The decision, ostensibly made by the members of the Russian track and field team, to call off the meet with the U.S. in Los Angeles later this month because of American policy in Vietnam is a deplorable intrusion of politics into sports. The Russians claim the athletes themselves resolved not to compete, but their statements ring of party propaganda.
Perhaps even more reprehensible is the well-founded suspicion that Russia canceled the meet, as well as a series of games with a strong U.S. basketball team, because it felt it would certainly lose. The poor showing of the Russian track team at a recent meet in Odessa, coupled with the usual excellence of the U.S. men and the extraordinary achievements of the U.S. women at their national championships two weeks ago, foreboded defeat no matter what contortions the Russians might have resorted to in scoring the meet. As a State Department spokesman phrased it: "They saw a bad licking staring them in the face." In this respect, then, Vietnam may have been used merely as a particularly nasty excuse.
Perhaps it is naive to believe that sport can transcend the unrealities of international power politics or, indeed, remain as some kind of oasis of sanity. But since its inception in 1958, the U.S.-U.S.S.R. meet has provided a welcome relief from the stresses, bitterness and despair of the Cold War and has proved that not only the athletes but the people of both nations could still get together and have a good time.
We vividly remember the Russian and U.S. teams gaily parading arm in arm around the track at Stanford at the conclusion of the 1962 meet as a crowd of 80,000 stood cheering. We also recall the competition in Moscow in 1963. Khrushchev and Harriman, who had been negotiating the test-ban treaty, were at the stadium. Darkness was falling. The air was electric. In the last event Valeri Brumel, who had missed twice, finally made a world-record high jump, and Khrushchev and Harriman impulsively leaped from their seats and hugged each other.
"We cannot visit a country whose rulers are violating the elementary rules of humanity on our planet," Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan parroted. What about violating the elementary principles of sportsmanship, Ter? We can only hope that The Ter, Tamara Press, Brumel, et al. are properly ashamed of their performances as puppets.
A BLISTERING PACE
Russ Chaffee, a 39-year-old high school math teacher from Sayre, Pa. has been swimming the entire 440 miles of the Susquehanna River from Cooperstown, N.Y. to Havre de Grace, Md.
Last week, on the 20th day of his swim, Chaffee passed through Harrisburg, Pa., and he had only one complaint: his feet hurt. Pennsylvania is in the midst of a drought, and Chaffee has had to walk much of the way.
"The lack of water has slowed me down," he admitted. "I've scraped my stomach on the bottom. Some of the areas are so rocky I have to wear socks and flippers to keep from cutting my feet. In fact, the blisters from the first couple of days are just starting to heal."
Chaffee said he undertook the swim "to make people aware of the Susquehanna as a recreational area." Indeed, it may replace the Appalachian Trail someday.
LIMIT THE UNLIMITED
Four of the country's most expert unlimited hydroplane drivers have been killed in the last three weeks. Ron Musson, Rex Manchester and Don Wilson died during the President's Cup regatta on the Potomac, and Chuck Thompson was fatally injured racing for the Gold Cup on the Detroit River.
This past weekend a committee composed of Lee Schoenith, chairman of the American Power Boat Association's Unlimited Racing Commission; Builder Les Staudacher; Driver Bill Muncey; and Buddy Byers, a former driver, concluded that "nothing could have been done" to prevent the accidents. "The boats all had been inspected and pronounced sound for racing," Schoenith stated. "There were no indications of driver negligence. And the boats aren't going any faster this year than they were last year."
Unlimited racing has not claimed a great number of lives, and the fact that four men died in such a short space of time may well be, as the committee implied, mere coincidence. But it seems to us that it may also be an instance of the percentages catching up. Unlike any other sport, including auto racing, there has been little or no margin for error in the unlimiteds during the last 20 years.
Indeed, the very fact that the boats inexplicably flip, crash, explode and burn like infernal machines or Jean Tinguely's self-destructive contraptions, is, in itself, proof that something should be done. Without impugning the integrity of the committee, it was nonetheless in its interest to clear the sport's name; the findings would have carried more weight if several committee members hadn't been closely associated with unlimiteds.
Instead of a self-serving declaration, the committee might have considered imposing some limits in regard to fuel, power, design, construction, rules of the road, driver qualifications. We don't presume to offer any specific suggestions, but we do venture to state that there should be some leeway for human error, which even the most skilled and nerveless are susceptible to now and then.
We are for competitions in which "calculated risk" is an accepted factor, but an event in which "nothing could have been done" is in our book no more a sport than Russian roulette.
The London Times has unearthed a genetic phenomenon. Rosemary Payne, the current British women's discus champion, and her husband, Howard the best British hammer thrower, have twins. The previous British women's discus record holder, Suzanne Allday, is married to a onetime English record holder in the hammer, and they have twins. The wife of Harold Connolly, the 1956 Olympic hammer champion and former world record holder, is Olga Fikotova, the 1956 Olympic discus champion—and they have twins, too. As the Times points out, companies being asked to insure against twin births would do well to ask: "What do you and your wife throw?"
One of our favorite organizations, the Sierra Club, is being slowly throttled by the Internal Revenue Service. On June 9 the club ran a couple of full-page ads urging readers to protest two proposed dams in the Grand Canyon (SI, June 27). Less than 24 hours later the IRS, proceeding with almost unseemly haste, advised the club that it could no longer be assured its donations would be tax deductible. In effect, this action choked off most of the club's contributions.
At the time, the IRS promised to rule on at least the retroactivity of its advisory before July 10—in other words, to determine whether any donations received by the club after June 10 were tax-deductible. As Treasury Under Secretary Joseph Barr, the man responsible for the precipitate move, said on June 14, "This won't strangle them for very long." Well, on July 8, an IRS spokesman said that all he could say was, "The examination has begun. It is not completed. There is no fix as to when a decision will be reached." Mr. Barr, the victim is turning blue.
THE RETURN OF NORMAN FORD
A visitor to the finish line at Suffolk Downs in Boston the other day came upon a man wearing two pairs of glasses simultaneously. It was, of course, Professor Norman Ford, the prodigious how-to author (SI, Oct. 4, 1965), whose Force Method for the Handicapping of Race Horses—all 28 volumes of it at $3 a pop—transformed Ford from pauper to prince of the old Astor mansion in Newport, R.I.
Devotees of the professor will be delighted to learn that he, anyway, is still beating the races: a $113.40 daily double this particular afternoon. Back from a long trip abroad, Ford announced he is ready to share a startling new system with his faithful students. His latest work will be entitled The New Zealand Method and, for now, this is his 29th and last word on the horses. Ford is at present preoccupied with reissuing, by popular demand, one of his earlier works, a one-shot entitled You Can Save Your Hair.
In the Sunnyvale, Calif. Little League a team named the Chargers wound up in the cellar with a record of one win, 10 defeats and a tie.
Naturally, the Chargers' players were apprehensive of the other teams in the league—the Cobras, the Wildcats, the Panthers, the Lions and the Dragons. Indeed, after facing the hissing Cobras, the fire-breathing Dragons, the howling Wildcats, the roaring Lions and the snarling Panthers, the Chargers' second baseman asked his manager: "What does a Charger look like, and what noises does he make?"
The second baseman's name is, honest, Charlie Brown.
Charley Hinkle, who calls the races at The Meadows, Del Miller's harness track outside of Pittsburgh, fancies himself not merely a great voice but a great handicapper—not an uncommon failing. He even distributes a tip sheet to local Dodge dealers, which he touts on a radio show, and of late he has been averaging five winners a night.
Despite Hinkle's success, Miller couldn't see him as a handicapper and, on a recent Saturday, Del told Hinkle that he kind of thought somebody might be making his picks for him. Hinkle, bridling, volunteered to handicap that night's races in the presence of witnesses. His list of winners was then locked in the desk of Joe Lynch, the track's general manager. When Lynch unlocked the desk after the races it was discovered that Hinkle had gone 0 for 9.
Unabashed, Hinkle said he would next try his hand at picking Monday's twin double. Again his choices were duly locked in Lynch's desk. Late Monday night Lynch unlocked his desk, and it was discovered that Hinkle had selected 5-1-2-4, the winning combination, which had paid $1,868.40.
Had Hinkle got down on it? Uh-uh. "By Monday night I had forgotten my picks," he said, "and Lynch wouldn't unlock the desk to let me check them."
Namu died last week in his pen on the Seattle waterfront. The 22-foot killer whale, first of the species to flourish in captivity, was captured when he got entangled in fishermen's nets off British Columbia a year ago (SI, July 12, 1965 et seq.).
On the night of his death, Namu sounded, surfaced with a 25-foot-high leap, then rammed one end of his pen with such force he broke a steel submarine cable. He either fatally injured himself or, becoming fouled in the cables, drowned.
Curiously, Namu could have escaped at any time by leaping out of the pen, but he seemed perfectly accommodated to captivity. Ah, but this was his mating season. His owner, Ted Griffin, who had made many unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable consort for Namu, has not decided whether to try for a replacement. If he does, perhaps he should try for two whales or no whales at all.
THEY SAID IT
•Don Schollander, after four swimming junkets to Europe, three to Japan and one to Brazil: "Travel is broadening—especially when you win."
•Billy Herman, Red Sox manager, on who was the greatest brush-back pitcher of all time: "Freddy Fitzsimmons is my man. He once hit me in the on-deck circle."
•Bill Russell, Boston Celtics player-coach: "I can't really explain why I took the coaching job, except that at least I'll be playing for someone I can get along with."
•Ralph Houk, Yankee manager, asked whether he has kept in touch with Johnny Keane, whom he replaced: "At first we were winning so much it would have been embarrassing to him if I had called to say hello. Now we're going so badly I'm embarrassed."