Even though many of the finest U.S. athletes are not at the World University Games, the Soviet Union's dominance is staggering.
Swimming, gymnastics and track and field have been little more than showcases for Soviet talent. America's last big chance for glory was in men's basketball and that ended tonight with an 85-77 upset by Canada. The U.S.S.R. basketball teams are not here.
Equally staggering is what a Canadian psychologist calls a Soviet "emotional revolution." The U.S.S.R. athletes are smiling and even leading cheers.
After 73 events, the Soviet Union had won 44 gold medals, 82 overall. The United States had won three gold, 32 overall. Canada has four gold, 25 overall.
James Puffer, physician in charge of training for the United States, observed simply, "The Soviet Union has brought their very best teams here while the U.S. has brought very average teams."
A closer look at the results support that statement. In swimming, usually dominated by the United States, the Soviet Union won 22 gold medals, the United States one.
"I know some of our best swimmers stayed at home, but it still bothers me," said Bruce Hayes, the only American gold medalist in swimming. "I don't think it's good going into the 1984 Olympics that the Soviets won 22 gold medals to our one."
In gymnastics, the Soviets won 11 gold and four silver medals to one U.S. silver, and one Canadian gold and one silver. After two days of finals in track and field, the Soviets had won six golds to one for the United States.
The reasons given for the Soviet Union's overwhelming dominance here include increasingly intense training, a more serious attitude toward these games, an adoption of North American techniques and the changes in emotion.
"Whatever the reason is, it's good for us," Sergey Smiryagin, a Soviet swimmer, said this morning.
Smiryagin was asked about the most popular theory: that Soviets took these games more seriously than Americans, many of whom regard them as an afterthought to the upcoming U.S. Nationals and Pan Am Games.
"We are treating this as a very important part of our preparation for the 1984 Olympics," Smiryagin said. "It's our first major competition of the year and we're taking it very seriously."
Hayes, from UCLA, agreed. "This just isn't as important to the United States," he said. "At least this year, the Soviets peaked for this event. A lot of our big names stayed home to train for the nationals (Aug. 3-6) or the Pan Ams."
But Hayes also acknowledged that Vladimir Salnikov, who won two individual gold medals, and Irina Laricheva, who won four, are as good as anyone in the world in their events. That has nothing to do with the Americans staying at home.
Smiryagin said the Soviet teams, especially his own, have greatly increased the intensity of their training. "For example, in the last year we've had more weight training," he said, through an interpreter.
And that weight lifting program is just one of the training improvements the Russians have recently adopted from the Americans, then refined. "In an interview the other day," Hayes said, "Salnikov said he was on a trip to the U.S. and noticed how we trained with weights. They hadn't even bothered with them before. But since we were dominating in swimming, they decided to try them. I don't know if they've perfected some of our methods, but they've taken our ideas and used them to close gaps."
Marybeth Linzmeier of Stanford, who won two silver medals here in swimming, has also been aware of the Soviet eye. "One year," she said, "their coaches came over and observed us. We had a bottle of Pepto-Bismol around, and they thought it was lotion. The next day, we looked up and their swimmers were using Pepto-Bismol. They've just been very observant lately, taking advantage of what they've learned from other countries."
Puffer supports the theory that the Russians have learned through observation, but maintains all they learned was how to work harder. "Five or six years ago, we had such tremendous success in swimming, the Soviet Union sent people to Mission Viejo (Calif.) to study us. And they learned there was no secret or medical manipulation. We just put in the hours."
Now, Puffer says, the Soviets put in more hours than anybody else, especially for the World University Games. "Our swimmers swim about 20,000 meters a day, maybe 25,000," Puffer said. "I think the Soviets are up to 30,000 meters a day.
"In track, it's the same thing. They train harder and have better technique."
Of all the theories proposed, perhaps the most interesting is that of Cal Botterill, the sports psychologist who is working here with Canada's basketball teams. He says the Soviets are experimenting with emotional expression and its relationship to performance.
People laughed at Botterill's notion at first. But by the middle of this week, it was obvious to anyone that the Russians, at least here, have abandoned their usual drab demeanor in competition. Some of the American and Canadian athletes were shocked when the Soviets chanted a high school-type cheer at the swimming competition.
"They now realize that emotion, as much as poise and composure, is a part of winning in athletics," said Botterill. "Emotion is essential for momentum and inner enthusiasm."
"Emotion," said Smiryagin with a smile, "that's something the Americans have too much of."
The Americans say Soviet dominance here isn't reflective of what will happen at the 1984 Olympics, when the best of both nation's meet. "If we're the B team and they barely beat us in a lot of events, then the Soviets have their work cut out for them when the A team marches in," said simmer Chris Silva of UCLA.
Still, Silva was impressed by the Soviet performances and emotion. "But when you're winning almost every event," he said, "it's impossible for even the Soviets not to cheer."