Of the 372 American athletes currently competing in the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil, none are more dazzling than the pair of gymnasts on the opposite page, Muriel Davis Grossfeld and her husband Abie. Muriel is as good as she looks, the best woman gymnast in the country, and both she and her husband have been on two U.S. Olympic teams. They have not missed an important competition since their marriage in 1960. A physical education major at Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven, Muriel here is doing an underarm stand, one of the free floor exercises at which she excels. Abie, executing a straddle jump, is an instructor at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He is best on the horizontal bars and has been national champion three times.
As the gymnastic competition got under way this week in S√£o Paulo, the U.S. men's and women's teams moved into comfortable leads. Admirers of the sport were particularly gratified by the showing of the women's team, which, collectively, is as young as its members (see following pages) are comely. In first and second place for individual honors after the first day's compulsory exercises were two 18-year-olds, Dale McClements, who lives in Seattle and attends the University of Washington, and Kathy Corrigan of Weymouth, Mass., a student at Springfield College. This was their first try at an international meet. "The women," says George Gulack, chairman of the men's Olympic gymnastic committee, "had always been about three notches behind the men in gymnastics. But two or so years ago they started pulling up. They have progressed so much that I think they are now capable of competing on even terms with the Czechs and the Russians. We never could have said that before."
But the men have been improving rapidly, too, and the almost ecstatic Gulack predicts just as rosy a future for them as for the girls. One reason for the improved performances of U.S. gymnasts, who have not exactly overwhelmed world competition in the past—an individual's all-round finish in 50th or 60th place not so long ago was sometimes considered respectable, if somewhat embarrassing—is the missionizing spirit of such people as the Grossfelds.
"The only time I've taken off in the last 10 years is when I've been sick," Abie says. Both Grossfelds have been prodigal of their time and strength in the cause of the sport, which they feel is not sufficiently appreciated in this country. Gladly, they will drive a long distance to give an exhibition (Muriel having eaten nothing during the day but two pieces of toast) that they hope may kindle the interest of a child who has never had an opportunity to know what real gymnastics is.
Unfortunately, as far as the Pan American Games are concerned, few U.S. athletes had to make that sort of sacrifice in order to win. The games began in a clatter of confusion on April 20 as three volleys of artillery crashed over Pacaembu Stadium, and a squad of jet planes performed stunts before a crowd of 75,000 welcoming the 2,000 athletes from 22 countries. But one thing was perfectly clear. The Yankee colossus, as expected, was going to collect the giant share of first-and second-place medals (each nation was allowed only two entries in the most popular sports, track and swimming). True, the U.S. lost twice to Cuba in baseball, once 13-1, and that was a bit dismaying (the Cubans passed out Havana cigars beforehand). Frank Froehling, a promising U.S. Davis Cupper, was soundly beaten by Mexico's little-known Juan Arrendondo and Darlene Hard lost in the semifinals, as the men's and women's tennis teams foundered. But in other sports, the triumphs came along in abundance. The rowing team won four out of seven events. The wrestling team swept its eight divisions, and the weight lifters won six of seven. The shooting team blasted Cuba off the range—which was some consolation for the setback in baseball. The men's and women's swimming teams won 19 events. And the track teams, competing at only half strength, were nonetheless far too potent for their Pan-American neighbors.
The Latin countries were disappointed but hardly surprised by these disasters. If they were somewhat startled by the great U.S. improvement in gymnastics, they were charmed by the gymnasts. Even the Cubans seemed likely to agree that in this case the Yankees were successfully practicing the politics of attraction.
Members of the young U.S. team—average age 20—form a graceful pattern around the Olympic symbol in Pan American Games uniforms. The girls competed as individuals in Sao Paulo. Doing their free floor exercises and graceful warmup stretches are (from left) Kathleen Corrigan, Weymouth, Mass.; Muriel Davis Grossfeld, New Haven, Conn.; Dale McClements, Seattle; Doris Fuchs, Rochester; Avis Andrea Tieber, Dallas; Janice Landry, Port Allen, La.; and Marie Walther, Cleveland.
Stunning but steady, Marie Walther executes a precarious arabesque on a beam 3[15/16] inches wide. Only 18 but already in her second international competition—she was a member of the U.S. team last year at the Prague world championships—Miss Walther is one of several women who have livened American hopes for the future.