Handicapping is a chancy business under the best of circumstances, but picking the winners at an event like the Olympic Games, with more than 120 nations and 9,000 athletes competing, is an exercise that would confound a Nathan Detroit. Still...on page 55 are our selections.
The choices are largely the work of one person, a perceptive, resolute and—all things considered—courageous woman named Anita Verschoth, who is now in Munich as a member of SI's reportorial/photographic team. She arrived at her choices with the help of interviews with coaches and experts around the world, 867 pounds of clippings and what she calls "some very strong opinions of my own." Her opinions, it should be explained, are buttressed by her experiences at five previous Olympiads—two Summer and three Winter Games.
Tokyo in 1964 was her first Summer Olympics. There we learned what a quick mind and pair of feet she has. To the quadrennial problem of getting enough press passes, for instance. Verschoth in Tokyo took a refreshingly direct approach. She would arrive credential-less at the Olympic Village gate each morning, bow deeply to the Japanese guard and, when she got a return bow, sprint past. On another occasion in Tokyo she wore a sweat suit as a disguise to gain access to the village (the only problem was that when she tried to leave after curfew that night she was held up by a guard).
She has something else going for her in Munich: she speaks the language like a native. In fact, having been born in Krefeld, near D√ºsseldorf, she is a native, though she emigrated to the United States 10 years ago and now makes her home in New York. (Photographer Heinz Kluetmeier, born in Berlin but now living near Milwaukee, is a second member of the SI team who spricht Deutsch. Most of the others in Munich, including Senior Editor Gilbert Rogin, make do with guttural pronunciations of English.)
Apart from Verschoth's good contacts and good instincts in track and field (she picked Steve Prefontaine in the 5,000 meters because "I just believe in him"), Anita is in many ways an expert in her own right. She has covered the sport for 12 years and is a runner—O.K., a jogger—herself. She worked under the tutelage of Mihaly Igloi, coach of the Hungarian team in Melbourne in 1956 and now coach of the Greek team in Munich.
She finds the Olympic setting conducive to obtaining good stories. In the unfamiliar surroundings, the athletes are more willing to sit and rap for a few minutes. "Like me, they are tourists until the competition begins." explains Anita. "We have much in common, so they talk." Once she has them talking, she can usually dig out what is really on their minds. "Sometimes they can't seem to express it, what is motivating them, for example."
After Munich, Verschoth plans a sharp change of pace. She will travel to Nepal to join an expedition to the 18,000-foot level of Mount Everest, where nobody will be able to second-guess her Olympic picks. Are you listening, Nathan Detroit?
VERSCHOTH AND STEVE PREFONTAINE