling.
Matriculation was still slow, but Magnus was hopeful. "After all," he says, "there's not another man in the world who is doing this sort of thing."
First golfer on the moon is he,
Yet mad enough to pop.
Because of lack of gravity,
The poor guy's putt won't drop.
THEY SAID IT...
•Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, attending Trainer Ben Jones's 75th birthday party: "I've seen Ben cut many's the cake around the race track. But it's the first time I've ever known him to let someone else have a piece of it."
•Norris Poulson, Mayor of Los Angeles, in a telegram to the mayor of Baker, Ore., Poulson's home territory: "Please let me know if you have any vacant cow pastures or acreage suitable for a ball diamond (major league). Signed, Desperate Norris."
•Ford Frick, when asked on a television interview if he thought the National League had made a wise move in leaving the New York area open when the Dodgers and Giants went to the West Coast: "I think they are beginning to feel they may have made a mistake moving out of this town."
•Buck Shaw, coach of the College All-Stars who were defeated by the Hawaii All-Stars in the Hula Bowl in Honolulu: "I think my squad might have won if we hadn't been shut out in the first quarter 33-0."