For two days the sun blazed down on the crowd of 60,000 in Moscow's Lenin Stadium and on the two teams of superb athletes wearing the white uniforms and the red uniforms of the two great rival nations of the earth. This was the third dual meet between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and in excitement and achievement it far surpassed anything that had gone before.
A world record was equaled in the first running event by wondrous Wilma Rudolph. Five other world records were broken as Saturday stretched into Sunday and the meet drew toward a close. The sun disappeared, the lights came on, and down on the field a tall, handsome boy from Russia and his even taller American opponent danced through the most dramatic high-jump contest ever seen. Russia's Valeri Brumel won, and he set a world record, too. The American, John Thomas, lost but only after a marvelous effort.
The meet was a struggle worthy of the nations and athletes involved. Each side won a victory. Each side suffered a defeat. The American men outscored the Russians 124-111, the Russian women beat the American women 68-39. The men's final score almost duplicated the results at Moscow in 1958 (126-109) and at Philadelphia the next year (127-108).
America had sent a young team, its youngest ever, to face the Russians, and it performed very well. With an 18-year-old shotputter from New York named Gary Gubner winning one first place, and a 19-year-old quarter-miler from California named Ulis Williams winning another, the Americans led by 10 points at the end of the first day. It was a margin the Soviets found impossible to dent.
July 23, 1961
In these same hours, while our boys were winning, our girls were getting beat. But with Wilma equaling her 100-meter world record and helping set another in the 400-meter relay—and capturing the hearts of Muscovites as she had captured the hearts of Romans—no one was too concerned over the final score.
Another memorable performance came from the American men's 400-meter relay team, which chopped almost half a second off a world record. Still another was turned in by two Russian girls, Tatiana Shchelkanova in the broad jump and Tamara Press in the discus, who added to the existing marks. And finally there was Ralph Boston, as unbelievable as ever, who broke his own world record yet again, surpassing 27 feet in the broad jump for the third time this year. And, of course, there was Valeri Brumel—who jumped 7 feet 4.
As an international athletic competition, the meet was a splendid success. As an instrument of international accord, it probably did little to settle the Berlin crisis, but otherwise it worked out just fine. The Russians were pleased to have American athletes back in Moscow, although not always sure what to do with them, and there was not an incident worthy of the name. None of the team members mentioned disarmament or asked for a copy of Dr. Zhivago at the Lenin library or threw a used caviar carton into the Lenin-Stalin tomb. The exchange rate for U.S. lapel emblems and red stars held steady on the trade market at one to one, and the Americans politely refused to give up 1960 Olympic pins for those bearing Khrushchev's picture. "Man, what I couldn't do," said U.S. decathlon man Dave Edstrom, "with a Jackie Kennedy button here!"
The travail of travel
But it was neither in the fields of athletics nor diplomacy that the 58 U.S. boys and girls found their greatest reward. This came when they reverted to type as that much maligned creature, the American tourist abroad. For 10 days they were amused and confused and fascinated and irritated. By the time it was over, the team was agreed that every American should visit Russia—once.
Soviet officialdom got into the act even before the chartered Pan American DC-7C left Idlewild. The flight originally was scheduled to depart New York on Saturday evening, a week before the meet began and arrive in Moscow at 9 p.m. Sunday. At the last moment the Russians said nyet. It seemed that an air show was scheduled for Tushino Airport on Sunday afternoon, and American DC-7Cs were not invited. "We won't get there until six hours after the air show is over," Pan American told the Russians. "And, anyway, we're going into Sheremetyevo, which is across town." "Nyet," said the Russians, making an overnight stop in London necessary. "This means one less day for the kids to get acclimated to Moscow," said disgruntled U.S. Coach Jim Elliott.
So the American boys and girls and assorted AAU officials and coaches and journalists and a man from Wheaties, which was co-sponsor of the ABC television report, climbed aboard.
John Thomas tried to fold his 6 feet 5 inches into a seat designed for midgets in the years when midgets (and everybody) were shorter than they are now. "Man, what happened to all our jets?" he said. "When we land in Moscow in this thing," said Ralph Boston, "those cats are going to think we've invented a new kind of airplane."
It is true that American athletes have been known to complain once in a while, but it is also true that they are among the most adaptable individuals in the world. Long before the flight left the ground (it was an hour late), off had come the trim blue blazers with the brilliant U.S. patches on the pockets, and the polished shoes. In their places appeared a colorful array of sport shirts, sweat suits, muu-muu dresses, sneakers and house slippers. And, as the old Douglas groaned across the Atlantic, the team sprawled in the aisles and across the seats and slept.
In London each of the two buses carrying the squad to the Mount Royal Hotel clipped a private car. This could be par for London bus drivers, since no one got very excited. Later the team worked out in Hyde Park. The appearance of so many shiny new white sweat suits with the red-and-blue U.S.A. on their backs broke up several very important meetings on Communism and freethinking and drew a great gathering. "Where's Parry O'Brien?" asked a watcher.
The team also worked out on Monday morning at White City Stadium before a large crowd that didn't know Parry O'Brien from a petrol pump, since it had come to watch the greyhounds, not a U.S. track team.
At one p.m. the flight was reboarded. At 1:15 it was unboarded. The Russian embassy had telephoned that it wanted two of its men to go along to navigate Pan American safely past vital defense establishments and mine fields.
The flight took off at 3:30. It landed in Moscow that night at 10:53, one of the few American planes ever to visit Russia (not counting U-2s). The Russians thumped on the door. The chief stewardess opened it. "Tourists?" asked a uniformed proletarian with a gun at his hip. "No," answered the stewardess. "We're the American track team." The Russian looked confused. "The what?" he said. "You know," said the stewardess, "track team." And she jogged vigorously up and down. The Russian shrugged and looked around for help.
It arrived in the person of Leonid Khomenkov, who is a sort of Dan Ferris of the U.S.S.R. Khomenkov presented large bouquets of flowers to Wilma Rudolph and Ralph Boston and the Wheaties man. He also kissed Pincus Sober of the AAU on both cheeks. "Spasibo," said Sober, who had been to Berlitz. "Spasibo," said Khomenkov.
Since no members of the American embassy showed up (there was an International Film Festival in town and they had gone to see Liz Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida), the team went into the terminal, where the whole crew waited for two hours while the Russians mixed up all the luggage.
It was a 50-minute drive to the Metropole Hotel aboard buses that had seen a good bit of prior service. One caught fire just outside the airport gate. While the driver threw open the hood, grabbed his fire extinguisher and fought the blaze, the Americans cheered and the Russian interpreter yawned.
While Nikita slept
Eventually the bus rumbled on. It got lost in Red Square, three blocks from the Metropole, and there ensued a loud discussion between the driver and the interpreter that threatened to awaken Stalin. Evidently the two Russians realized they might really awaken Khrushchev, so they shut up and searched for a while and finally found the hotel at 3 a.m. "The team from where?" asked the night attendant at the front desk. Everyone was in bed by 4 a.m. The sun was rising over the steppes.
In the week that followed, the team from the U.S. discovered a lot more about the enigma known as the U.S.S.R. At Lenin Stadium, where there are locker rooms that would stir envy in the hearts of the New York Yankees, there were no towels. "Towels are for footballers," they were told. "Trackmen bring their own." The lift in the Metro-pole could carry an unlimited number of people up, but only three people down. There was only one menu per table in the restaurants, and only one towel per room in the hotel. There it stayed, the same towel. Food and clothing were expensive, service cheap—when service could be had. "The main concern of every waiter in the Soviet Union," explained one frank Russian, "is to see that customers do not return."
American boys, looking for Russian girls, discovered that here, of all the places they had been, the language problem was truly insurmountable. But if the track team found out, almost immediately, that Moscow was not like home, it also discovered that the city was full of strange and frequently wonderful sights. There was a tour of the Kremlin and a visit to Moscow University with its magnificent view over the steeples and towers of the great old city. Some team members saw Gorki Park, a combination Coney Island and Central Park, and they looked in awe at the world's largest—and emptiest—fresh-water swimming pool. John Thomas led a buying spree on Cossack-type fur hats (9 rubles 30 kopecks at GUM—U.S. supermarket equivalent: $2.33) and everyone rode the famous Moscow subway.
They also had to get ready for a track meet, and by Saturday they were ready. In the first event (for complete meet statistics see page 60) Rudolph floated down the red crushed-brick track in 11.3 in her record-equaling race. She had not been training very hard and she was not pushed.
A few minutes later Budd ran 10.3, beating his Villanova teammate, Paul Drayton, by a yard. For a man who had set a world 100-yard record of 9.2 just three weeks before, this was not spectacular 100-meter time, and Budd appeared to be tight. "I guess I was nervous," he said. "The first race and everything. I'll do better."
Hayes Jones won the high hurdles (he also won in 1959) by running 13.8. But he didn't pull away from the two Russians, Anatoli Mikhailov and Valentin Chistiakov, until the seventh hurdle, and Francis Washington, who did not get a good start, had to come fast at the end to grab third in a photo finish. Mikhailov, Washington and Chistiakov each ran 13.9, and the Americans had to admit that Russian hurdling had improved.
Both nations turned it on in the 400-meter-relay event. There was little doubt that the American men would win once Budd took the baton from Hayes Jones and sent the U.S. into a two-yard lead at the end of the second leg. Charles Frazier opened the gap to three yards, and Drayton crossed the line four yards ahead.
"The baton exchanges weren't too good," said Oliver Jackson, one of the U.S. coaches, "but they don't have to be too good when you can run like that. Those are great sprinters out there." The time was 39.1, four-tenths of a second under the old world record set by U.S. and German Olympic teams. The Russians, in furnishing such terrific competition, ran a 39.4 themselves. Their exchanges were very good—they had worked together for weeks—but their runners just weren't as fast.
The Russian women, on the other hand, were faster in the relay than the U.S. women—until they came to Wilma. Willye White led off the American team and held her ground, but both Earnestine Pollard and Vivian Brown dropped slowly back. Wilma fumbled the hand-off, slowed and looked around. By the time she began to chase the Russian anchor girl, Tatiana Shchelkanova, she was fully five yards behind.
At first it appeared that this was too far even for Wilma. She closed very slowly for the first 30, 40, 50 yards. But then something happened. Wilma went zoom. She passed Shchelkanova as if the Russian were nailed to the track and won by three yards. The time was 44.4, breaking the old record of 44.5. "That long old girl can run when she wants to," said Ralph Boston. It was estimated that Wilma had raced her 100 meters in eight seconds flat.
The only other world record for the day was the 57.43-meter (188 feet 5 inches) discus throw by Tamara Press, the Soviet amazon who set the old record and who is as muscular as ever.
The most surprising women's performance, however, was a second-place finish to Russia's Taisia Chenchik by America's Barbara Brown, who high-jumped 1.65 meters (5 feet 5 inches). Barbara, who has red hair and freckles, had never jumped that high before and never expected to jump that high now. Then, in her exultation, she proceeded to jump even higher, bouncing around the bright green grass of Lenin Stadium and waving her hands in the air.
Four meet records were set by the men, in addition to the world records. John Uelses, the German-born marine who is our newest pole-vaulting star, went 4.69 meters (15 feet 4½ inches), winning over another relative newcomer, Henry Wadsworth, by 3½ inches. "It was the second-best vault I've ever made," said Uelses. "I've got to get me one of those fiber glass poles," said Wadsworth.
Vitold Kreer cut loose with the best hop, step and jump of the year, 16.68 meters (54 feet 8½ inches). Yuri Zakharov and Virkus Lembit killed off America's best 10,000-meter man, John Gutknecht, with a punishing pace before Zakharov went on to win in 29:34.4 by 220 yards. "It was too hot," said Zakharov, who has run much faster. "Do you know what?" said Gutknecht. "I broke my own three-mile record of 14:01 by several seconds. And we were running more than six miles. That was some pace."
But perhaps the finest race of the day was turned in by Jerry Siebert in winning the 800 meters. Trailing in third place behind Russian Valeri Bulyshev and teammate Jim Dupree for 1½ laps, Siebert followed as Dupree took the lead on the last turn and then outran the man who beat him in the national AAU meet. The time was 1:46.8, which equaled Siebert's best.
Ulis Williams and Gary Gubner set no records, but everyone was proud of the way the two boys performed. Williams won the 400 meters, easily, in 46.7, as Adolph Plummer's starting blocks slipped and the big New Mexico runner nearly exhausted himself trying to cancel the misfortune. He finished a full five yards behind Williams, barely holding off Valentin Rakhmanov for second.
Everyone knew that Gubner would someday be something special—it was only a matter of when. As a New York schoolboy competing in indoor meets a year ago, he could not find a gymnasium to hold him. He kept breaking windows and walls and knocking down basketball backboards with his 12-pound shot-put. Moving up to the 16-pound shot this year as a freshman at NYU, Gubner improved steadily. On Saturday he threw 60 feet 7½ inches, two inches more than Jay Silvester.
Gubner made the Moscow team because Dallas Long and Parry O'Brien decided to pass up the trip. When he got on the plane at Idlewild, his mother said: "Let us be proud of you." She should be now.
On Sunday the Americans insured the final outcome of the meet almost immediately by winning the day's first three events. Cliff Cushman, the Olympic silver medalist, took the 400-meter hurdles in 50.5. Then Budd and Drayton finished a taut one-two in the 200 meters. Budd ran 20.8, and Drayton ran four steps on the line separating his lane from the Russian next door. He was disqualified on an international rule that is almost never invoked in the U.S. unless the offending runner interferes with another. Since Drayton was so far ahead of the nearest Russian, Pincus Sober objected mildly, but the Russian referee ruled in favor of the Russians.
A sickening sausage
For weeks everyone had been looking forward to another Jim Beatty-Dyrol Burleson duel, this time at 1,500 meters. Beatty, who lost the last time America's two sub-four-minute men met in the AAU mile at Randalls Island, wanted revenge so fiercely that he refused to transfer his talents to the 5,000 meters, where the Americans needed such a runner far more urgently, having Jim Grelle as an able substitute in the 1,500.
The whole matter proved to be academic. Burleson gobbled up a street-corner sausage sandwich three days before the meet began and became violently nauseated. With a fever of 103° he was too weak to run against either Beatty or the Russians, and Grelle had to replace him in the 1,500. There he finished second, as Beatty took off like a rocket rounding the final turn, sprinted along down the stretch and set a meet record of 3:43.8.
"I hope Burleson's ready to run a fast mile in London next weekend," said Beatty. "I'll be ready," said Burleson.
Jay Silvester won the discus throw with a fine toss of 58.46 meters (191 feet 9½ inches), and our decathlon men, Paul Herman and Dave Edstrom, finished second and third behind Russian winner Yuri Kutenko.
Ralph Boston and Valeri Brumel supplied the biggest thrills. Boston's job was the simpler. Against him there was Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the fine Russian jumper who consistently goes over 26 feet and had already done 26 feet 10½ inches this year. But there is only one Boston, and he proved it right away. On his first jump he fouled. On the next he almost left Lenin Stadium. The jump was measured at 8.28 meters, which is 27 feet 1.99 inches, 1¼ inches beyond the record he set earlier this year. The best that Ter-Ovanesyan could do was 26 feet 3¼ inches.
Brumel and Thomas and Bob Avant very quickly disposed of Robert Shavlakadze, the Russian Olympic champion, at 2.05 meters (6 feet 8¾ inches). Then Avant, the pell-mell high jumper, was out, at 2.16. Brumel and Thomas both cleared the height, which is about 7 feet 1 inch, on their first tries. Brumel made 2.19 (7 feet 2¼ inches) without a miss. Thomas missed once, then cleared by a wide margin. They moved the bar up to 2.24, which is two centimeters over Thomas' recognized world record. And then it began to rain.
They covered the take-off area and the crowd whistled, which is the way they boo in Moscow. Thomas ran under the stadium to keep dry. The crowd whistled. Thomas reappeared and pulled off his sweat suit. The crowd cheered. Thomas and Brumel each missed once. Then Thomas missed again and so did Brumel, although the Russian just nudged the crossbar with his trailing leg. Thomas missed once more; this time he came as close as had Brumel—but still he missed.
So the young Russian, who had defeated the young American at Rome and three times during the indoor season in New York, had one last chance. He stood there in the rain, poised, and 60,000 people watched, for no one was about to go home. Then he drove at the bar with his vicious, determined stride, hit the takeoff point and went up and up and up—and over. The stadium almost fell apart in the din.
The meet was over. There were six world records and each team won and each team lost. Pravda and Izvestia added the women's scores to the men's and proclaimed a Russian victory. The Americans just grinned and headed happily off to run against the Germans and English and Poles.