Rome 1960 Summary
They were the first televised Olympics. The first doping scandal occurred there. Civil rights was an enormous issue, with black athletes emerging as super-stars and gold-medal winners. Women athletes were emerging into the world spotlight for the first time.
East and West Germany competed as one team even though they hated each other, just before the Berlin Wall went up. China and Taiwan were fighting over which rightfully could claim the title of China, a dispute with enormous political ramifications.
Both the US and Soviet Union viewed the Olympics as an important propaganda stage. There were spies on both sides and attempts at defection on both.
There were many unforgettable characters: Rafer Johnson, the first athlete to carry the US flag, the best athlete of that era, winner of the decathlon; Wilma Rudolph and the Tennesse State Tigerbelles, who dominated the womens sprints and did more than any athletes before them to bring the global spotlight to women; Cassius Clay, an 18-year-old high school student who won the gold medal as light heavyweight; Dave Sime, the medical student from Duke who competed in the thrilling hundred yard dash while attempting to persuade a Soviet athlete to defect; and Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who became the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal, doing it by running through the streets of Rome in bare feet less than a quarter-century after Italy had invaded his country. Many others, including the Olympics president whose vision of innocent amateurism was collapsing.