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Sport: Olympic Finale

5 minute read

The last full day of the Olympic Games dawned with Russia’s athletes still in the lead. Their team margin over the U.S., heavily beefed by their peerless women athletes, had dwindled to a shaky 24½ points—but it was still a lead, and the U.S. team knew it was facing the day of decision.

Victory for the U.S. came in the eleventh-hour style of Frank Merriwell, a U.S. Olympian most Russians never heard of. Among the point-grabbers:

¶ California’s shapely Mrs. Patricia McCormick, already winner of the women’s springboard-diving title, climbed the ladder, and with a superb exhibition (e.g., a running, flying one-and-a-half somersault with pike, a handstand with forward cut-through half-gainer layout) took first place in the high-diving contest. Paula Jean Myers and Mrs. Juno Stover Irwin took second and third to make the sweep.

¶ While Australia’s crack Breast-Stroker John Davies clipped the Olympic record in the 200-meter event, the University of Iowa’s Bowen Stassforth bobbed in a close second to pick up another five points for the U.S.

¶ Ohio State’s 19-year-old Ford Konno smashed the Olympic 1,500-meter freestyle swimming record and wrapped up victory: his first put the U.S. out in front of the U.S.S.R. for the first time.

Gloom hung as heavy as an Iron Curtain over the Communist camp. An official there was asked by reporters what had happened to the big gymnasium scoreboard, which had so proudly blared the Communist winners and their scores. He said the board was still there. A Western reporter slipped inside to look. Someone had erased the scores.

For the fast-finishing U.S. teams, the rest of the events were easy. Going into the basketball final, the U.S. was a top-heavy favorite to beat Russia, having outsped and outshot the Soviet players earlier, 86-58. But in the final, the Russians reasoned soundly that the Americans could not make baskets if they did not have the ball. Their tactic produced one of the weirdest games ever played. Before eagle-eyed Soviet statisticians, chartmakers and movie cameras (scouting the U.S. technique for future reference), the Russians froze on to the ball as if it were a comrade. Then flashy U.S. Star Bob Kurland uncorked the game’s key maneuver. To his teammates he shouted: “Hey, ‘The Mustache’ [Soviet Star Otar Korkija] has three fouls!” A moment later, Kurland managed to get fouled by Korkija, and under the Olympic rules (four fouls and out) the mustached Russian star left the game. After that, the U.S. finally snared its third straight Olympic basketball triumph, 36-25.

The boxing results sealed the U.S. team title. The U.S.’s Flyweight Nate Brooks, Light-Welterweight Charles Adkins, Middleweight Floyd Patterson, Light-Heavyweight Norvel Lee and Heavyweight Edward Sanders copped five gold medals (worth 50 points) in the ten final matches (Russian boxers got two silver medals).

Pointless Scoreboard. No matter how the Russians figured it—their way (493-484½) or the “regular” unofficial way (614-553½)—the U.S. had won.*

Among the week’s standout athletes: ¶ The University of Texas’ David (“Skippy”) Browning, who led the U.S.’s 1-2-3 sweep in springboard diving.

¶ The U.S. 800-meter relay swimming team, which set an Olympic mark of 8 min. 31.1 sec.

¶ The U.S. Army Medical Corps’ Major Sammy Lee, 1948 Olympic high-diving champion, who repeated his victory.

¶ Hungary’s one-handed Marksman Kar-bly Takacs, who helped his country take third place in the Olympics by winning the silhouette (pistol) shooting championship for the second time (he won in 1948), with 60 hits, for a score of 579.

¶ France’s Jean Boiteux, who beat out Ford Konno in the 400-meter free-style swimming final, setting an Olympic record of 4 min. 30.7 sec. and inspiring his excited father to plunge for joy, beret and all, into the pool.

“Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Beyond question, the Olympics’ top hero was its only triple winner, Emil Zatopek, the brilliant, eccentric-styled Czechoslovakian army captain who runs as if every step would be his last. After shattering Olympic marks in the 5,000-and 10,000-meter runs, he capped his own climax by breaking the Olympic marathon record the first & only time he ever ran the tortuous (26 mi. 385 yd.) distance. The biggest Olympic disappointment was Japan’s top-rated swimming team, which copped only two silver medals. Even famed Hironoshin (“the Flying Fish”) Furuhashi straggled in a bad last in the 400-meter free-style final.

By week’s end most of the athletes had left Helsinki and the hospitality of the “wonderful Finns.” Once again, as the sun slanted long shadows across the Olympic stadium, the flags of the nations were paraded around the brick-red track. Seven Finnish naval cadets, handsome in blue uniforms and white caps, lowered the Olympic flag. On its high tower, the Olympic torch flared brightly for a moment, then went out. while the crowd sang the Finnish national anthem, the electric Scoreboard hopefully flashed in Latin the Olympic motto: “Faster, higher, stronger.” If no general war intervened, the world’s athletes would assemble again at Melbourne, Australia, for the XVI Olympiad in 1956.

* In recent Olympics, an unofficial national team championship has been decided by crediting a gold medal with ten points, second through sixth places with 5-4-3-2-1 points. This year the Russians, shorter than the U.S. on gold medals, varied the tally method by awarding only seven points for a first place.

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