Sport: Two Minutes to Glory

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Medals & Headlines. The big show, starting this week in London's huge Wembley stadium (capacity: 82,000), made it seem so. The XlVth Olympiad* was one touch of glory for men who regularly perform in large football stadiums occupied, often as not, by a few dear friends of the family and second-string sportwriters. At Wembley stadium, all the months of sweating and striving by more than 5,000 competitors would end in glory or defeat in a matter of seconds or minutes.

U.S. v. the Field. Win or lose, the Americans could expect few tears or cheers. They have dominated the games so often that an old baseball cry, "Break up the Yankees," could now be heard in 28 languages. In effect, it will be the have-plenty U.S. against the rest of the have-not world. America's rivals among the 60 competing nations comforted themselves with one thought: food (of which the U.S. has plenty) is supposed to be the basis of stamina, but the longer the race the slimmer are U.S. hopes of victory.

The Americans are given no chance at all in the 1,500 meters (about 120 yards short of a mile). The galloping Swedes supposedly have that race copyrighted. Czechoslovakia, with an untiring fellow named Emil Zatopek, has dead aim on the 5,000 meters. Finland's Viljo Heino, a protege of the great Paavo Nurmi, looks invincible in the 10,000 meters. Obviously, many Europeans reassured themselves, the Americans are poor athletes — good acrobats, perhaps, but poor athletes.

Acrobats & Dashes. Even in the field events, where acrobatics come in handy, the U.S. wa not as strong as at first suspected. Italy has the two top discus throwers (Giuseppe Tosi and 238-lb. Adolfo Consolini, whose father complained that he had to hire five men to do Adolfo's work when he left the farm). Hungary has the favored hammer-thrower, Imre Nemath, and Britain is betting on a temper amental high-jumper, Alan Paterson. The U.S. seemed to stand supreme in only three spots — the pole vault, broad jump and 110-meter high hurdles.

In the past, the U.S. had picked up most of its points in these "acrobatic" field events (see chart). But its pride & joy was in its sprinters, the glamor boys of track. The man who won the 100-meter dash also won a headline-grabbing label: "world's fastest human." The late great Charley Paddock** won the label at Antwerp (1920), then came Eddie Tolan at Los Angeles (1932), and Jesse Owens at Berlin (1936).

Connoisseurs of track often deplore this glamorizing: they argue that there is more room for wit and will in the distance races. To some extent, distance runners can be made; to be a great sprinter, with lightning reflexes and a hair-trigger temperament, it is almost necessary to be born that way.

The leading candidate in this week's glamorous 100 is such a "natural": Melvin Emery Patton† of the U.S.

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