Security at the Moscow Games is stifling, the most elaborate of any Olympics, designed to detect the most minute hint of danger. But a chocolate chip cookie?
That was part of my Soviet survival sack, tucked inside a jacket on arrival the other morning at the press center checkpoint. During those stops, which also happen at the hotel and Olympic Village, bags are searched and everyone must pass through a door like device present at almost every airport in the world.
Out of force of habit, I emptied all change and keys into a nearby container and walked through the door. It beeped. I went around behind, removed my watch and walked through again. Another beep. Next trip I removed a comb, passport and plane tickets. Still another tilt.
It began to seem like strip poker, with several hard-faced guards, dressed in sort of mass-produced light blue suits Robert Hall surely sent here before ceasing operations, starting to take serious notice. What could be next? Fillings? Underwear?
My hand felt the cookie. Why not? It went into the a container, by now overflowing with criminal tools, and I walked through the door once more. Silence. In a flash, I grabbed the evidence and swallowed it.
As if boxers were incapable of protecting themselves, the row of spectator seats nearest the ring today was taken by police. In each of the 105 seats on three sides of the ring an emotionless officer in an olive-green uniform sat at attention.
Each officer had his cap facing forward in his lap. Each would not have changed expression if the Soviet Rodnay Dangerfield had done 30 seconds on each side of the ring -- or faced any direction but straight ahead if Candice Bergen had happened by.
When the Soviet favorite, Viktor Demianenko, entered the ring the crowd stood and cheered. The sour olives stayed stuck to their chairs. When the referee stopped the fight early in the second round to make certain the poor opponent from Sierra Leone could leave the ring in one piece, they did not join in the merriment.
It was the most chilling view of sport since Montreal in '76 when the guards carried rifles inside the Olympic Village and as they escorted athletes to their competitions. Few guns are visible here, though the lasting impression lingers that a dozen men with foul tempers are poised to pounce on anyone flashing more than a chocolate chip.
Some other observations, odd and unsettling to a stranger from the States:
There are few places here where a left turn is allowed. Frequently, a motorist must drive as far as an extra half-mile to obey the law and reach his destination . . . The streets are exceptionally wide and park areas abundant, but there are few places to sit. It once took us 10 minutes and nearly a quarter-mile walk to find a civil spot to conduct an interview . . . The English translation of messages over the loudspeaker in the press center begins, "Ladies and gentlemen. Comrades,"
The Hotel Rossiya is the largest in the world. Two Kennedy Centers would fit nicely inside. But the eastern and western entrances are almost exactly alike. A guide and driver waited for me at one entrance and I for them at the other for almost two hours once, none of us brave enough to venture to the other side of the hotel . . . Jaywalking is a major sin. There are underground passageways at many intersections for pedestrians to get from one side of the street to the other.
Soviet officials ask themselves reasonable questions and then offer implausible answers. "Moscow made two bids for the right to host the Olympic Games," a subsection of a pamphlet begins. "Why was it so eager to have them?"
"Because, the government news agency Novosti replies, "In a letter addressed to the International Olympic Committee by a group of leading Moscow athletes . . . (the athletes) wrote: "We are sure you will appreciate how we Olympic veterans feel. You will understand the part played in our lives by sport, which has given each of us so many happy moments. You will understand our excitement every time a new Olympic site is selected, because the Olympic Games are an unforgettable festival of friendship among peoples and of the beauty and health of man, a triumph of ideas of peace. aAll this accords with the aspirations of the Soviet people.'"
At his daily press conference today, the first deputy chairman of the Moscow Organizing Committee, Vladimir Popov, was asked if he was offended by members of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee leaving town before the opening ceremonies Saturday.
"Personally," he said "no."
Attendance was mandatory at the performance of the first Afghan athlete. And the applause for lightweight Rabani Ghulam was second only to that for the Soviets in warmth when he entered the ring. He seemed fit enough, especially thick through the chest, though he was plummeled by a North Korean, Jo Ung Jong.
The referee stopped the bout with 47 seconds left in the second round, after Ghulam suffered his third standing eight count. The round lasted 133 seconds -- and Ghulam was judged sensesless during 24 of them.