AT FIRST GLANCE, the Olympics depicted by David Maraniss in Rome 1960 bear little resemblance to the event Michael Phelps dominated this year. They were the first Summer Games to be televised in the U.S.; let's just say CBS, which paid $600,000 for the rights, had no 3-D graphics. Olympians were expected to be amateurs, and women athletes were still something of a novelty. But things began to change during that fortnight, as Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph and a young Cassius Clay portended the rise of a new type of sports star—and the coming cultural upheaval. Maraniss expertly weaves global story lines (cold war tensions, painstaking racial progress) with many athletes' personal narratives and highly charged tales of competition. Rome 1960 is an exquisite portrayal of what the Olympics once were and, for better and worse, how far they've come.
This is an article from the Dec. 22, 2008 issue