A wonderfully exuberant Italian turned from the track, extended his arms to the world at large and cried hoarsely but soulfully, "My hands, my voice, my heart! All of them I give to Livio!"
He had a faintly comic-opera air about him and a look of pure amazement, and somehow he seemed to epitomize these Roman Olympic Games in which so many things have gone so dramatically wrong—at least for the United States.
He was applauding—ecstatically—the victory of Italy's Livio Berruti in the 200 meters, an event traditionally American. Berruti is a dark, handsome man who runs, in the poetic words of his coach, like "a lovely, bounding impala." In this race he tied the world record (20.5) and soundly whipped the three American finalists—Les Carney, Stone Johnson and Ray Norton. The day before, the well-drilled and numerous German partisans at the Stadio Olimpico had barked, "Hary, Hary, Hary," in unison to hail the victory of Armin Hary over Norton, Dave Sime and Prank Budd in the 100 meters.
Indeed, after four days of track and field competition, this Olympic meet seemed likely to be the worst for the U.S. in modern history. The mighty fell regularly: John Thomas, the nonpareil in the high jump, finished third to two Russians; Norton, the world's fastest—nearly—human, finished last in the finals of both the 100 and 200 meters; Harold Connolly, the world record holder in the hammer throw, could do no better than eighth.
September 11, 1960
There were reasons, and they were advanced eagerly by athletes, officials and the press. The U.S. team had been sent to the Games tourist class. There was a 14-hour trip on a propeller-driven plane from New York to Bern, a track meet in Bern, then a 15-hour train ride to Rome on a crowded, hot train, with the tired athletes jammed six to a compartment. In Rome a good 90% of the U.S. team succumbed to the "Roman skitters," a virulent variety of diarrhea. A smaller, but significant, percentage suffered from an overweening sense of superiority which led them to relax training. One unidentified official was said to have said that he saw a cabload of athletes arrive at the Olympic Village at 2 a.m., in defiance of an 11 p.m. curfew. But the most cogent reason for the American disappointments was the immense improvement in athletic ability in the rest of the world. The two sprint winners—Hary and Berruti—are dramatic examples of this.
Hary set a world record in the 100 meters in Zurich on June 21. He is a small, compactly built man with a large ego, a quick temper, and a singularly uningratiating arrogance. Most track experts, who know and dislike him, were prone to think that the record was the result of his jumping the gun. Hary is, indeed, apt to jump the gun whenever he can. But he is also the best sprinter in the world.
Asked about his penchant for gun-jumping before the 100-meter final, Hary said, "Rudolph Valentino was called the Thief of Hearts. As far as I know, he was never in prison. So what I do is not a crime. I am the thief of starts. It goes back to the rules of the game, and I'm a born player."
The very competent starter assigned to the 100-meter final kept a tight hold on the six-man field. There was one jump in which both Dave Sime and Hary went. But neither was charged with a false start. Then Hary alone anticipated the gun, left his blocks early, and the field was again recalled. Hary was charged with a false start. (Two false starts would have automatically put him out of the competition.)
The six finalists went to the blocks again, and the 70,000-odd people in the stands were deathly still. Sime set his feet, saw a rough patch in his lane and reached out and patted it down, hard. The hollow plop, plop, plop of his hand against the dusty red track sounded clearly throughout the stadium. The starter said "via," and the runners raised in their blocks. The quiet hung on. Then, at the shockingly sudden crack of the gun, they were away.
Hary, Sime and Norton left the blocks in the same wink of an eye. At three yards, Hary had established a narrow but noticeable margin. At 10 yards, he led by a full pace, and at 20 yards he was two steps ahead of Sime, more than that ahead of the rest of the field.
Hary's strength as a sprinter lies in the first 50 meters of a race. He has, easily, the fastest acceleration that any sprinter has ever had; if he were to run 50-yard sprints indoors no one would ever be near him. This whippet-fast acceleration gave him a three-yard cushion over Sime at 50 meters. For the last 50 meters it was a question whether or not the wonderful gliding top speed that is Sime's could overcome this margin.
Sime came very close. He ran a beautiful race; ordinarily a poor starter, he started better than anyone but Hary this time. He closed very quickly in the final 20 meters, running in the odd, straight-up style which is peculiarly his, and he lunged so desperately at the tape that he sprawled full length in the red dust of the track as the race ended. But he was still a big inch short of victory.
Hary accepted his gold medal and the booming "Hary, Hary, Hary" of the German rooters with his usual gracelessness. Said he, "The start was excellent. I wanted to run through all three of them, damn 'em [the Americans]. Before the race, they kept on looking at each other, shaking hands and assuring each other they would win, black or white. I lost a tenth of a second on the start. I waited. By then I was as nervous as a woman."
Hary dropped out of the 200 meters the next day. He said it was because he wanted to concentrate on preparing for the 400-meter relay, which the Germans hoped to win. He is not a very good 200-meter runner, because the impetus of that explosive start dies rapidly.
Berruti, who won the 200 meters, starts very poorly. Oddly, he started well enough in the finals. He was nervous and had one false start, but he was away quickly. So were Norton and Johnson, but Berruti, running with that impala-sleek stride of his, picked up a lead on them around the turn. He came into the straight three yards ahead and held on to that lead smoothly as the crowd began a rolling, booming roar. Suddenly Les Carney, the No. 3 American 200-meter runner, began to close quickly down the outside lane. Like Sime, Carney dived for the tape and, again like Sime, he was too late. Berruti won the most satisfying victory of the Games.
All of the Italians gave him their hands, voice and heart. When the three young girls who carry out the gold, silver and bronze medals on silver trays walked out for the presentation in the 200 meters, the one who carried Berruti's medal wept unashamedly. When the band played the jaunty Italian national anthem, more Italians wept. It was a very emotional moment, and a very pleasant one for all.
Psych job in a straw hat
On the first day of track and field competition the U.S. had a very pleasant moment of its own. Bill Nieder, Parry O'Brien and Dallas Long placed one-two-three in the shotput. Nieder, the world record holder, set an Olympic record at 64 feet 6¾ inches. He came out on the field wearing a ridiculous straw cowboy hat. "It was part of my psych job on O'Brien," he said later. "I wanted him to think this was just another meet for me. But I was really churning inside. My first put, the crowd yelled at a race and ruined my balance. The second one I fouled. The third, they hollered again, and on the fourth I fouled. Then I figured, I got to make it on the fifth. O'Brien was ahead, and I knew if I had only one put left the pressure would be too much. I kept saying to myself, 'O'Brien says old Nieder can't come through in the big ones; he's a cow pasture performer.' I got off a good one. The only one I used the finger flip on." (See right.)
O'Brien, watching from the sidelines, threw his towel in the air in disgusted resignation when he saw Nieder's put. He said nothing to Nieder or Long until the three stepped on the platform to accept their medals and turned to watch the three American flags run up over the Olympic flame. Then, in his state voice that sounds as though he were reciting words chiseled in marble, he leaned over and said, "Gentlemen, this is the ultimate."
This was on the first day of track and field competition. The second was gloomy Thursday. Norton, a lackluster replica of the Norton of the Olympic trials, finished sixth in the 100 meters. ("He's not right," said Bud Winter, an Olympic coach and Norton's coach at San Jose State. "He was ready four days ago. But he hasn't got that sparkle in his eye and the bounce in his step. He's flat.") None of the American 800-meter runners (Tom Murphy, Jerry Siebert and Ernie Cunliffe) qualified for the finals. The best of the three, Siebert, who ran with a 101° fever, managed fourth in the semifinals in 1:48.
The biggest disappointment of the day came late in the evening, with the Roman dusk pouring into the stadium and the lights creating an aura of brightness around the high-jump pit. John Thomas, the best high jumper in the history of mankind, faced three methodical, competent Russians.
John Thomas is 19 years old and never, before this mild, pleasant Roman evening, had he competed against anything like his equals. Here he faced three near-equals, and he could not match them. Early in the week Thomas had worked out for the benefit of the Russians. He jumped 6 feet 10 eight of nine times, with the Russians watching. Then he easily cleared seven feet twice. Some of the Russians were awed. One, a mustachioed student named Robert Shavlakadze, watched impassively. Asked what he thought about Thomas' performance, Shavlakadze said quietly, "I am very consistent at seven feet."
On the night of the competition Shavlakadze was very consistent. He went clean—missed no jumps—until the bar reached 7 feet 2 and Thomas had been eliminated. He won, and Valeri Brumel, his teammate, placed second. Thomas, so nervous that his legs trembled between jumps, placed third. In a moment of youthful bravado, he passed at 6 feet 11¼, and while he waited for the other jumpers to clear that height he went back into the dressing rooms and drank a soft drink. "I always pass 6 feet 11," he said later. "It's unlucky for me." So were the Russians.
He made seven feet and a fraction on his second jump. By then it was Thomas and three Russians, and Thomas was jumping last. Faced with competition which cleared these heights with the regularity of a metronome, Thomas felt unaccustomed pressure. ("He is not used to competition," one of the Russians said later. "He is too young.") When the bar was raised to 7 feet 1, Thomas missed. On Thomas' last jump at that height, with the stadium dark but for the lights on the high-jump pit and with the quiet of 70,000 people a palpable thing, you knew that he would not make it. No 19-year-old could, with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"His form was not good," said Shavlakadze later. "His trailing leg was not clearing the bar." Shavlakadze should know. He is a graduate student in physical education in Russia. His thesis is on "Stability in Results in the High Jump."
After that disastrous day, U.S. fortunes turned dramatically. In the 400-meter hurdles Glenn Davis, Cliff Cushman and Dick Howard placed one-two-three. ("You feel like you're being led to the slaughter," Howard said. "The pressure out there is unbelievable.")
Then a tall, lissome young lady from Tennessee State, the home of most of America's female track talent, won the women's 100 meters by four full strides. Wilma Rudolph, a delightfully graceful, pretty girl, virtually walked away from the field in her event, breaking the world record by three-tenths of a second (11 fiat) and winning superbly. The record was disallowed because of a light following wind. Two days later she became the first American woman ever to win the 200 meters, thus scoring our first double in track.
Next Ralph Boston, a thin, calm young man from Wilma's alma mater, broke the Olympic record and won the broad jump with a fine jump of 26 feet 7¾ inches. Oddly, it was not the most dramatic jump of this competition. Boston's great effort came on his third try. He was first, and America's Bo Roberson was second until the final round of jumping. Then Russia's Ter-Ovanesian returned 26 feet 4‚Öù inches to move ahead of Roberson for second. Roberson, the last jumper in the finals, hesitated a long time at the head of the runway. He stood for a still moment, arms dangling, head low, tape on his thigh showing white in the late dark, then came down the runway very fast. He jumped, reaching for the last fraction of an inch in the doubled bend of a good broad jumper, and the crowd roared because it could see he had gone over the 26-foot mark. He made 26 feet 7‚Öú inches, three-eighths of an inch behind Boston, well ahead of Ter-Ovanesian and the best broad jump of his life.
"He hated Ter-Ovanesian enough," said a teammate. "He didn't hate Boston. But when the Russian went ahead, he hated it, and he jumped that far. You got to hate the guys you want to beat."
On the day of America's resurgence two New Zealanders nearly stole the spotlight. One of them was a complete surprise, the other was expected to win. Peter Snell, a burly, strong and completely unknown half-miler, whipped the world record holder (Roger Moens of Belgium) and the popular favorite (George Kerr of Jamaica) in the 800 meters. Murray Halberg was the favorite in the 5,000 meters, and he won quite easily with a cleverly run, beautifully executed race.
Gold medal four years early
Snell had a plan for the finals in the 800 meters, but the closely packed, somewhat unruly field negated it. "I wanted to get right out front," he said. "Away from the traffic, you know. But they didn't run by my rules. I was boxed a bit on the back-stretch of the first lap, then I was knocked over by the rail at the head of the last turn and I had to run on in from there. I wanted to go all-out with 250 meters left, but I had to wait a bit. I'm really preparing for the 1964 Olympics. I thought if I reached the semis here it would be fine experience. Then I reached the semis, and I thought, well, why not, I'll give it a go in the finals. And I was relaxed, you know. I'm really very pleased." Snell is 21, a quantity surveyor ("I figure how many bricks go in a building") in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealanders consider him the next Herb Elliott.
Halberg has been running since 1949. He took it up because his left shoulder was badly damaged in a Rugby game. "I like to have a lash at all sports," he said. "You know, I travel with chaps who like sports. Then I was bunged up in the Rugby game and I had to find a sport that used only my lower body. That's running, isn't it? So I trained a while with a local chap until I got too good for him, and he introduced me to John Lydiard, my coach now. I doubt that any coach has ever been as close to an athlete as Lydiard is to me. I talked to Cerutty once, because I like to learn as much as I can and I thought he might have something for me. I've been called one of Cerutty's—but Lydiard is my coach. He's a wonderful man. I've not been as close to him recently as I was at first, but he's taught me everything. I've absorbed most of it, so I only see him now and then to plan how to attack a race, but we have changed the whole textbook of training. Me and Lydiard. No interval work, you know. Long, slow, over distance, then short sprints. All designed to make the body produce its maximum over whatever distance necessary. Take Snell. We had the same program until 10 weeks before the Olympics. We have a 22-mile test course over the hills in New Zealand. Snell and I and two of our marathon runners ran a test over it. The marathon runners beat me by a second, I beat Snell by a second. He'll be the greatest runner in the world in a few years."
Halberg, a slight, red-haired man who runs with his left arm tucked in closely to his side because of the impairment, ran an extraordinarily wise race in the 5,000 meters.
"I knew there were three chaps who could run a fast last quarter," he said, "Grodotzki of Germany, Thomas of Australia and Iharos of Hungary. I thought I might be able to stay, but I wasn't sure. So I sprinted with three laps to go and opened a gap. Then I broke all the textbook rules by looking over my shoulder to see how far back they were so I could keep my lead. When you're running in front like that it's like driving on a dark street at night with the lights out. If you don't watch, all at once all the traffic goes by before you can accelerate. But if you look back, you can adjust to meet that."
Halberg's surprising and unorthodox early sprint opened a 30-yard gap for him. Grodotzki, running second, seemed confused. He started to match Halberg's sprint, then abandoned the effort. But this compromise cost him the strength for a closing drive and left him too far behind Halberg, who has no real finishing kick.
Watching was Roger Bannister, the first man in the world to break the four-minute barrier in the mile.
"A good deal of running is mental," mused Bannister. "You must use your head, you know. It's very necessary."
THE THIEF OF STARTS
Germany's gold medal winner in the 100-meter dash is one of the most remarkable and controversial athletes in Rome. The quickest starter in racing history (tests have established that he reacts to sound—therefore to the starting pistol—three times faster than the average man), Armin Hary often is accused of jumping the gun. He proudly calls himself the Thief of Starts (see page 17). "Quick acceleration," he says, "is sheer built-in talent. It is not something you can learn. The mental reaction ends as soon as I make my first movement. It's all my body from then on." In the finals of the 100-meter there were two false starts, both involving Hary. In the first (right), Hary in the near lane and Dave Sime of the U.S. in the far lane broke before the gun, but neither was charged with a false start, since officials could not determine which runner was responsible. Next time Hary alone broke an instant before the gun. "I don't think this was a false start," he said later when shown the photograph at the right. "The others are right there with me as I am lifting up. I think the starter was undecided. I think he was trying to make up his mind whether I could possibly have got away that quickly." Hary claimed his confidence was shaken by this charge of gun-jumping. "I couldn't start normally the third time," he said, "since I was afraid of being tossed out for making two false starts. It's quite possible the officials would have called it a false start again if I had gone as quickly as I am able to. I had to be careful." In the third start (1, below) Hary was careful, getting away slowly—for him. Yet such is his explosive speed that he was passing the field in his third stride (2). A step later (3) he had a lead that he never gave up. In the words of Jesse Owens, who ought to know, "He's a champion. He can run like hell."
VICTORY AT HIS FINGERTIPS
Shotputter Bill Nieder, who won the U.S.'s first track and field gold medal in Rome and defeated his waspish archrival Parry O'Brien in the process, disclosed to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Artist Robert Riger the well-kept secret that contributed to the victory.
"I have a strong rotation," he says of the unusually loose, dervishlike whirl that brings him to A the point where he releases the 16-pound ball. "But my secret is that throughout the rotation I carry the shot in the palm of my hand, not on the fingers as O'Brien and others do. This lets me move my arm quicker and puts no strain on the hand. Then, at the last instant, I let the shot roll off the palm and onto the fingers where I give it a final finger snap that shoots it out in a low trajectory. Why, if Dave Davis knew this he could throw it out of the park. That's the whole story."
Riger learned one other Nieder secret. The bandage he wears on his right hand serves no purpose, Nieder confessed. He put it on a year ago after an injury and has worn it in competition since, though the hand healed long ago. Why? "It helps me up here," he said, pointing to his head.
Nieder cradles shot in the palm of his hand (left) as he rotates but, approaching release (below), he rolls it back to his fingertips, snapping it off from there.
Throughout his rotation O'Brien holds the shot with his middle three fingers (left). This, says Nieder, tires the hand and causes a loss of thrust.
AIRY APEX OF A RECORD LEAP
Soaring like a ballet dancer, Ralph Boston is caught by the camera at the peak altitude of a flight to lasting fame. As he flew, he flailed his arms and churned his legs for utmost distance, and when he touched down he had broken the oldest of all Olympic records: Jesse Owens' broad jump mark set in 1936. Boston was airborne for 26 feet 7¾ inches and won a gold medal.