With all their color and excitement, the events of the Winter Olympics are no more engrossing than the personalities of the young champions who take part. Unfortunately, the spectator rarely sees much of the participants; they are only a flash and a blur as they streak down a slope or dart in toward a hockey goal. Even on the victory podium afterward, the new heroes accept their prizes with the small smiles and shy waves that have become Olympic traditions in themselves. Yet not too long ago each one of these magnificent competitors was a youngster—in Colorado or the Tyrol or Finnish Lapland—giving a first hint of great skill or purpose. The story of these young sportsmen and women and how they came to make the journey, long in years and miles, to the Olympic arena in Innsbruck, is told, in 32 pages of words and pictures, in this pre-Olympic issue.
Writers and photographers working under the general guidance of Senior Editor Ezra Bowen assembled the story during weeks of work in Europe, Asia and North America. The magnificent Russian women speed skaters were photographed at the world championships in Japan and later interviewed and observed in training inside the U.S.S.R. In an effort to do justice on film to the skills of the Austrian skiers, Photographer Jerry Cooke tried to follow them on a run; though his zeal was equal to the challenge, his ski technique was not, and on one particularly puzzling turn he shot over a snowbank, tumbled into the adjacent forest and had to be extricated by mountain troops. To show Finland's cross-country star Eero Mantyranta in his habitat, Writer Don Connery and Photographer Brian Seed traveled to northern Finland, where they were allowed only half an hour a day for pictures. Not that Mantyranta was inhospitable or uncooperative; quite the contrary. But in northern Finland in mid-December the sun rises and sets in that brief time and en route casts only the grayest and most oblique light. Connery and Seed also were cautioned against walking about at night, not because of the hostility of people but because of that of the weather—down to 50° below zero.
Although feeling it was more important to gather the human story of some of these champions than to discuss in detail the prospects of various national victories, we did not wish to neglect the statistically minded. Officially no one ever wins an Olympics, but from the first day sportsmen in every country are busily adding up medals or points. Our form chart on pages 38 and 39 shows that the Russians are favored to win most of the gold medals in Innsbruck, thanks largely to the prowess of their girls at speed skating and cross-country skiing—not highly developed sports in this country. But the U.S. has a good chance of a medal or two in the Alpine ski races, which are the glamour events of the whole glorious show.