All roads led to Rome. Day after day, the swarm of tourists dumfounded whitecoated policemen with questions in a dozen languages. In the Olympic Village, the world's finest athletes relaxed in new dormitories that even provided outsize beds (called "De Gaulles'') for the long-legged likes of U.S. basketball players. Through the streets roamed husky, black-jacketed South Africans, slim Burmese in sandals and red sweat suits, and Russians handing out bronze pins engraved with space Luniks. Long after midnight, officials found a Liberian marathoner, stop watch in hand, patiently plodding mile after mile. "It's quiet now," he explained, "and cool." In their practice sessions, tough Pakistanis played the American schoolgirl sport of field hockey with startling violence, Hungarians struck sparks with their shining sabers, bull-necked Turkish and Iranian wrestlers charged and grunted like affronted rhinos.
All this was prelude to the moment this week when Rome sends 6,200 bewildered pigeons fluttering into the sky, touches a flame to the traditional torch and opens the 1960 Olympic Games. By any standard, the games look to be the greatest in history. To see a record number of 7,000 athletes from a record number of 85 countries, spectators spent a record $3,200,000 for tickets before the first event was held. Among the athletes were scores of strong-willed and strong-muscled individualists, men and women with the zeal to toil through tedious years of training and the control to reach their peak in the brief, intense flurry of com petition. Even in such a high-caliber group, a dignified U.S. Negro named Rafer Johnson stood out.
By character as well as by prowess, Rafer Johnson, 25, comes close indeed to fulfilling the ancient Olympic ideals of the dedicated, all-around athlete. His event is the ten-part (see cuts) decathlon—a whole track meet in miniature—which combines the classic demands of speed, stamina, strength and spirit. At 6 ft. 3 in., 196 Ibs., Johnson seems to have been molded especially for the decathlon. He has the slim, knobby-kneed legs of a sprinter. But above his trim, 35-in. waist, he is built like a weight man, with a torso that mushrooms to a 46-in. chest, and shoulders that are thick with slabs of muscle.
"He Is Gentle." Even more important, Johnson has shown a monastic dedication to sport that would please the most spiritual of Olympic enthusiasts. He has shrugged off crippling injuries. In competition he has cheered on his most dangerous opponents. Says the Rev. Louis Evans, pastor of Los Angeles' Bel Air Presbyterian Church: "This is a most remark able human being. He is as gentle as a child, and yet he is tremendously competitive."
This summer Johnson scored 8,683 points* in the decathlon to break by 326 points the world record of Russia's Vasily Kuznetsov, 28. In the eyes of many coaches of many sports, this qualifies Johnson as the finest athlete in the world. Johnson remains unsatisfied. "Rafer has always seen his objectives with almost frightening clarity." says a friend. The present objective—amounting almost to an obsession—of Decathlon Star Rafer Johnson is to win a gold medal in Rome.