A Brazilian soccer hero and an important race at Aqueduct are the diverse subjects of two articles in this issue written by a new and versatile member of our staff, Pete Axthelm, who did not mind at all leaving his favorite haunt, the racetrack, to poke his nose into another sport. Especially when part of the poking was to be done in South America. What he does mind is letting the world pass him by, but in that race he is a 1-to-20 favorite. Pete Axthelm is just 23 years old.
With Whit Tower still in Paris after his coverage of the Arc de Triomphe, Pete was a natural choice to report the Big A's Champagne Stakes (page 28). He knows Aqueduct well, although his heart still hungers for verdant Belmont Park (when he was growing up in Rockville Centre, N.Y., he spent a lot of time at Belmont, where he began betting horses at the age of 16).
Three weeks before his graduation from Yale, where he majored in English and was sports editor of the Yale Daily News, Pete started work as the racing writer for the New York Herald Tribune. It was an unheard-of debut in journalism for a college kid whose only professional experience was a summer of cityside reporting for the New York World-Telegram.
On top of the racing beat, Axthelm branched out into golf, pro football, ice hockey and boxing. His major frustration during this period was his inability to write the behind-the-scenes story of why a mighty horse named Graustark failed to run in the Kentucky Derby. (The Trib was then shut down by a strike.) SI gave him the chance, and it resulted in an exclusive and controversial story in our May 23 issue. Soon thereafter we were glad to get Pete for our staff.
October 23, 1966
We had planned to do a story on Brazil's Pelé for some time (he's a remarkable young man, as you will discover on page 76), so when his Santos team visited New York last month we sent Axthelm over to try to arrange an interview. Sources in Brazil had insisted that Pelé was shielded from reporters by an entourage of officials and friends who demanded as much as $5,000 just for an introduction to the star. Pete managed to talk to Pelé without crossing any palms, and they got along so well that Pete flew back to Brazil with Pelé and the team. In Santos, Axthelm was able to observe his subject closely on Pelé's home grounds and thereby gather the intimate details that make the story superior reading. "He was reported to be surly and remote, very hard to get to," Pete says. "But the first two points are wrong. Once you find him he is a genial, intelligent guy." Which is also a good description of the writer.
Pete is married to the former Jill Delaney, also a Long Islander, and they are expecting their first child next month. His wide range of interests finds some reflection in two books by him that are due on the market early next year: The Modern Confessional Novel, a critical work from the Yale University Press, and Tennis Observed, a study of tennis champions, written with Bill Talbert, to be issued by Barre Publishers. But the best news is that there will be more of his reporting on a variety of subjects in the pages of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.