Jim Sullivan's Dope
By William G. Shepherd
[Everybody's Magazine, November 1918]
Jim Sullivan's Dope Filters Into Germany
"The quality of the men must be characterized as remarkable. They carry themselves well and are well-developed, and from eighteen to twenty-eight years of age. Only a few of the men are pure American by race. The majority of them are sons of foreign parents. These half-Americans, most of whom were born in America, had have never before seen Europe express, without hesitation, purely American sentiments."—Report of German officer to German Intelligence Department, after interviewing American prisoners taken at Bouresches in June.
I spent several hours one Sunday recently, in my old seat in the press-stand at the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm.
From that same seat, in the summer of 1912—in the golden age before the war—I had seen the best athletes of the earth win the highest honors their world had to give.
The stadium is thronged, tier upon tier, this afternoon, just as it was during the great events of 1912 Canopies of royal purple shelter, in the same old royal box, the same royal family and the same gaunt, gracious king. Boys and girls, in thousands, selected from every corner of Sweden for the charm of their voices as well as for their physical beauty, move about in a bewildering phantasmagoria of color, each clad as some wild flower of Sweden, singing a vast and beautiful chorus.
The occasion is a benefit for Swedish orphans.
But I can not see their great, sweet song is murmurous and distant, for, as I sit here, I am overwhelmed by ghosts.
The Olympic Games of 1912
Here, in these seats about me, had been gathered press correspondents of all the countries of civilization. There, in that seat, for instance, is the ghost of the bewhiskered and literary Frenchman from the big Paris daily; there is the shade of that plump, linguistic reporter from Holland, who stood ready to serve as interpreter between any two correspondents of any known tongues on earth; there is the hulking ghost of that sporting editor from Berlin who grunted noisily whenever a German was beaten; and here are clustered the shadows of the reporters from the London dailies who tried in vain to analyze each British setback.
Here is the ghost of the likable reporter from Athens, whose French was so Grecian, and who was the proudest man of us all because, some twenty or thirty centuries ago, his country had inaugurated these illustrious games.
All about me were ghosts of those trim Boy Scouts of Sweden, who acted as our messenger boys, and especially of the little blond chap who used to stand proudly beside my seat, ready to run with my messages to the near-by telegraph booth and start them off on their journey under the seas to the United States. He had caught the romance of journalism—that boy.
And out on the track and in the infield—there are the grimmest ghosts of them all. The singing flower-clad children can not lay them for me. Over there, on the green grass, Alvah Richards, from our "Wild West," wearing a stretched sweater and a merry widow straw hat part of the time, humbles into the dust, at the running high jump, a German officer named Liesche, the haughtiest German that came to Stockholm. Out there, in the center of the field, are the ghosts of those trimly clad German teams, marching shoulder to shoulder, fifty of them, a hundred of them, each man looking like all the others, each man walking, striding, jumping, spreading legs and arms, waving his members, throwing out his chest, just like everybody else—massed formation in sport, with no individuality, no personal responsibility, except to see that you do your best to win the coveted cup by crushing your individuality and doing everything as everybody else does it. I remember how, even in those days, when everybody thought a German was all right, we used to laugh at the machine-like movement of those competing Germans and wonder how a man could prize a cup that was given for such banalities. The day was to come when we would shudder at what we laughed at then.
Here, at this turn on the track, Braun, the German runner, claimed that an American had fouled him and raised an uproar that disgusted the twenty-five thousand onlookers.
Here, also, swinging through the masses of the singing children, goes the ghost of that beaten but unbeatable solitary Russian, who, being outdistanced by the champion walkers of the world, had found himself three laps behind at the end of the race and insisted on finishing the course, though for many minutes he walked alone and unashamed before the gaze of thousands of amused people.
Here, at this corner of the field, is a group of excited ghosts. It is the day when Kohlemainen, from Helsingfors, astounded the world by defeating the greatest runners that had come to Sweden. The Finnish flag has been run up on the honor-pole and a group of Russian officials had hurried down onto the track and insisted that this must be counted a Russian victory; the Russian flag must be run up; if the officials of the course care to do so they may raise a Finnish pennant beneath it. I see again that Finnish flag come down and again I see that flag of a proud czar mount in its stead; and then the Finnish emblem crawls up, shamefacedly, beneath it. How the grand stands cheer, in sympathy, for the Finns!
I wonder where they are now, those ponderous, powerful Russians?
The memories of those first days slip by me; those days before we knew the boys from the United States could conquer the athletes of the world. And then there grows again in my heart the pride that came to us all, as the American list of victories began to grow.
Comes to me, again, my Boy Scout messenger with a cablegram from my editor in the United States, which reads tike this:
Please cable 500 words explaining recent successes of Americans and telling whether or not America will win.
That telegram had been too much for me. I was not an expert at athletes. On my trip across the Atlantic on the Finland with those two hundred and fifty life-filled American boys and a score of clean-cut, upstanding American men who were leaders in amateur athletics in the United States, I had discovered that there was an inwardness to the institution of amateur athletics, a world of past records and data as to human physical possibilities, of which I was ignorant. And so I had decided not to write my five-hundred-word cablegram hastily, but to have expert advice.
Why We Won Then
And there comes an evening, in a grove in the beautiful Djürgarden. I am dining with James Sullivan, the chief of American amateur athletics. In our evening clothes, wearing such decorations as some of us possess, we sit in the whiteness of the northern night until it grows chilly. The waiters, after the Swedish summer-garden fashion, bring us huge, thick blankets which they throw about our shoulders. And there seated next to Jim Sullivan, his glistening shirt front and a small jeweled stone therein throwing out furtive rays from the cavelike recesses of his half-folded blanket, I put to him the questions that have come to me over the cable: Will America win; and why?
"Can't you write an answer to that, young fellow?" he asks me with a note of surprise in his voice.
"No, no!" I answer impatiently. "I'm no sporting editor. This is all new to me."
"But sport hasn't anything to do with it," he says. "This isn't a study in athletics. It's a problem in Americanism. I've been at four of these international Olympic games and I know just what is going to happen at this one. It has always been the same way. It's my dope and you can't go wrong on it. We aren't through the woods, yet; there's two weeks of fighting before us, but no matter how things go, no matter what happens, we'll win; listen:
"You take those boys we have on our boat"—he points out through the trees to the harbor where the Finland, lights out, boys asleep, swings at anchor—"and study their names. How many different nationalities do you suppose they represent? We've got Americans of German blood who are going to beat Germans from Germany. We've got Italians on our team who are going to beat Italians from Italy. We've got boys of English blood who are going to beat Englishmen, and boys of French blood who will outrun or outjump their brothers from France. Why, we've got men from almost every nationality in the world in our American team who'll beat fellows of their own blood from Europe.
"There's no such thing as American blood, yet," continues Sullivan, expressing an idea that was new to most of us in 1912; an idea that only an Olympic contest could bring to light. "Maybe we'll get an American blood, in time. Jim Thorpe, the Indian, from Carlisle, is the only original American in the whole team. Our boys are all of the blood of Europe.
"Now here's my dope: These boys on our team are the sons of parents who had nerve and backbone. Their parents wanted something more in life than Europe had to offer them. And so they tore up their home anchorages and went to the United States. It takes a good man or woman to do that; healthier and more ambitious than their neighbors. Men and women like that are going to have fine children; ambitious children with lots of red, good blood and brimming health. They'll be better children than the average run of their cousins back in Europe.
"That's why we'll win these Olympic games, this time and every time, until we cease to attract the pick of the folk from Europe. We'll win the games; it was all decided years ago, by the fathers and mothers of these boys of ours.
"No matter how things go, no matter what turn things may take or what surprises we meet, the percentages are all in our favor. We won't lose. It's all a matter of mathematics, from now on. That's my dope."
And in the white northern night, in faraway Sweden, I see America for the first time as it really is.
The Olympic games, that were to have been held in that great stadium on the outskirts of Berlin, in 1916, are being held in French and Flemish fields and in Italian mountains. These are Olympic games that Jim Sullivan, who piloted American teams to victory through three Olympiads, will not attend, for he is dead.
Why We'll Win Now
Our Olympic team has gone to Europe, and Jim Sullivan's dope is good and sure. His confidence of victory was not a vague optimism; it was based on a mathematical calculation of how strong our boys were, and how hard they would try.
Our confidence ought to be like his.
The result of this war is not a thing to be decided in the future. It has been decided in the past. Through all the departed decades of building and growing, through all those years when great tides of strong, fresh blood were pouring into our veins past the Statue of Liberty, we were deciding it; we were creating something too precious to lose.
"No matter how things go, no matter what turns things may take, no matter what surprises we meet, the percentages are all in our favor."
By Jim Sullivan's dope we can do the job; all we have to do is to go ahead and do it.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald