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Original Issue

The big 'Little Olympics'

Stockholm's spectacular meet suggested that Soviet supremacy may be on the wane

The quadrennial European Athletic Championships in track and field, coming on the even year between Olympics, are, for Europeans, a real "Little Olympics," with medals, national glory and the now-standard pageantry. To outsiders they offer a chance for taking stock. This year's "VI Europamaesterskapen i Fri I drott" in Stockholm's ivy-and tradition-twined brick Olympic Stadium was the biggest yet—attracting 574 men and 192 women from 26 countries.

Qualitatively, Stockholm was so far ahead of the 1954 Berne Championships that heats and qualifications were lost with performances that would have won the finals there. The results showed that while the U.S.S.R. (11 gold medals, 15 silver) is still easily the leading track-and-field power in Europe, its superiority is by no means so overwhelming as it was a few years ago. Europeans seem to have lost their awe of the Russians. Such traditional track-and-field nations as Britain and Germany are closing the gap, and the big news is the emergence of the Poles as a first-class team. They won eight gold medals. In nine of 24 men's events the U.S.S.R. failed to place among the first three.

Poland's progress dates back to October 1956, when Stalinist sport functionaries were sacked en masse and replaced with experienced non-political coaches and trainers. The Poles should show up even better in dual meets. This the Russians seem to know—they have been dodging a dual meet with the Poles all year.

In place of a special "Olympic Village," the organizing committee sensibly and economically commandeered nine modern, summer-vacant Stockholm schools as dormitories, installed four comfortable beds per classroom and special curtains to keep out the early Nordic dawn. Except for the Soviets—who had asked to be alone but who cheerfully ate Swedish food, including prodigious quantities of tomatoes—the teams were thrown together amicably with one or more others: the Yugoslavs uncomplainingly with the Rumanians and Bulgarians, Germans from East and West together with Czechs. The French brought their own chef and 300 bottles of wine. The German team, the largest, with 88 competitors, had its own bread flown in.

Several well-known names were missing from the Soviet roster of 72, the second largest. Ace distance men Vladimir Kuts and Pyotr Bolotnikov and 400-meter man Ardalion Ignatyev had been left home sick; top women discus and shot performers Ponomaryeva and Zybina for "uncomradely conduct" and 800-meter star Nina Otkalenko because she was too far off form. And some other Soviet big names disappointed. Yuri Stepanov, whose 7-foot 1-inch world high jump record with now-forbidden elevator shoes has been officially challenged, got so wrought up over track officials' insisting on inspecting his jumping shoes that he failed to clear 6 feet 9½ inches and placed a sorry sixth. A Pravda sportswriter explained, "He is very high-strung." Hammer Star Mikhail Krivonosov could only get a second, and Shotputter Tamara Tyshkevich, pardoned for "uncomradely conduct" in time to compete, dropped the gold medal to West Germany's Marianne Werner.

Not only Soviet favorites had a bad day in Stockholm. Odds-on Greek Pole Vaulter George Roubanis failed to get above 13 feet 5 inches, ended far down in the listings. He blamed the rain, but sharp tongues intimated that Roubanis may have been out too late recently with too many girls. Contestants in Stockholm were secure against the temptations that reportedly debilitated champion soccer teams a few weeks ago (SI, July 7). Though the team quarters were discreetly watched to insure privacy, guards were not called upon to repel any assaults by Stockholm's predatory bobby-soxers.

As the men's events wore on, an almost too neat pattern emerged: Germans on top in the dashes, British in the middle distances, Poles in the long distances and Soviets in the marathon and long-distance walking events. In the field events, the major news was the breakthrough of the Poles, who took the hammer, discus and javelin throws and even, to Soviet shame, the hop-step-and-jump. Except for ever-reliable Kuznetsov in the decathlon and a sparkling first in the broad jump (25 feet 7½ inches) by lanky, 20-year-old Armenian Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the Soviets were not up to the gold standard in any field events.


The dominance of Soviet women was not similarly shaken. Sparked by Pentathlon Champion Galina Bystrova, who pocketed the gold medal for the 80-meter hurdles as well, the Red girls quickly sewed up six firsts, seven seconds and four thirds in the 12 women's events.

Germany's commanding lead in the dashes rides largely on the pumping legs of the pride of Cologne—husky, handsome Manfred Germar. The second day of the meet, the last day before the rains came, Germar was unexpectedly edged in the 100 meters by his younger teammate, Saarlander Armin Hary, who got such a fast start away from the blocks that Germar, who takes a second or two to build up steam, could not catch him. Germar came back on the next to the last day to take his specialty, the 200 meters, in an impressive 21.0 seconds in a drizzling rain and over a soggy track. On the meet's final afternoon, in similarly watery weather, he saved Germany's first place in the 400-meter relay, after Hary had lost it by boggling the pass—a congenital flaw of German relay teams. With Martin Lauer's 13.7-second gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles, this gave Germany a sweep of all the firsts in distances below 400 meters.

Germany's gold medals created an embarrassing protocol problem, since the team included athletes from two Germanies with different national anthems, though the same flag. The organizing committee had decided to substitute an innocuous fanfare for the national anthem usually played during the medal presentation, but this did not suit the West German fans, the most numerous and vocal of the out-of-town guests. They simply stood up and began singing the Deutschland-Lied, and by the time the meet ended this improvisation had achieved the sanction of custom.

Britain's clean sweep of gold medals in the middle distances was most endangered in the 800 meters—a wild donnybrook featuring such as yet unrecognized tactics as shoving, gouging, kicking, shoulder-charging and elbowing. The organizing committee had asked for trouble by starting it at the end of the stretch, just at the beginning of the first turn, with no starting lanes leading around the turn. Naturally, at the gun everyone lunged for the post. In the first semifinal heat a hapless Dutchman was knocked to the ground and trampled on; in the second, the pack got so engaged in slugging on the first turn that it never separated at all, but went around two rib-bruising laps in a cluster, like an angry swarm of bees. In the final Mike Rawson, a Birmingham boy who does not shrink from body contact, drew the post. At the gun, seven rivals hurtled at him. Rawson was pushed off the track and onto the grass for a couple of steps, while the herd thundered past him. At the end of the first lap Rawson was far back, but his anger and determination were growing. Coming off the final turn, Rawson made his move from fifth, found a gap and slipped through to win in 1:47.8. The officials promptly disqualified him for stepping out. "Like hell I stepped out," Rawson protested. "I was pushed and lucky not to be thrown on my face." The judges reconsidered, and next day Rawson got his gold medal.

Most observers considered wiry Sergei Popov's marathon victory over the tough hill-and-dale course the outstanding performance of the meet. While the capacity crowd of 28,000 huddled under umbrellas eating varm korv (hot dogs) and drinking coffee to ward off the cold, the wiry Irkutsk electrician methodically slogged his way to a 2:15:17 win. Popov's run must be one of the greatest of recent years—yet Swedes thought it eclipsed last week, at the international meet at Gothenburg which followed the European Games, when the fabulous Australian, Herb Elliott, ran 1,500 meters in 3:36. This is more than two seconds under the listed world record, and is the equivalent of a 3:53 mile.


MUD-SPATTERED Poles, Krzyszkowiak and Zimny, after 1-2 win in 5.000 meters.


MAD SCRAMBLE came in 800 meters, when Britain's Mike Rawson (413) was pushed off track, surged back to win. Note left foot has stepped off the inside track.