The light of the Olympic torch every four years is bright, cheerful, but in one respect mildly deceiving. In an ordinary year, between Olympics, the world plays at, or works at, more than 100 sports. The Olympics, of necessity, are limited to 22 sports, and so, while in the splendor of the moment, it may seem like more, an Olympic program is only a sampler of world sport, a compromise of varied tastes designed to get the world together. Track occupies the Olympic center stage, yet it is not the favorite sport of any country. During the Games the U.S. loves track and swimming, but when the torch burns out, the U.S. goes back to baseball, basketball, football and the horses. At the Olympics, gymnastics seems to be the sport of Russia, and field hockey the sport of India. Actually the Russians and the Indians prefer soccer, at which the Russians are very good and the Indians second-rate.
With the Rome Games still two years off, Olympic enthusiasm is still at an ebb, but this current year, 1958, shows promise of becoming a record breaker for world competition. Already athletes in more than 25 sports are making plans to compete somewhere on the other side of the ocean or the other side of the Curtain. In the first week of the year, Roshan Khan of Pakistan won the U.S. Open squash title, and in another week trackmen from Poland and Yugoslavia were trading elbow jabs with the U.S. runners on the indoor track circuit. This week the skiers of three continents are gathering for the world Alpine championships at Bad Gastein, Austria. As the table on the following two pages shows, the skiers will be followed in Europe by figure skaters, speed skaters and hockey teams. In April the U.S. amateur basketball champions will probably give the Russians a lesson and a licking in Moscow. In July the U.S. gymnasts will be in Moscow, taking a lesson and probably a licking. Hopefully, if the trammels of financing can be disposed of, the U.S. and Russia will hold a midsummer track meet in Moscow. In August sailors from South America, North America and Europe will be competing for the world Star class title in San Diego. The supremacy in the world's No. 1 sport, soccer, will be settled in Stockholm this June. For the first time the world fencing championships will be held in the U.S.—in Philadelphia in the early fall. This summer there probably will be world meets in skin-diving and sky-diving. The International Archery Federation holds its meet in Brussels this July, and it may come as a faint surprise to 150 million Americans that we are the defending champions. What with all the recent noise about O'Malley and the Chavez Ravine, few may recall that there is now a global world series of semipro baseball scheduled for early September in Milwaukee, U.S.A., which is portent enough for a successful series.
The worst that can be said for 1958 from a U.S. point of view is that at some of the best moments, the U.S. will only be an onlooker this summer at the Asian Games in Tokyo, at the Empire Games in Cardiff and at the European Games in Stockholm.
An Olympic program could never hope to handle the whole world's grab bag of sports. Sports exhibit a number of lifelike qualities of the sort that first prompted the naturalist, Darwin, to think deeply about the existence of all living things. Some sports flourish remarkably from birth; others run almost perpetual risk of extinction. Some have remarkable powers of regeneration. Some evolve and survive; others stand pat and die (the breed of archers is growing; the cricketers are declining). The spread of some hardy sports is checked by rivals that already have a firm hold on the land. American football is as hurly-burly a beast as you might find, but it ranges only on this continent, north of Mexico and west to Hawaii—surrounded by a world of soccer. The Australians would love the slam-bang American game, but they already enjoy losing their teeth in three different kinds of football.
There is just now starting in the U.S. an organization aimed to promote understanding through the appreciation of all sports, amateur and professional, competitive or casual. Last September President Eisenhower urged the creation of a People to People Program "to leap governments—if necessary to evade governments—to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can learn a bit more of each other." Sport is one of the methods Eisenhower had in mind, and the People to People Committee for Sport, headed by a familiar old boxing, bobsledding Olympian, Eddie Eagan, has been trying to knock over barriers and help sports spread on the international scene. The Eagan committee is already keeping tabs on 70 sports, most of which are in good health and likely to be around for a few centuries.
THE STATE OF WORLD SPORT IN 1958
One of the fastest-growing U.S. sports. In last year's only international target event, the Federation Internationale de Tir √† l' Arc, U.S. swept first three places in men's and women's divisions and all team awards. With more powerful squad this year, U.S. should win handily in 1958's 26-nation event at Brussels in July.
The European championships will be held in Stockholm in August and the Empire Games in Cardiff in July, but the only big international test for U.S. athletes will be the meet with Russia, scheduled for Moscow in July. U.S. field men have a good edge but the Russians have gained ground in recent years.
U.S. supremacy will be given a severe test in the meet with Russia (see above). The U.S. is strongest in the dashes, hurdles and events up through the half mile. Russia has the distance runners. Otherwise, both Great Britain and Australia are very well supplied with middle-distance men, the British having a small edge in this department.
There is still a vast margin in class between U.S. and rest of the world. Even the so-called World Series is solely an American competition. Baseball has long been booming in Japan, Korea, China and Latin America. Since World War II it has begun to catch on in Europe.
Basketball was once at the mercy of the U.S. in any international competition. But the Russians are narrowing the gulf. For the first time U.S. plans to send a team (the winners of the AAU tournament in Denver) to Moscow in April to face the Russians.
In no other sport does a familiar course mean such a difference between first and second, for the world's top drivers are all within half a minute of each other. Nevertheless, the Italians, with superb sleds, should win the world championships going on now at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. U.S. has only two top drivers.
Of eight professional classes, U.S. is ranked tops in four, including three heavier divisions. Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson may have his next major fight in England. Amateur classes not so strong for U.S. In 1956 Olympics America won only two of 10 classes.
One of the biggest popular sports on European continent. Lack of popular interest and cycling know-how hinders U.S. riders. Premier event in road cycling world, the Tour de France, covering some 3,000 miles in France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, will be held from June 26-July 19. As usual, Continental riders will dominate.
French, Italian and Hungarian domination, as at Melbourne Games, will be challenged by the speedy, opportunistic style of the Poles. Poland and Russia should be contenders in 40-nation world championships at Philadelphia, Aug. 24-Sept. 7. Best U.S. can hope for is a third or fourth with any weapon.
The game, derived from soccer, Rugby and, more dimly, the old English game of "kicking the Dane's head," is peculiar to the United States. Almost certainly it never will be played on an international level. While Canada has a similar game, sharp differences in many rules preclude workable rivalry.
The world's most popular sport played under uniform rules. Watch for the three main styles of play--the Slavic intricate weaving and spot passing, the British run-run and the Latin individualistic acrobatics--at the world championships to be held June 8-24 at Stockholm. West Germany defends.
Once U.S. golfers were a good three-wood shot ahead of the field, but last year two surprise setbacks endangered that status. One to the British in the Ryder Cup, another in the Canada Cup at hands of a Japanese duo. The Canada Cup will be held again this year.
Russian four-year plan paid off in Olympics when they swept both men's and women's team titles. They have to be favored again in world championships at Moscow, July 7-10. Finland, who surprised with a third in men's competition at Olympics, will be able to show whether this was a morning glory. U.S. chances slim.
Believed to have sprung up in Persia some 4,000 years ago, field hockey has made the rounds of Europe and the U.S. but still shows best in the Orient. India has overwhelmingly ruled Olympic competition, should do the same against seven other Eastern teams in Asian Games.
Although the fast-skating Russians have taken long strides (Olympic championship), the Canadians of the National Hockey League still play far and away the best hockey in the world. Russia's lower level (and ostensibly amateur) hockey teams will be tested at the world ice hockey championships at Oslo, Norway, Feb. 28-March 9.
European revival in jumping and dressage will spur international competition. Germans will host official international riding, jumping and driving tournament at Aachen, June 27-July 6. Swedes and Swiss excel in dressage; Germans and Italians specialists in jumping. U.S. seems at disadvantage in outdoor competition, could improve.
Bloodlines are so continually mixed it is impossible to rate nations. England, France and U.S. are top breeding and racing nations; Ireland, Italy, Australasia and South America follow. Biggest international races are at Ascot, Longchamp and Laurel, Md.
The Grand Challenge Cup for eights at London's Henley, greatest of regattas, was won by Cornell in 1957, over Yale. In the lesser-oared events, Russia took the Diamond Sculls for one-man shells. The U.S.S.R. is favored to win the 1958 European championships in Poland.
Expect more tub thumping from Moscow in October, when crack-shot Russians play host to the International Shooting Union Matches, a shooting event more important than the Olympics. Russians likely to dominate in both small-and big-bore rifles, possibly in pistol events. U.S. ranks far down, and may not enter shotgun class where we are rated tops.
No U.S. figure skater had ever won a world championship until Dick Button turned the trick in 1948. Since then Americans have been hard to beat. The men's division has been dominated by the Jenkins brothers, Hayes and David. Tenley Albright and Carol Heiss have swept women's honors. This year's championship will be in Paris this month.
Russian speed skaters hole up in Alma Ata 12 months a year and practice their art to such a degree that in the recent Olympics they swept all but one event. But last year they placed second to Norway in the world championship. This year's world championship will be in Helsinki this month.
Austria has dominated downhill skiing for seven years, will get spotty competition, mostly from Switzerland and U.S. in world championships at Bad Gastein, Austria, ending Feb. 9. Finland has slightly less strong position in jumping and cross-country but ought to retain supremacy against Norway, Russia in world meet in Lahti, Finland March 1.
On a popular basis, the world's greatest swimming nations are Australia and Iceland. Competitively, Australia rules and will dominate the Empire Games at Cardiff, Wales in July. Japan will dominate the Asian Games in Tokyo in May. The U.S. is building, not losing a body length to Australia, but not gaining either.
Since 1952, when Japan first took part in the world championships of this immensely popular game, she has dominated table tennis, known to some folks as ping-pong. Although there will be no world championships this year, Europe's best will compete in Budapest in March.
Symbol of tennis supremacy is the Davis Cup. Just after Christmas every year, the Australians take it off the shelf, dust it off, defend it successfully and put it back for another year. Even America's right to claim the world's best player is in jeopardy, for Lew Hoad leads Pancho Gonzales in their pro tour, due in this country this month.
While volleyball will be included in the Asian Games this year, the next world championship must await 1960. Growing in worldwide popularity, the game may be admitted in 1964 Olympics. Meanwhile, USVBA hopes to adopt international rules, thereby offset current U.S. disadvantage in international competition.
Hungarians technically and tactically the best, show great stamina and knowledge of the game. Russians lack initiative and seem to act from textbooks rather than good coaching. International competitions sparse, usually only at Olympic Games. Italians are improving; the U.S. does not take water polo too seriously.
The U.S.S.R. and U.S. have switched world supremacy for the past five years. But with 1,000 weightmen to every American, the barbells are now tipped heavily toward the U.S.S.R. A Russian visit for meets in Detroit and New York, May 10-17, should be an accurate preview of the world title in Stockholm, Sept. 16-21.
Russia, which threw the bear hug around five of eight Greco-Roman titles and picked up another gold medal in freestyle at Melbourne, should overshadow other nations in the world Greco-Roman championships at Budapest, July 24-27. U.S. is woefully weak in Greco-Roman, which only recently has been developed here, but somewhat better in freestyle.
In ocean racing U.S. has largest fleet of skilled sailors in world. In the America's Cup series, U.S. has taken every match race from Britain, will likelv do it again this September. In small class boats, U.S. is world titlist in Stars and 5.5s, England in International 14s. Swedes had best class boat score in 1956 Olympics.