Skip to main content
Original Issue


Drama, courage and greatness have already assured the XVI Olympiad a glowing place in history—a comprehensive report by Sports Illustrated's team of writers and photographers

For high drama and record-breaking performance, for heart-warming victory and heartbreaking defeat, for youthful camaraderie and for the bottomless enthusiasm of Australia's sporting public, the Melbourne Olympics already belong among the most memorable of modern times. Russia and the U.S., the behemoths of sport, have met in heralded conflict in the main stadium—a conflict in which the Bear was outdistanced and the U.S. track and field team proved the greatest of all time. Each has produced a hero worthy of Nurmi and Owens and Zàtopek: the distance runner Vladimir Kuts who made the crowds gasp, "How can he keep it up?" and the Texas sprinter Bobby Morrow who made them yell, "Watch him go!" With the last third of the Games (soccer, swimming, cycling, Greco-Roman wrestling, etc.) still to be held, it was evident all attendance records would be smashed. By last Saturday, 1,500,000 people had paid to see the XVI Olympiad.

The great Melbourne Cricket Ground has been jammed, even in the morning during qualifying events (stadiums at Berlin, London, Los Angeles and Helsinki were often only partially filled). Dollar-and-a-half tickets for swimming events have been scalped for $15, preliminary soccer games have drawn mobs of 20,000, and boxing and basketball have played to packed houses. An exhibition of baseball drew 80,000 people—whose knowledge of the game was revealed by the way they cheered high fouls—but who stayed nevertheless until the last man was out. This response must be attributed in part to Australia's national mania for sport—any sport—but the Melbourne Games are proving eminently worthy of such passion.

Conditions at Melbourne during the greater part of eight days of track and field competitions must be summed up as "Weather execrable, track slow." It was cold. It was windy. The red brick dust of the track had a tendency to loosen under the impact of spikes. But five world records fell. Olympic records were broken in 17 of the 24 men's track and field events and another was tied. And in event after event there were moments of indelible drama which will doubtless be discussed through the lifetimes of the crowds and athletes who witnessed them.

Few Olympiads have produced such a swift and crushing demonstration of superiority as the U.S. sweep in the high hurdles—with Lee Quincy Calhoun first and World Record Holder Jack Davis second in a photo finish, and Joel Shankle third. Few have seen such a finish as Fordham's big Tom Courtney produced in the agonizing 800-meter run; though completely exhausted and apparently beaten by England's Derek Johnson, he managed one awesome final burst in the last 30 yards and tumbled over the line—so exhausted that he was almost speechless and virtually paralyzed for an hour—the winner. There was Alain Mimoun, a spindly, mustachioed Frenchman—beaten in two Olympiads by the great Zàtopek—prancing home first in the 1956 marathon and listening at last to the band play La Marseillaise. And there was big Milt Campbell who beat UCLA's Rafer Johnson and broke Bob Mathias' old decathlon record.

The Melbourne 1,500 meters (the metric mile) was in many ways one of the most remarkable and, certainly, one of the most breathlessly contemplated distance runs in Olympic history. The greatest field of milers ever to assemble were on hand at the start. Hungary's 1,500-meter world record holder, Istv√¢n Rózsav√∂lgyi, it is true, had failed to qualify, and Australia's national hero, John Landy, went to the post after weeks of fighting off the pain of inflamed leg tendons. But of the field, 5 had run the mile under four minutes.

Landy stayed back in the pack the first time since setting the world's mile record in Finland two years ago. So, as he has always done, did the ultimate winner, Ireland's tall, soft-spoken Ron Delany. The 21-year-old Irishman—a student at Villanova University—has a curious, bobbing style, detests competition with the clock and habitually runs "only fast enough to win." This undramatic habit earned him the boos of Madison Square Garden track fans at indoor meets last winter, but last week Ron Delany ran fast enough to please the most critical. The Olympic field swept along at a tremendous pace with Australia's Merv Lincoln, Germany's Klaus Richtzenhain and England's Brian Hewson and Ian Boyd up front—the time was 2:02 at the half—and the Irishman stayed close to the pack.

The runners were still on the last turn in the final lap when he made his sudden bid. Delany had wonderful acceleration—he was four yards ahead a hundred yards from home. And he had strength—try as they might, none of the great field could claw up to him as he ran—and ran—and ran for the tape. John Landy, looking, in the words of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S correspondent Roger Bannister, "astounded at his own performance," made a gallant try at it, but it was the Irishman's day. His time was but six-tenths of a second off the world record. It was Richtzenhain second with Landy running at his shoulder, third.

There were a great many memorable moments of conflict off the track as well: Yale winning the eight-oared rowing championship, U.S. Heavyweight Boxer Pete Rademacher belting Russia's Lev Moukhine out in the final, and the U.S. basketball team making monkeys (89-55) of the Russians in the last gold medal game.

But the week really belonged to the two paramount track men: the Soviet hero Kuts and the U.S. hero Bobby Morrow. They are men who will doubtless live for decades in the minds of millions.

It would be hard to find two more dissimilar individuals. In fact, it would take a Kipling or an Olympic Games to bring them face to face. They come indeed from opposite ends of the earth—Kuts from a small town named Sumskaya in the vast wheat fields of the Ukraine, Morrow from a small town named San Benito in the fertile cotton lands of Texas. Kuts is 29, a career officer in the Soviet navy; Morrow is 21, a college student who wants to be a farmer. Kuts is short and solid and as sturdy as a fencepost, endowed with heavy muscular legs and big barrel chest. He has a peasant's face which becomes red and contorted and agonized when he runs, and his long yellow hair bounces up and down as if to keep time with the relentless machinelike stride. Morrow is tall and shaped like a wedge, with patrician features and long rippling muscles. When he runs it is all grace and beauty, and from a distance the close-cropped brown head floats so smoothly down the track that it would seem to be detached from his body.

When Kuts wins, the great mask which protects him from the outside world is gone and he capers joyously around the stadium, clasping both hands over his head like a victorious fighter, waving gaily to the crowd, his big tough features split into a wonderfully happy and infectious grin. When Morrow wins he grins too, but it is a quick flashing thing, and then he jogs off to put on his sweatsuit, pick up his starting blocks and disappear until the next race.

Yet they are alike too, for there is a quality somewhere inside that joins the two together as brothers in a very special fraternity of superathletes. Without it neither could have accomplished what he did at Melbourne. It is not sheer physical ability, for this is common coin at an Olympic Games; it is instead great determination and a tremendous will to win that seems to rise higher and higher with every heightening of opposition and nervous pressure.

It is a measure of the quality of both that Vladimir Kuts and Bobby Morrow are double Olympic champions. Over a soft track Kuts set Olympic records in both his 5,000- and 10,000-meter victories and, in so doing, killed off the finest group of distance men the Olympics has ever seen. On this same slow track and running into a stiff breeze, Morrow twice tied the Olympic record for 100 meters, broke the Olympic record for 200 meters and ran a sizzling anchor leg on the U.S. 400-meter relay team which set a world record and earned Bobby a third gold medal. It was time for Jesse Owens to move over and share his pedestal with another.

Despite his brilliant 10,000-meter victory on the opening day (SI, Dec. 3) not many believed that Kuts would win the 5,000 as well. His opposition was much stronger last week: four-minute milers like the Englishmen Chris Chat-away and Derek Ibbotson, Hungarian Làszló Tàbori, Gordon Pirie, another Britisher, who holds the world record for this distance, Jerzy Chromik of Poland, Miklós Szabó of Hungary, the German veteran Herbert Schade, the Yugoslav Velisa Mugosa and a lot of others. Kuts had run that very hard 10,000 on Friday and a heat of the 5,000 on Monday, and now it was only Wednesday. It seemed highly unlikely that he could do it again.

But, as it developed, there was a great deal of resemblance between the two races. In each Kuts took over the lead in the first few score strides. In Wednesday's 5,000, Hungary's Tàbori had the effrontery to move ahead for about five seconds on the second lap. Otherwise the two races were almost identically run. Last week, however, Kuts discovered he had to contend with England's Chataway and Ibbotson as well as Gordon Pirie. On the eighth lap, when for the first time he began to kick up the pace, only these three stayed with him.

By now, however, the fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground knew that the contorted features and labored look didn't mean that Kuts was in trouble; they knew this was only his way of showing how much he was enjoying himself—and that it meant trouble for others. The Russian won by about 80 yards and was waving to the fans when Pirie outkicked Ibbotson in the stretch to finish second and win the silver medal he had thrown away on Friday with his valiant bid to race Kuts all the way. Vladimir's time was 13 minutes 39.6 seconds, which matched his own mark for the second fastest 5,000 meters ever run (Pirie's record is 13:36.8), and on this track, according to Pirie, was equal to 13:30 under good conditions.

Morrow, too, won his second race with ease—but not without enduring hours of horrible trepidation. Even though 200 meters is his best distance and though he is a magnificent curve runner, he developed butterflies in the stomach. "I kept seeing that second gold medal," he said, "and I couldn't even sleep." He was shaking so badly at the start that he almost fell off his starting blocks. But he started well, and once the runners had come out of the curve, Morrow was ahead of everyone—including the U.S.'s Andy Stanfield and Thane Baker, who had finished in one-two order at Helsinki.

"We all came out of the curve about even," said husky little Mike Agostini of Trinidad in the dressing room, "with Stanfield maybe a foot or so ahead. I thought, now we'll find out who's got it. We found out all right. That doggone Morrow just went zoom and the race was over."

Morrow's time was 20.6, a 10th of a second under the Olympic record held jointly by Stanfield and Owens and equal to the best ever run around a curve. Stanfield was second and Baker third. It was a magnificent time for such a track.

The 400-meter relay was frosting on Bobby's cake. Despite one poor baton pass, his teammates, Ira Murchison, Leamon King and Baker, gave him a two-yard lead over Russia, and by the time Morrow hit the tape the gap had widened to four. The sizzling time—39.5 seconds—broke a world and Olympic record which had endured for 20 years.

But if heroes are having their day in Melbourne, the Games have been almost as notable because of great athletes who have failed. During the first three days almost all competitors ran remarkably true to form, and favorites won almost every event: Dumas (high jump), Connolly (hammer throw), Davis (400-meter hurdles), Courtney (800 meters), Danielsen (javelin), and the Rev. Bob Richards in the pole vault. Since then, however, upsets have almost been the rule—in no fewer than eight events, world record holders have failed to win, and in some cases they have even failed to place.

Thirty-four-year-old Fortune Gordien, brawny holder of the world discus record, failed in Olympic competition for the third time. In the 1948 Games (after two years of unbroken victory) he got third; in 1952 at Helsinki he did no better than fourth. Last week, after exceeding his own world record of 194 feet 6 inches by four feet only a few days before in practice, he folded again. His 20-year-old teammate Al Oerter made a nonchalant toss of 184 feet 10½ inches on his first throw, and that won the gold medal. Gordien, now an Oregon rancher, could do no better than 179 feet 9½ inches and barely squeaked into second place.

Lou Jones of New Rochelle, N.Y., the world's best quarter-miler, failed too; he ran out of steam in the stretch and finished fifth in a field of six. But again another and younger U.S. athlete rushed into the breach—Charley Jenkins of Villanova hit the tape first with Germany's Karl-Friedrich Haas second, Russia's Ardalion Ignatiev and Finland's Voitto Hellsten in an unusual dead heat for third. The list of the mighty who fell stretches on; it includes most of the world's most famous milers. Only one of the famous also-rans seemed happy—Czechoslovakia's ancient Emil Zàtopek could do no better than sixth in the marathon, but he had entered only to savor the thrill of competition once more and seemed delighted to hear that Mimoun, his old adversary, had finally won a gold medal.

Amid the crash of collapsing reputations, three eminently stable fellows stood fast. Parry O'Brien, invincible master of the world's shotputters, lobbed his big iron ball 60 feet 11 inches and won an Olympic gold medal for the second time. Pole Vaulter Bob Richards duplicated his 1952 triumph, and so did Brazil's genius of the hop, step, and jump, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, a man with a very solid soul and very springy legs.

Meanwhile, of course, Melbourne has been fairly littered with other Olympic contests and almost continuously noisy with the shouts of a citizenry which will hive watchfully about almost any known form of sporting activity.

For suspense, nothing in the Games has yet quite equaled the hesitant, if determined way Yale's eight-oared crew proceeded to final victory in the 2,000-meter final at Lake Wendouree, a 1-mile length of frequently wind-lashed water 70 miles from Melbourne. Yale, the favorites, set out finishing third behind Australia and Canada in their first preliminary heat. To make the finals at all they had to win a second-chance repechage race. They made it. After that they had to take the Aussies on again and an unorthodox Russian crew as well. They made it again, toiling against a 15-mile-an-hour wind. But could they win three days in a row? Only the finalists—Sweden, the tough Australians and the tough Canadians—held the answer.

Forty thousand people gathered among the trees and meadows along the banks of the water to see the riddle solved. It was not an easy process. Canada led at 300 meters, the Australians at 400. Canada forged ahead at 500 meters, and the Aussies caught them again at 800. Yale, already hitting 36 strokes to the minute, one or two above their normal racing beat, got into the scrap at the halfway point; then with 600 meters to go, they hit 40, held it all the way to the finish line and scraped through with a half-length lead and victory—the eighth consecutive eight-oared championship for the U.S. in Olympic rowing.

Their Frank Merriwell finish took every last ounce of starch they had possessed—both the No. 6 man, Caldwell Esseltyne, and the No. 3 man, John Cooke collapsed from exhaustion and the rest of the oarsmen were limp. But on reconstructing the race, they gave Coxswain Bill Becklean credit for victory—to raise the beat from the awful 36 to the fantastic 40 without frightening his charges to death he had simply called: "Let's take it up to 34!" The oarsmen, thus simultaneously reproved and soothed, then rowed like madmen. "If we'd known we were already hitting over 35," said No. 4 man Don Beer, "I think we'd have faded."

Through it all, the unfailing guarantee of the success of the Games has been the enthusiasm of their Australian hosts. The enthusiasm has been healthily partisan. One Melbourne paper complacently asserted that "a Pakistani or Liberian gets the same applause from this impartial crowd as an Australian." Nothing could have been further from the truth. The very mention of an Australian, as drawn in lane so and so, in heat thus and thus, was always enough to draw tumultuous cheers. Now the country is really winding up to celebrate Australia's swimming supremacy.

Aussie expectations were dramatically upheld last week on the second night of swimming competition when the world's eight best men met for the 100-meter freestyle. The 5,500 spectators in seats around the Olympic pool cheered almost every preliminary movement by the Australians—and were echoed by hundreds more milling unhappily outside. "Ladies and gentlemen," pleaded an official voice over the loudspeakers, "we realize your excitement at the prospect of this competition, but in fairness to the swimmers we cannot start until we have absolute silence." It was a lot to ask the excited audience—for there before their very eyes was the broad-chested, sandy-haired Jon Henricks, Australia's 21-year-old super-swimmer, about to make his bid for glory. Quiet finally fell.

There were three Australians, three Americans, a Japanese and a Frenchman in the final race—nervous men all, who went to their marks with a touch of the brave reluctance of French royalty mounting the guillotine. Henricks, who has not lost in a hundred races since 1952, seemed the most nervous man in the great, silent building—the 100-meter freestyle is like the high hurdles on the cinder track, where a poor start or one slip can mean ruin. His start was only ordinary, and he was a tenth of a second back as the field hit the water and the race foamed into being. He came into the turn on his wrong hand and lost another tenth-second in so doing. His teammate John Devitt was at his side almost all the way to the finish, but Henricks boiled in, the ultimate winner—with Australians Devitt and Gary Chapman second and third. "First place," the announcer boomed, "Henricks, Australia." He paused and then cried, amid happy pandemonium: "A new Olympic record of 55.4 seconds."

With the Games two-thirds finished, some important, if hardly startling, conclusions can be drawn. The U.S. remains the world's leader in most men's field events and in all races up to and including the half mile. From a mile upward, that supremacy vanishes abruptly and passes to the Europeans, mostly because the best middle-and long-distance runners are of post-university age, a point at which Americans do not have the incentive at home to keep in training.

The fastest women in the world are Australian, British, German and Russian, the first two because of the emphasis placed on girls' athletics at their schools, the two latter because they are encouraged by their governments for prestige reasons. (One of the best German girls, Gisela Kohler, remarked that she had run in public competition 150 times this year before coming to Melbourne. Most of the U.S. women runners had been in no more than a couple of meets this summer.)

Other competitions have been dominated by nations whose traditional mastery is usually simply equated by the greatest number of hours regularly put in by the greatest number of people at a given sport. U.S. basketball leadership is still as unquestioned as that of the Indians at field hockey; the best fencers are still Hungarian, Italian and French.

The Russians continue the sporting progress they revealed to the world at Helsinki and even more strikingly at the 1956 Winter Games, but this progress may be slowing down. There are signs that this is particularly true of team sports. Russian victories in international team sports have been based on a combination of maximum physical conditioning and rigorous training in tactical essentials. Now some other nations are also learning about conditioning and coaching and are proving that when these are allied to individual brilliance they can be more than a match for a mechanized strategy which does not lend itself to improvisation. At Melbourne the Soviet soccer team, two or three years ago the world's best, has been held to a tie by the humble Indonesians. The water polo squad had been beaten by the Yugoslavs and the basketballers by the French. Nonetheless, by keeping everlastingly at it and entering full squads of competent athletes in every conceivable division, the Russians stand a good chance to pick up points in Melbourne's closing days—quite conceivably enough to give them arithmetical victory by unofficial point systems.

In Melbourne last week a diet of high drama was beginning to seem like normal fare and the city's fevered existence—something like life in a disturbed, if happy, ant heap—the normal state of affairs. The influence of the Olympics spread far from the arenas. Television aerials sprouted on visiting warships—even, in fact, on the periscopes of submarines—as navy crews followed every development of competition while afloat as well as ashore. The telephones at the U.S. section of the Olympic Village rang night and day as Aussie girls strove to communicate with the roomfuls of handsome athletes. The San Francisco Examiner's Curly Grieve leaped to a typewriter in a press room set up for multilingual composition and wrote for some minutes before discovering that his machine was equipped with Chinese characters. And poker-faced Soviet athletes gathered daily around a poker-faced Australian aborigine—to take lessons in throwing a boomerang.

400-meter relay


Strickland, Crocker, Mellor, Cuthbert