In the vast and various arenas where the pageantry of the XVIII Olympic Games will soon be on display, the identities of the hundreds of participating athletes will be swallowed up in the continual swirl and flash of competition. For fleeting moments, of course, a figure will step out of the melee and pause upon a pedestal, but the name and nationality of a winner offer scant insight into who he really is and what he might be like. Beginning with the Turkish wrestler opposite and continuing on the following pages, the gap of anonymity is fractionally closed by photographs of a few of the men and women who are expected to win gold or silver medals in Tokyo. All were pictured against a native background, because it was in these faraway places that they have trained—sometimes for months and sometimes for years—for the big moment in Japan.
Turkish wrestler Yavuz Selekman stands, a smoothly muscled athlete, before Istanbul's many-domed Blue Mosque.
Italian cyclists spin over the bridge of an ancient canal in Padua, the town where Galileo first put his eye to a telescope. Two of the men shown here in training were on Italy's 1960 team, which won five cycling gold medals.
French fencer Jean-Claude Magnan (left), a candidate for a foils medal, forms a link with antiquity in an Aries cloister.
Dutch judoka Anton Geesink, as big as a windmill, is an anomaly: he may win a gold medal in Japan's national sport.
English weight lifter from Jamaica, Louis Martin (right), as staunch as the Tower of London, should outlift his Russian peers.
Russian javelin thrower Janis Lusis, a native of Latvia, stands poised beneath heroic 17th century Cossack liberator in Kiev.
Australian distance runner Ron Clarke, with herdsmen and 550 sheep for company, jogs across the open spaces of Victoria in a daily practice run of 20 miles. At 27, Clarke holds the world record in the 10,000 meters.
Russian gymnast Larisa Latinina (right), on a hill overlooking Moscow, displays the form that won three medals in Rome.
Danish 5.5-meter yachtsman William Berntsen, practicing off Copenhagen harbor, may improve on his 1960 silver medal.
Pakistani field hockey players, members of one of the world's two best teams—India has the other—practice daily from dawn to dusk in this Kiplingesque setting of rugged rocks and lacy mosques in the Himalayan hills.
Powerful Peter Snell runs on the black sands of New Zealand's Piha Beach.