March 20, 2017

World War III: "Moscow Olympics" by Red Smith

Moscow Olympics
"Held in Russia's capital, first in 12 years, drew athletes of 78 nations, signaled world brotherhood and good will." Art by Fred Banbery in Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 41
In 1951, Collier's magazine published a special issue, entitled "Preview of the War We Do Not Want," which speculated about a hypothetical World War III and what it might look like.

The war begins in 1952 and ends in 1955 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by a UN occupation of Russia. Writer Robert E. Sherwood provided an extensive history of the war, writing "The most unnecessary, most senseless and deadliest war in history—the third World War—reached the shooting stage at exactly 1:58 p. m. G.M.T., Saturday, May 10, 1952."

A number of other notable figures contributed fictional reports and stories about the war and its history, including Edward R. Murrow, Hal Boyle, Walter Reuther, Marguerite Higgins, Walter Winchell, Kathryn Morgan-Ryan, Allan Nevins, Hanson W. Baldwin, Oksana Kasenkina, Lowell Thomas, Harry Schwartz, Margaret Chase Smith, Erwin Canham, John Savage, and Arthur Koestler.

Here, sportswriter Red Smith writes about the 1960 Moscow Olympics, the first games held since 1948.

From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, pp. 41, 123:
Moscow Olympics


Red Smith, one of America's greatest sports writers, has arrived in Russia to report the 1960 Moscow Olympic games for Collier's. Here is his first dispatch, radioed just prior to the start of the games

Moscow, 1960

Three weeks hence, the world will demonstrate that real peace has arrived. It will be heralded by 90,000 voices cheering in concert in Moscow's monstrous Dynamo Stadium, by strident sounds of bickering in the council room of the International Olympic Committee, by shouts of triumph and cries of disappointment and the angry gnashing of coachly teeth throughout this fortunate capital.

In an Olympic year, these are the noises of international comity, world brotherhood and universal good will.

On July 22d, seventh anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Kremlin, the muscular delegates of 78 nations will open the thirteenth quadrennial carnival of the modern series of Olympic games. Quadrennial? That's what the book says, but the calendar tells another story.

Back in the autumn of 1951, the Scandinavian Airlines ferried a consignment of American sports writers to Helsinki to show what preparations that optimistic city was making to conduct the Olympics of 1952. Fifteen years of planning and hundreds of millions of Finnish marks already had been expended on the project; Helsinki's great Olympic stadium had stood empty for a dozen years, a monument of discouragement.

For as early as 1936, when Hitler's Berlin was host to the games, Finland had sought the privilege of staging the 1940 show. Instead, Tokyo got the assignment, only to sink hip-deep in a war in China and relinquish its claims, so that Helsinki was elected after all. But scarcely had the Finns completed their 70,000-seat stadium, when World War II rendered international track meets unpopular.

London got the games when they were finally resumed in 1948, and at that time Helsinki was tapped to be host in 1952. Once again Finland got ready, and once again the world was plunged into war when, two months before the entertainment was scheduled to start, Petrovic and Borlic, the Kremlin's assassins, pitched their high hard ones at Tito's head in Belgrade and our long-smoldering planet burst into flames.

This summer's games, therefore, are the first in the Olympic series since 1948. There is more than that to distinguish them, however. Never before in world history has this sweaty extravaganza represented what it stands for this summer. Never before, not even in the fondest imaginings of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern games, has the carnival symbolized so vividly the hope of mankind.

When World War I was over and the 1920 Olympics went to Antwerp, Belgium and her allies specifically barred their late enemies, Germany and Austria, from participation. In 1948 the sores of World War II still festered; neither Germany nor Japan was invited. This time the world has done better than merely accept a defeated aggressor on terms of absolute equality with all other competitors. This time the Russian people, five years after the Soviets were overthrown, are in fact the host to whom all the rest of us make our manners.

There have been no payments of reparations, no trials of war criminals. This time the nations are trying to live together and play together.

Pending final word from a few outlying precincts, it is expected that about 7,000 athletes, perhaps 2,000 more than any such gathering has hitherto seen, will take part in the opening ceremonies in the stadium. There will be much that is familiar, much that is novel, about these ceremonies.

As always, the Grecian delegation will lead the march into the stadium and down the track past the box occupied by members of the Provisional Russian Government. As the original Olympic nation, Greece always has first place. It has been the custom for nations to follow in alphabetical order, from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia. The custom has been revised. This time second place has been accorded to Finland, in recognition of that nation's gracious gesture in permitting this carnival to come to Moscow instead of Helsinki.

Next comes gallant Yugoslavia, whose heroic resistance against the Reds' initial assault ultimately led to the destruction of the Iron Curtain. Thereafter, the alphabetical rule will be observed—except that Russia will parade last, as the host always does.

When these games were being arranged, there was agitation in favor of erasing all national lines. It was urged that the athletes be grouped according to their events, without regard to nationality—that the sprinters, swimmers, distance runners, weight lifters and so on of all countries march by groups under the massed flags of all competing nations.

General Omar Bradley, who retired from his defense post in 1956, and who is now president of the International Olympic Committee, knocked that proposal on the head. "In our enthusiasm for internationalism," he said, reporting the committee's decision, "we must not make love of country a shameful thing."

So the athletes will be marshaled on the field under their own flags—although one innovation is a standardized Olympic uniform bearing the five-ringed symbol and the name of the nation the athlete represents. And when their ranks are formed, the Olympic torch will arrive. A week ago an olive-wood brand was lighted by the rays of the sun in the Temple of Zeus at Olympia in Greece. Relays of Boy Scouts are lugging the sacred fire across the Continent as this is written.

When the holy fire arrived in London in 1948, it was borne into Wembley Stadium by one John Mark, a Cambridge blue, chosen for the role because he was tall and blond and handsome, the superb English version of a Greek god. The guy picked to haul the torch into Dynamo Stadium is a small, swart, wiry, tough, young man of eighteen, named Nikolai Sayanov.

•   •   •

Nikolai is an alumnus of the Bezprizorniye, the horde of lawless youngsters who ran wild in postwar Russia until the United Nations was able to effect rehabilitation by shipping them abroad. Young Sayanov was sent to Australia, learned much about sheep ranching there, and has come back home to help produce wool for Russia.

He was selected as the Olympic torch-bearer not because of any athletic prowess, but because he epitomizes the new Russia—tough of spirit and hard of sinew, small stature but great in promise. Introduced to the press yesterday, he sat on a desk in the headquarters of the Russian Organizing Committee and gabbed away breezily in the splendid Cockney speech which some Australians manage so much better than any Limehouse spiv. The informality of the interview delighted newsmen who remembered the 1948 Olympics, when they had to have an appointment to meet the press agent for the games.

If Nikolai Sayanov is a symbol of the new order, so is the man who will take the historic Olympic oath after Nikolai has circled the track and climbed to the peristyle and flung his torch into the big concrete birdbath where the Olympic flame is to burn throughout the games.

Customarily, the oath has been taken by some over-age athlete who represented the host nation in an earlier Olympic competition. Russia, however, has no athletes with Olympic experience, for the Communists never were willing to play with other nations and run the risk of defeat. So Russia has asked Yugoslavia to send the father of Maria Serdic—the eight-year-old child who, standing near Tito, became the first victim of World War III—to take the oath.

This is pure symbolism, meant to dramatize Russia's break with the past and her determination to let bygones be bygones.

That's about all there'll be to the first day's ceremonies. The Russians aren't going in for the fancy trimmings that have attended other openings. They will not, for instance, commandeer half the pigeons in the country and turn 'em loose over the stadium, as London did in 1948. After the postwar years of famine, Russia has a better use for squab.

Food has been a matter of concern to Organizing Committee since the plan first was broached to bring the games here. Like many English in 1948, many Russians felt it was foolish for a nation that had been hungry so long to take on the responsibility of feeding 7,000 athletes and 100,000 tourists from abroad. To the Russian people as a whole, however, this opportunity to play host to the world means that Russia has at long last taken her rightful place in the world community. If it also has meant making sacrifices, they have made them cheerfully.

To the visitor, living conditions here seem surprisingly good. True, he eats fish instead of sirloin, takes herring instead of eggs at breakfast and does not ask for cream in his coffee because Russia's milk supply belongs to Russia's children. Prices are high, as they are everywhere, but there is no evidence of an active black market. A few posh restaurants and dining clubs, serving a limited clientele because their supplies are limited, manage on occasion to produce such special items as kavkazki shashlyk, morsels of broiled lamb packed on spits. Bread is plentiful and so is vodka.

For the visiting athletes, Moscow will not be able to produce the exotic dishes of their native lands. There will be substantial vittles for all, though. Probably the United States representatives will fare best. Charley Ornstein, the old Olympic miler on the American committee, has done the same great job he did in 1948, when he shipped our team in London supplies of American meats, fruits and frozen vegetables.

Berlin built two Olympic villages in 1936 to house the men and women athletes. Helsinki was doing the same in 1940. London in 1948 lacked time for new construction and had to quarter competitors over a wide area, from Wimbledon to Henley and the military academy at Sandhurst. With the prefabricated materials flown in by UNIHOPE, Moscow has erected model villages for all the performers.

Nonathletic tourists are, of course, on their own. Those who cannot find or do not wish to pay for limited hotel accommodations will discover unlimited invitations to lodge in private homes at modest prices. Already the advance guard of visitors is in town. They walk the streets and gawk at the leveled places—now neatly cleared—where buildings stood before the A-bomb fell.

Russians stare at the visitors with the same frank curiosity the visitors show. These people never really saw tourists before this summer. The Iron Curtain kept strangers out before the war. Since then, foreigners have been numerous, but always uniformed.

Moscow has been wearing party dress for weeks. Everywhere the eye turns are the flags of all nations, topped by the Russian tricolor of white, blue and red which has replaced the hammer and sickle, and by the five-ringed Olympic banner.

•   •   •

The papers concede that the big team from the United States probably will carry off a major share of honors, as usual. American supremacy is acknowledged in her home-grown game of basketball, in the flat races from 100 to 800 meters, in the hurdles and pole vault, and in women's swimming competition.

There has been wide speculation concerning the chances of George Robinson, young cousin of the Brooklyn Dodgers' veteran manager, Jackie Robinson, becoming the first American to sweep the sprints and broad jump since Jesse Owens won the 100-meter, the 200-meter and the jump in Berlin. Young Robinson, although he has yet to set foot on Russian soil, already is considered almost a demigod here.

Russians are confident that they will have their first Olympic champions in good proportion. They were going to compete for the first time in Helsinki and they expected to win some events; indeed, Stalin had given direct orders to his representatives—to win, or else. Some of the men who might have won in 1952 are dead, as are so many of our finest. But Russia has a formidable array of weight throwers, wrestlers and weight lifters, and the world's most famous soccer team.

Also, the brawny Russian girls are considered the class of the ladies' track-and-field detachment. Not since Holland's strapping Hausfrau, Mrs. Fanny Blankers-Koen, won three medals in London has there been a woman champion to compare with Maroosya Klyachko, Kiev machinist.

Russia expects to score heavily in the equestrian events and it is considered a foregone conclusion that the walking competition at 10,000 and 50,000 meters will go to Moscow's Pyotr Gromyko. He would be the first heel-and-toe specialist to score a double since Ugo Frigerio, of Italy, won at 3,000 meters and 10,000 meters in 1920.

Japanese swimmers, Scandinavian distance runners, Czech gymnasts, British, German and American oarsmen are rated tops.

Only by incantation and sorcery could one predict what records will be broken. Some surely must go in this greatest sports production of world history. It seems impossible that Earle Meadows' twenty-four-year-old pole-vault mark of 14 feet 3% inches could survive. Last time Olympians gathered, only one man in the world had cleared 15 feet. A dozen or more have done it since.

In 1948, the four-minute mile was a dream. In the last three years, the magic figure has been surpassed three times, by a Finn, by a Swede, by a Belgian. The Olympic record of 3 minutes 47 8/10 seconds for the 1,500 (the metric mile) is almost certainly a dead duck.

Inevitably, there will be disputes and debates, wrangling and bickering, protests and disqualifications. It wouldn't be the Olympics without such. But maybe that sort of furor is a healthy thing. It is the voice of a friendly world at play. And it has been so long since there was time for play. — THE END