Faces of the Moscow Olympics
Three of the many striking faces of the Soviet Union are vividly on display here now that the 1980 Olympic Games are well under way. Three scenes tell the story:
* A tall, dignified sportswriter for a major Western organization came up against the unprecedented security surrounding games visitors when a metal detector at the entrance to the main press center kept flashing red as he walked through its arch.
Unsmilingly, police ordered him to remove his coat, then his glasses, and finally his shoes. Once the shoes were off, the detector (made in the US) gave a green signal. the writer was allowed to dress and enter after collecting his briefcase, which had been x-rayed on a moving belt by another machine.
He was also restrained by colleagues from swearing volubly at the impassive police, his temper at boiling point.
* On bright green artificial covering laid over the grass of the infield of Lenin Stadium, Armenians in black boots, Soviet Georgians in flowing costumes, Turkmenians in huge woolly hats and red costumes, and Ukrainians in brilliant reds and whites whirled through a dazzling open-air display of mass folk dancing.
As they spun and jumped, swayed and leaped, formed and reformed into concentric circles, squares, diamonds, and immense lines 150 people-long and all in perfect rhythm and timing, they turned and opening ceremonies of the games into one of the biggest, most breathtaking exhibitions of open-air rehearsed brilliance ever seen here.
Unlimited amounts of money had been poured into costumes of every conceivable hue, from the long, pink dresses of black-haired Kirghizian women to the vertically striped shot-silk of the Tadjiks to the black top hats and what looked like Edwardian morning jackets of yet another group.
There were 16,000 performers in all, astonishingly well-drilled, while a sea of soldiers and athletes held up colored cards in ever-changing patterns below the Olympic flame in a separate display of orchestrated excellence.
* Outside Lenin Stadium as ceremonies ended, the human face of the Soviet Union.
A tall blond young woman, resplendent in the white and gold gown in which she had just danced before 100,000 spectators and a global television audience, gigglingly bought a chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick.
When a boisterous group of French photographers persuaded her to pose, she smilingly agreed. But just before the shutters clicked, she whipped the melting ice cream behind her back.
The photographers pleaded. She laughed. But the ice cream stayed out of sight. It didn't fit her sense of decorum.
These are the three faces: security, massively rehearsed spectacle, and human spontaneity beneath the regimented surface.
To focus only on one is to miss the essence of what is happening as Moscow seeks to make political and sporting capital as the first communist country ever to stage an Olympic Games.
Security: While armed guards around the Olympic village can be partially explained by the 1972 Palestinian terrorism in Munich, rigid searches, security, and constant police patrols grate on many visiting correspondents.
Western tourists are remarking on the endless numbers of police and Army soldiers on the streets of the city and security at their hotels. One woman said a "fence" had been thrown up around her hotel, which was way out of town.
Newsmen and tourists are suddenly finding out what the security face of Moscow looks like up close.
Another Western writer walked into the search area at a press center entrance wearing the identification of a participant in International Olympic Committee business. The identification was valid for the building.
But police stopped him anyway, saying he must produce another accreditation card showing he was a working journalist. He did not have it with him. Before the issue was settled and he was allowed in, he had been detained for one hour.
"I like the people I meet," said a Dutch photographer as we waited for a bus, "but the time the police take to study your face when you try to enter anywhere, then compare it to your picture on your card, is unusual. . . . What's going to happen when hundreds of correspondents rush back to the press center to catch late deadlines after a big event?"
An Italian reporter was struck by the sheer numbers of police and soldiers packed around Lenin Stadium as he and I were stopped seven times by police cordons en route to opening ceremonies.
We talked our way through six, but the seventh -- senior, crusty officers under orders to keep all private cars well away -- refused to let us pass.
All roads to the stadium were closed. We walked a long way to the stadium and then around it to the press entrance. We passed hundreds and hundreds of police stationed every few yards along roads and paths, under trees and beside ice-cream stands, many of them youngsters bored because they had so little to do.
"You can't really talk to people here about world events," said one visiting West European. "They don't know much. I started to read a newspaper article from an Italian paper to one young guide about reports of 50 villages destroyed in Afghanistan by Soviet troops. I think he was really shocked and didn't know what to say or how to reply. He stood up and said he had to go."
Inside Lenin Stadium, 81 nations paraded -- 16 of them making a protest against Soviet troops in Afghanistan by using Olympic flags or national Olympic committee flags, or by withholding their athletes.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev opened the games with the single sentence decreed by the Olympic charter. The two Soviet cosmonauts in orbit around the earth since early April sent greetings for "cosmic good health" in a message flashed on the huge scoreboards at each end of the stadium.
But it was the mass folk dancing and gymnastics that eclipsed previous opening ceremonies.
And the human touches: all the dancer and her chocolate ice cream . . . hordes of small children scurrying wideeyed through the crowds after their performance, clutching papier-mache horses' heads on sticks . . . our taxi driver, who entered into the spirit of the hunt and helped talk us through police roadblocks with nonchalant gusto. . . .
And perhaps my favorite of the day: soft-drink dispenser number ten, a dark-haired young man in a bright red jump suit bent forward under the weight of a large white plastic tank on his back. With his left hand he reached behind him and plucked a white plastic cup from beneath the tank.
With his right hand he squirted fizzy orange into it from a red plastic hose. "Sixty-six cups," he grinned when I asked him how many drinks he was carrying up and down the steep stadium steps high above the arena. The drink was all I had time for the entire day. Cheerfully he squirted me a refill before lumbering away like a character from "Star Wars."