A talent for indignation approaching the sublime is distinctive to the Roman soul. For the past year, as the city of Rome labored like Hercules to clear a path for the 17th modern Olympic Games, its 2 million citizens have picked a precarious way through demolished streets. Accustomed to street songs, vexed Romans have been deafened by the roar of trip hammers. In a city where water is often in short supply they have been deprived of it altogether at inconvenient hours. And they have contemplated with noisy gloom the inscrutable traffic problems of a late summer when something like 15,000 foreign cars will crawl into and about a city that was founded, as tradition has it, 23 years after the first recorded Olympics (776 B.C.) and 2,640 years before the invention of the automobile—to which may be attributed the incompatibility of cars and Rome. They were not made for each other.
"All this for the damned Olympics," fumed an angry Roman, regarding a street of rubble where a new traffic underpass was being built.
"Water for swimming pools and no water for the people!" scoffed an equally angry housewife. A new main in the Aurelia area of Rome had broken, intensifying the city's normal summertime shortage.
Along the tawny Tiber and in Rome's Central Park, the Villa Borghese, magnificent umbrella pines were sacrificed to underpasses. Lovers of urban beauty protested that the character of the city was being undermined.
August 14, 1960
The new Olympic Highway was slung just behind Vatican City. Communists howled that this was a gross favor to the Vatican, and bourgeois real estate owners squawked that the "natural axis" of the city was being shifted westward for the crass purpose of boosting land values where they did not own land.
But, while Rome grumbled, midsummer drew on, and the time of the Games drew near. Olympic flagpoles were raised over highways into the city. The Olympic Village, capable of housing 7,500 athletes, was opened to admiring view. The handsome Palazzo dello Sport, seating 16,000, was unwrapped. Some of the completed underpasses were testing out just fine. The new Peschiera Aqueduct drew a fresh supply of clear, cool water from the mountains beyond Rome.
As these changes took place the temper of the techy citizenry underwent a happy vicissitude. The sporting spirit began to take over. The Olympic insignia bloomed in cinemas, bars and shops. Bars named Nando and Otello changed to Bar Olimpico and Olimpiade Romana. A restaurant christened dishes after famous athletes. Manufacturers produced a jumble of "Olympic" suitcases, alarm clocks, shoes, cameras, binoculars, dresses, shirts, pants, folding chairs, Thermos flasks and handkerchiefs. The ultimate in deification was an "Olympic" wine.
Many a blasé Roman had planned to get out of town to escape the nuisances of a sudden 100,000 population increase. Now these sophisticates abruptly changed their minds. They decided to stay and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime show. A government scheme to have state employees take vacations during the Olympics backfired. Instead of hurrying away to rural villas, most employees will remain at home to see the Games.
Traffic was the main problem, since housing accommodations seemed adequate, though hotels were booked solid. With its 400,000 motor vehicles, Rome is thought to have Europe's biggest traffic headache. One Olympic remedy will be elimination of the three-hour noontime siesta, during which Romans always have gone home to lunch, jamming the streets with their cars each way. Now workers will lunch on sandwiches and forgo naps. For the same traffic-easing purpose, staggered shifts of civil service employees will be tried. Wholesale meat' and vegetable markets, ordinarily open until noon, will close by law at 7:30 a.m. After 7 a.m. no trucks may enter the city.
Upsurge in sport
These measures will work only a mild alleviation on a disorder that promises to be at best disagreeable, but, even so, sporting Romans who stay away from these Olympics will be handing themselves a lifetime of self-reproach. The 1960 Olympics promise the most exciting feats in history. As tryouts have been held, record after record has fallen. Under the stimulus of Olympic competition, many will fall again.
The past four years have seen an astonishing upward surge of athletic ability all over the world. In sports like track and field, where time and distance give a precise measure of improvement, the advances have been obvious. But there is good reason to believe that a comparable improvement has occurred in those sports that cannot be measured, in which only the expert eye can detect a higher standard of performance. The athletes and teams of 1960 are better than ever and more numerous than ever.
Presumably this is due in great part to a worldwide sociological trend toward better living. With better nutrition and more leisure time the world's sportsmen have made spectacular advances. An enormous surplus of human energy, hitherto spent in scrabbling for a living, has burgeoned and grown sporting fruit.
Part of the gain, too, must be attributed to an increasingly lenient interpretation of amateurism, now regarded in such relaxed terms that it can scarcely be defined at all (see page 72). This modern amateurism is manifest not only in the Iron Curtain countries, where athletes are given state jobs and limitless time to train, but has its parallels in the U.S. and other countries, too.
Improved techniques also have meant improved performance. The Germans, for instance, are expected to take the lead in crew because of Coach Karl Adam's strange tulip-shaped blades, which are high-stroked to a beat in the 40s, and the superb condition of his eight, which is in training all year round. Last month the Germans achieved the fastest 2,000-meter time ever recorded: five minutes 47.5 seconds. The Olympic best is 5:56.7. They have come up with a spectacular crew, one that is all but a cinch to take an event that the United States has dominated since 1920.
The United States, if the form charts starting on page 34 are borne out, will emerge from this Olympics second to the U.S.S.R. Doing well in the field events, the sprints and the hurdles, dominating the diving as always, excelling in basketball, and fielding the strongest equestrian team we ever have had, will not be enough to surpass the Russians in the unofficial but inevitable scoring.
There may be some pleasant surprises for the U.S., though. In John Kelley we have at last gained a good chance in the marathon, which we have not won since 1908. Through Jim Beatty we may expect something from the 5,000 meters. And we look to do very well in swimming, with our girls as well as the boys.
But we have lost ground in weight lifting, can expect not too much from our boxing team and, as usual, will do less than well in a style of wrestling our colleges refuse to accept.
Russian strength is concentrated in the modern pentathlon, weight lifting, wrestling and gymnastics. In gymnastics alone the Russians are almost conceded 12 out of a possible 14 gold medals. We'll trounce them in men's track and field and they will trounce us in women's track and field, where we don't expect a single first.
Some of the small countries have special hopes in special areas. Denmark dreams of taking home three of the five gold medals in yachting. Turkey looks for four firsts in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The British West Indies has an 800-meters star in George Kerr. Hungary can taste three gold medals in fencing.
Everywhere the competition will be fierce. Out of 98 countries, 87 have entrants in the Olympics. Smaller nations have entered as never before. There are no competitors from Albania, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Salvador and Tanganyika. But the likes of Ghana, Surinam, Somalia, Monaco and San Marino have entered, bless their sporting little hearts.
Many athletes from such countries have entered without adequate coaching or equipment. Ceylon's Linus Diaz will attempt the marathon and the 10,000 meters, sustained chiefly by advice mailed to him from such great names of running as Emil Zatopek and Dr. Roger Bannister. A Haitian named Philome Laguerre, the only Haitian entered, has decided to take on the weight lifters of the world on the strength of what he has learned from a correspondence course.
As the Games drew near there were startling and heartening feats here and there. More than 400 young athletes strove to earn 42 places on the U.S. swimming team and broke three world records in the struggle. Jeff Farrell, the world's best sprinter, underwent an emergency appendectomy just six days before the U.S. trials but placed fourth in the 200-meter freestyle special and so won a spot on the relay team (see page 54).
While their coaches groaned at news of the U.S. records, the Australian swimmers were merely stimulated. They went out and set a flock of records of their own.
These individual braveries are in the spirit of the Games, bred in the ancient Greek idea of the virtue of the individual, and rise above the sour politics of our time. As always, there are political dissensions. For example, the Germans, West and East, are teamed up in fact by the rules but not in spirit.
"We may speak one language and compete under one flag, but there is no way to make us one team.... We will be two camps competing as one—and looking over our shoulders at each other." That, spoken by Wilhelm Pollmans, technical director of the West Germans, summed it up.
There have been other summations. The Italian Communist newspaper L'Unit√† has threatened that Benito Mussolini's name might be removed by force from an obelisk near the Olympic Stadium and urged that the words "Duce, Duce, Duce" be expunged from a sidewalk. The Communist suggestions, little more than demands that those who disagree should have their throats cut from ear to ear, have been ignored. Other Romans seem to feel that mementos of Mussolini and Caligula have their place in history.
Political troublemakers cannot be avoided in international competition on such a scale. Loudmouths who don't know the difference between a long cheer and a short beer are always obtruding on these events.
Despite the offstage distractions, these promise to be the most magnificent Games ever held. The Italian committee, its funds bolstered by returns from a football pool, has spent perhaps as much as $70 million in its preparations. These Games will be held in an atmosphere of splendor against a backdrop of Rome's ancient grandeur, studded with the modern beauty of freshly constructed arenas. Pier Luigi Nervi, the great architect, has contributed the Palazzo dello Sport (Sports Palace), the Palazzetto dello Sport (Little Sports Palace), and the Stadio Flaminio, a football stadium. One of Mussolini's contributions is the Olympic Stadium itself, the largest in Italy and one of the largest in the world, which seats 100,000 normally and will seat 110,000 for the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field and the grand-prix jump.
But these are modern establishments. One of Rome's ancient marvels, the Baths of Caracalla, which once accommodated 1,600 bathers, will now accommodate gymnasts. The marathon will start at the steps of the Campidoglio (Capitol) and finish at the Arch of Constantine by the light of torches. Wrestling will be at the Basilica of Maxentius.
And the Games will spur Roman society to special gaiety. There will be fancy parties—terrazza celebrations in penthouses and private villas, the guests enchanted by the city's night vista of shadowy domes and spires, floodlit ruins and torch-lighted palaces reflected against the dark blue velvet sky. Among the guests will be Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha of Denmark, Prince and Princess Albert de Li√®ge, Prince Gholam Reza Pahlevi, Prince and Princess Jean de Luxembourg, and so on. There have been rumors that the Shah of Iran, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret and her husband will attend the Games.
The Olympic flame is on its way to light the grandest Games that the Baron Pierre de Coubertin ever dreamed of. On the evening of August 25, after the opening ceremonies, the Games will begin with boxing at the Palazzetto dello Sport and water polo at the Piscina delle Rose. Not until the seventh day, August 31, will the qualifications start in track and field, with finals in shotput and broad jump. The Games will continue until Sunday, September 11, the 18th day, when the grand-prix jump and closing ceremonies take over the Olympic Stadium.
Then those indignant Romans, so intolerant of trifles while the city was being made ready, will know Rome has again made history.