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Original Issue


One of the most fascinating things about Mexico City is that it is an olla podrida of the very old and the very new. Glass-sided skyscrapers loom above pre-Columbian ruins. An Indian with a face off a Mayan sculpture thrusts a peso in a slot in a self-service cafeteria to buy an enchilada. Nowhere else in the hemisphere does the tourist get such a vivid sense of living history, and this is particularly true nowadays as Mexico City prepares for the Olympics. It is this rather awesome sensation that we have sought to elicit in the illustrations accompanying our travelers' preview of Olympic Mexico (page 44), in which we portray statues of athletes hundreds of years old alongside contemporary renderings of Olympic stadiums.

In pre-Hispanic Mexico the most popular sports were foot racing and the sacred ball game, whose participants are depicted in the statuary. The victorious runners often were chosen to be royal messengers, while the winners of the old ball game got their reward, too: many of the ball courts had sacrificial altars where, as a tribute to the gods, the captains of the triumphant teams were occasionally decapitated—that is, if they had survived until then. The games could last several days and it was not uncommon for players to die of exhaustion.

Since modern Mexico City is built on top of Montezuma's ancient capital, recent construction is revealing more and more of the city's past. Workers grading a parking lot next to the Olympic Village uncovered a pyramid. In tunneling for the subway that Mexico City is trying to complete in time for the 1970 World Cup soccer matches, tons of artifacts, some similar to the statues of the athletes, have been excavated; many of these will be used in vitrines in subway stations where they were found.

More recent history will be dramatized by the elaborate journey of the Olympic torch. Runners will carry it from Olympia to Athens, where a Greek ship will take it to Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus. From there an Italian vessel will carry the torch to Barcelona so that Spanish runners can relay it to Palos, the port from which Columbus sailed. A Spanish navy ship conveying the torch will retrace Columbus' route across the Atlantic to San Salvador Island, where he supposedly first stepped ashore, and a Mexican navy ship will take it from there to Veracruz, where Cortés landed. Next it will be carried overland to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacàn. It is scheduled to arrive there on the eve of the Games.

On opening day relay runners will bear the torch down streets that were laid out in Montezuma's day. These will be painted in broad, colored stripes to guide traffic to the Olympic venues. The stripes are the work of a team of young graphic artists, designers and architects headed by Eduardo Terrazas. One of his relatives once owned the state of Chihuahua—which is roughly the size of Oregon—in prerevolutionary days.

Terrazas' committee not only painted the streets, it designed stamps, balloons, maps, posters, street signs, tickets, dresses for hostesses, even earrings. Its mission was to give the world an image of contemporary Mexico to go along with the old, and it has done this so well that the graphics have been exhibited in Milan and New York and will be featured this fall in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Olympic exhibit in the Time and Life Building in New York. The show will run from September 27 until the end of October, and all SI readers are invited.