The capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has not yet been exposed to the high-powered hyperbole of Mr. Cassius Clay, but it got a fair sample of his technique last week from the team of U.S. track stars who dropped into Moscow to spread goodwill and the gospel of U.S. athletic superiority.
"Each of us," the young hurdler Rex Cawley told anyone who cared to listen as the team met the press in the ornate lobby of the Stalinesque Leningradskaya Hotel, "is the best America has to offer in his field. You can't argue with success."
"They have just two chances to beat us—slim and none," said High Jumper Gene Johnson.
"The only thing that we try to do now," added Relay Man Paul Drayton, "is to keep sharp. We have a good team—fabulous quality and great depth."
These self-appraisals fell on Russian ears much as Clay's predictions fall on those of skeptical Sonny Liston. "The style of the Americans is inferior," opined Olympic champion High Jumper Robert Shavlakadze, who was unable to compete against the Americans himself because of a leg injury. "The technique of the jump is more defined with the Russians. With the right technique, your John Thomas [who was not there] could do 7 feet 8½ inches, but he doesn't know how to jump."
Russia's women were no less critical, but considerably more helpful toward their American counterparts. After watching America's discus thrower Cynthia Wyatt at practice, the U.S.S.R.'s Amazonian Tamara Press, who outclasses all the women in the world at the discus and shotput, shook her head in sad disapproval. "First she moves from her shoulders," explained Tamara, "and then from her pelvis. It should be the other way round. It works like a spring. The American men know how to throw the discus. Why don't your American men teach the women? If the Americans really wanted to, they could be good."
The world's best woman javelin thrower, Elvira Ozolina, frankly wondered where in the world America's Fran Davenport had learned her technique. Fran confessed she picked it up by herself from watching others. "I never had a coach," she said. "You should start throwing before you make the full turn," said trim Elvira sadly in a we'll-just-have-to-make-the-best-of-it tone, "but don't give up your way now. Before competition it's bad policy to change."
As the two-day meet got under way at Lenin Stadium, Soviet Coach Gabriel Korobkov assured the Americans that they would "find the Soviet team good friends but tough competitors. Welcome to Moscow," he added in English, "and there will be a good fight."
"We are ready," said America's Coach Payton Jordan confidently.
To avoid the heat of noon, each day's events were scheduled to last far into the evening. Only 30,000 fans turned up to fill the 103,000 stadium seats on the first day, and before it was done what they had witnessed was enough to make Coach Jordan's confidence fade like the Moscow twilight. "Fate sometimes plays strange little tricks," he philosophized.
Fortunately for Jordan, fate had not tampered with U.S. pole-vaulting. Even the Russians had virtually conceded this event, and true to expectation, America's John Uelses, wielding a brand-new 80% nylon pole from Finland, lifted himself to 16 feet ¾ inches. His teammate John Pennell went 15 feet 5 inches, which was good enough to leave the Russians far behind, or more properly, below.
Champion Sprinter Robert Hayes also lived up to expectations in the 100-meter dash, taking an easy first, but his teammate John Gilbert faded to third, and from then on the U.S. was in trouble, for the Russians turned up with considerably more strength among their middle-distance men than even the most pessimistic American had thought possible.
The U.S. women runners faced the same situation. Before the meet began, Jordan had pooh-pooed the absence of Sprinter Wilma Rudolph (now retired) as of little import. Long-legged Edith McGuire, he said, would prove a worthy replacement. But in the women's 100-meter dash, Russia's trim little veteran Galina Popova, who has been an also-ran competitor since the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, forced her compact figure forward as though a thousand capitalistic devils were in pursuit, crossing the line a full tenth of a second ahead of McGuire. The crowd roared in approval, and Galina loped back past them looking as if she had swallowed an eagle and enjoyed every feather. In the women's javelin throw, Elvira Ozolina gave poor Fran Davenport the promised lesson in Russian technique leaving Fran and her teammate RaNae Bair more than 18 feet behind—which was quite as expected.
If anything else was expected, it was that Hayes Jones would win the 110-meter hurdles, but fate and a big Russian stepped in to unsettle Coach Jordan again. As the starting pistol shot cracked through muggy air, the four competitors were off and away. Three headed for the finish line, but the fourth, Jones, turned to the right and stopped. At the tape, Anatoly Mikhailov tumbled head over heels, gouging his knees as he finished second to Blaine Lindgren. Instead of proclaiming the American winner's time, the officials announced that there had been a U.S. appeal. The explanation finally came: Hayes Jones had made a false start, and was nonplussed to find that the officials had failed to recognize it. The race was ordered rerun. Once more Hayes was left standing in the blocks, convinced this time that Russians had jumped the gun. But after a moment's hesitation he took out after the front-runners, drew closer and closer—but not close enough. Mikhailov came in first at 13.8, with Lindgren second, one-tenth of a second behind, while Jones was third. The appeal thus was won and lost: the points that might have been Lindgren's went up in the Soviet column.
Like most of the distance events, the 10,000 meters was a predictable triumph for Russia's men as was the 3,000-meter steeplechase (Russia won the 5,000 easily when Jim Beatty was sidelined by an old injury). Tamara the Mighty made short work of the women's discus. U.S. prestige was restored to some extent by Ralph Boston, who avenged his last year's defeat by Ter-Ovanesyan in the broad jump; Dave Davis and Parry O'Brien, who finished one-two in the shotput; and Harold Connolly, who had joined the team at the last minute—just in time to win the hammer. Jim Dupree and Ulis Williams also upheld U.S. hopes in the 800 and 400. Then came the men's 400 relay, a moment of false triumph and another U.S. debacle.
To the few U.S. rooters present, the sight of Bob Hayes crossing the line first in the relay looked good indeed. Then, because Drayton had passed Hayes the baton too soon, a foul was declared and a Russian victory showed on the scoreboard lights. "That," said America's coach, who always had a phrase handy, "is a serious setback."
At the end of the first day, with the Russians yet to unleash their biggest guns, the U.S. men's team was leading by only seven points. America's women were trailing by 18. "Tonight," said Coach Jordan, "we're gonna have a little visit, a little board-of-directors meeting. I'm not mad. I'm not upset. But tomorrow everything has to go right."
It could scarcely be said that everything went right the following day, but at least everything did not go wrong. True, Nikita Khrushchev, full of good will and the spirit of peaceful coexistence, arrived in time to see the Russians break another record in space—this time by Valery Brumel, who high-jumped 7 feet 5¾ inches. True, too, the Russian women kept up their clean sweep of first places right down to the end of the meet. Their margin of triumph was 75-28.
On the male side, a final U.S. victory was in doubt right up to the last two events. Three one-two sweeps—Dyrol Burleson and Tom O'Hara in the 1,500, Henry Carr and Paul Drayton in the 200, Willie Atterbury and Rex Cawley in the 400-meter hurdles, all more or less expected—secured the U.S. position at last. Then the relay team of Ulis Williams, Ray Saddler, Lester Milburn and Carr charged over the line in the 1,600, some 40 yards ahead of a Russian team, which itself finished in a U.S.S.R. record-breaking 3:08.6. It added up to a 119-114 win for the U.S. men, but never before in a U.S.-Russian meet had they been so close to losing.
In a groggy trackside valedictory, Coach Jordan summed things up: "We came back after being on the floor," he said, "but this was the greatest Russian team ever."