CHAPTER 11 – I
Easy came prior victories
Effortless was my breath
Yet this new adversary before me
Wears the mask of my death
Two men grappled, each going for a quick and decisive victory. The lesser combatant knew he was overmatched and hoped to either catch lightning in a bottle or, failing that, quickly bring an end to the formality. The greater combatant – the champion – was ready to make history. Arms wrapped around legs, shoulders crashed into chests, and heads caught glancing body parts. The match began with a flurry of action, but ended with a thunderous clap as body met mat. The American from New York state had completed the unprecedented double: winning Olympic gold in both heavyweight Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. When factoring in his brief-yet-impressive list of boxing accomplishments prior to the Olympics, it was clear that the New Yorker had become the greatest all-around fighter in the world…at the age of 19.
The day before, in the Olympiastadion, another champion was completing his own historic feat. Displaying an uncanny prowess in running, jumping, and throwing, an American from Seattle, WA (though living in Los Angeles, CA) shattered the world record in the decathlon. The contest was never really in question as the rest of the field had to be content battling for silver over the two-day event. And given that the victor’s 100m time was less than, and his javelin distance was greater than, the gold medalists in those individual events, it was clear that the west coaster had become the greatest pure athlete in the world…before the age of 20.
The two athletes were the talk of the Olympic village – along with Jesse Owens – and were widely recognized as being among the greatest athletes in the world. In addition to their Olympic conquests, one was said to be able to hit a baseball further than Babe Ruth. The other was rumored to be more elusive on the football field than Red Grange. Both supposedly could beat the great Jim Thorpe at whatever sport they wished to compete.
Finally, on the final day of the Games, the two teenagers sat down together for lunch. Aricame was born in Seattle, but had spent the last several years living in Los Angeles. Stievo had spent his entire life in rural upstate New York, close to a few towns yet calling none of them home. Each made small talk while devouring heroic portions of sausage, sauerkraut, buttered bread, and more. While sharing mutual admiration, it soon became clear to anyone observing that they were trying to out-eat the other. Not just that, in between bites they then competed to tell the funniest joke, share the more interesting insight, reference the more obscure philosopher, recall their most arduous life experience. One half-expected the summoning of rulers and the dropping of trou, when finally both were called away to meet with their respective teams. Just as the Angelino was about to invite the New Yorker to come out west for some friendly competition, the New Yorker offered, “I’ll be coming out your way soon.” At that moment both felt the shock of excitement rush through their extremities as they exited through opposite ends of the cafeteria.
Since the beginning, if not war then game
A value placed on speed to elude and evade
And on strength to bring to yield and tame
Very few who combine the two have been made