Mexico rose above predictions of failure, hurdling obstacles of race, riot and altitude to host the XIX Olympiad in record form. But experts say something is missing from these noble games, and the next Olympics are seriously threatened! What really happened in Olympic City — what does it mean to you? Read here the surprising answer as reported by our own correspondents on the scene.
Mexico, D.F. "THE SPIRIT of the Olympics IS dead." Such was the gloomy pronouncement of Bill Stern, famous sportscaster, one week before the XIX OLYMPIAD in Mexico. Dead?
Greatest ever, BUT...
You might ask: But how can the Olympic spirit be dead, when the games, as shown on television, seemed so successful? After all, 7,500 athletes from 119 different nations gathered here to participate in more events than in any previous Olympiad. No less than 27 Olympic marks and 15 world records were shattered! This was truly an Olympiad of successful firsts — "... first ever held in Latin America, first ever contested 1½ miles above sea level, first in the number of world records in track and swimming, first in size and the first since 1952 in which the United States gained world sports dominance over Russia" (The Dallas Morning News, Monday, October 28, 1968).
Mexico's Masterful Management
Another Olympic success came in the form of an upset. Critics had talked of the "Mariana Olympics," claiming Mexico could never put together such a vast production... but the games ran like dock-work. Dotted here and there across the city, impressive stadiums and structures (some built specially for the Games) hosted various events — track and field, equestrianism, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, boat and crew races — all at the same time. A giant project well done athletically! Another success. Mexico innovated a praiseworthy idea: join a "cultural olympics" to the physical contests. Paintings from children around the world lining the famous Paseo de la Reforma, and the Olympic Camp for World Youth hosting 900 delegates from 16 countries were only two examples of numerous artistic enterprises held jointly with the standard Games. Another first, a Mexican masterpiece: lovely senorita Enriqueta Basilio sprinted gracefully around the track, sprang up 90 steps, and lit the "sacred" flame. Surely the Olympics were a success athletically. But what did Bill Stern mean? In spite of many successes, the 1968 Games were, some believe, more of a TRAGEDY than a TRIUMPH! The XIX Olympiad was athletically and culturally spectacular. But there is more to the Olympics than athletics and culture. Or at least, there is supposed to be. Something was seriously wrong this time with the Olympic spirit. Bill Stern was convinced that spirit is dead.
To understand what he meant, we need to see how the Olympics began and what they really stand for. Born in the city of Olympia, Greece, the Games boast a genealogy of nearly 3,000 long years! Though the Games' official beginning is 776 B.C., there are historical indications of even earlier contests — one going back to 1253 B.C. under Hercules! But most important is that the Games have always been surrounded by a spirit of "peace among nations," "peace among races." Then as now, the winning contestants received no salary for their efforts, but kings and slaves competed side by side for the sheer glory of the sport. Only Greeks could compete in the original Games, "but competitors came from all the Greek colonies around the Mediterranean. A sacred truce was declared [during times of war] and enforced to permit participants to travel unmolested to the games..." Commercialism and politics had no place in the event. Rather, sportsmanship reigned supreme. "The gracefulness and sportsmanship of the contestant and the method of winning were esteemed equally with the victory itself" (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 16, "Olympic Games"). From that beginning the Games grew, expanded and even became the standard of world chronology. Then, sadly, corruption and strife put an end to world athletic cooperation. "The original Olympics were dispensed with in 393 A.D. because they had, under Roman influence, attained a peak of paganism and crookedness (Nero fell out of a chariot race once and declared himself the winner; Olympic champions were set up for life, the losers were left to be scorned like dogs)" (Sports Illustrated, Sept. 30, 1968). But a herculean part of the story is the revival of the games in the last century through the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937). It is to the glory of France and to the credit of Coubertin that our century has enjoyed a rebirth of international cooperation — at least in athletics — an "Olympic Spirit."
The True "Olympic Spirit"
Coubertin believed that "nothing but good could result if the athletes of all countries of the world were brought together once every four years on the friendly fields of amateur sports, unmindful of national rivalries, jealousies and differences of all kinds and with all considerations of politics, race, religion, wealth and social status eliminated" (Encyclopedia Britannica). A noble concept indeed! Coubertin's commendable concept was cast in the most stirring and impressive ceremonies possible. A very essential part of these ceremonies is that the assembled athletes abide by the following oath: We swear that we will take part in the Olympic Games in fair competition, respecting the regulations which govern them and with the desire to participate in the true spirit of sportsmanship for the honor of our country and for the glory of the sport. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. XVI, p. 782) And with this the games are officially opened. Coubertin assured us: "Olympia and the Olympics symbolize a complete civilization superior to nations, cities, military heroes, and even to ancient religions... When they [the Olympics] take their appropriate place among other European customs, the cause of peace will have received a new and powerful support." In short, the modern Olympics are intended to foster international understanding, racial brotherhood and, above all, world peace. In further demonstration of the true "spirit of the Olympics," the Games close with a presidential appeal to the athletes in these noble words: "May they display cheerfulness and concord so that the Olympic torch may be carried on with ever greater eagerness, courage and honor FOR THE GOOD OF HUMANITY THROUGHOUT THE AGES." Now we can begin to see the true Olympic spirit. But was this the spirit that reigned at the Olympics?
The Bitter Spirit of Anarchy
Tragically, another spirit was very much in evidence before, during and after the XIX Olympiad. No one should blame the Olympic principle for the host of problems which surrounded this year's event. You probably heard of the alcohol tests to discourage taking "courage" from a bottle. (One shooter "steadied his hand" so well with beer he had to be carried on a stretcher!) There were drug tests to screen out doped athletes. We got a chuckle out of the accidental confession of the Russian volleyball coach who said his men "were professionals or they would have been left home." Did you hear about the boycott threat over South Africa's race policies (that's athletics?), and the ensuing blackballing of South Africa from the games (an act about as un-Olympic as you can get)? A Cuban tennis player walked out — refused to play against the U.S. Everyone noticed the announced pullout by American Negro athletes (for the Black Power cause), Black Power displays against the flag, penalties and punishments, expulsions, crass insults against Avery Brundage, the Olympic Committee head. There were political bickering and near riots in Olympic Village (caused by whites, not blacks), a cancellation by North Korea due to the name it could not have, a Czech refusal to eat at the same tables with the Russians. Perhaps sportscaster Stern was right. Perhaps the Olympic spirit is dead. Where was the Olympic spirit of brotherhood when San Jose Professor Harry Edwards "white-listed" the Olympics — nearly causing American blacks to boycott the games? Where is the spirit of brotherhood in Edwards' brotherly phrases such as "Lynching Baines Johnson," the "pigs in blue," (policemen) and "kill them with axes in the middle of the street"? Where was the Olympic spirit when South Africa was blackballed for a policy (right or wrong makes no difference) which has nothing to do with athletics? Where was the Olympic spirit of patriotism when two American contestants refused to be medaled by Avery Brundage, 81-year-old head of the International Olympic Committee (a hardworking, self-sacrificing man who deserves praise, not the abuse he suffered from acrimonious and anarchical athletes)? Where was the spirit of Olympic cooperation among races when two colored American athletes ambled to the victory stand wearing long black stockings on their shoeless feet, raised clenched fists encased in black gloves, and — eyes fixed on the ground — refused to look at the flag during the strains of "The Star Spangled Banner"? But lest someone get the impression that these few were typical of America's black athletes, notice these food examples of Negro American winners: George Foreman, Negro gold medal winner in the heavyweight boxing division, went so far as to carry an American flag into the ring to demonstrate pride in his country. Willie Davenport, who won the high hurdles, set the kind of example that all other athletes should have followed. A European writer asked: "Wouldn't you say that whites are treated better than Negroes?" Davenport bristled. "I didn't come here to talk about race problems. I came to race." One Negro boxer requested that Mr. Brundage present him with his medal. But these good examples do not save the spirit of the Olympics when there are so many sickening examples. We need to remember that man's beautiful dream of furthering world peace through athletic competition has not worked. It cannot work until human nature is changed. Man's record proves that whether war games or Olympic games, whether Paris peace talks or non-proliferation treaties, man's efforts all record the same imperfect performances. But man doesn't know the source of knowledge that would help him understand his own failures. There is a true source that reveals that neither by sports, work, nor war, can man produce peace on earth. Incredible as it may seem, it is man's own nature that prevents him from achieving peace and world cooperation — the spirit of the Olympics. But there is a solution. There is coming a time when peace and cooperation will prevail. Read our free booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What It Will Be Like. It is full of pleasant surprises.