He ran with a silky smooth stride. He grooved around curves with grace. And he won the 200 meter finals at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome….wearing sunglasses.
Livio Berruti, who hails from Torino, Italy, was the most celebrated of the celebrity in Rome at that time, the essence of cool that hot Italian summer.
American Ken Norton was favored to win the 200 meters, but he faded quickly as Berrutti raced to a world record time of 20.5 seconds to win gold. David Maraniss described in his book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, how Berruti felt as he emerged victorious. “He approached the finish line knowing that he still held the lead, and threw himself at it, sprawling on the dark red track, overcome ‘with that kind of liberation you feel when you’ve faced a difficult test and managed to pass it.'”
Amidst continuous cheers of “Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti!”, his fate as an Italian sports legend was sealed.
As for the shades, Maraniss explains that Berrutti was shortsighted, to the point that he could not see other runners or the finish line without them. So he wore prescription glasses that tinted in the sunlight, wearing the same pair whether competing or sitting at home.
In Tokyo, Berrutti finished fourth in the 200 meter race. And immediately went up to the Olympic champion, Henry Carr, and congratulated him a race run well.
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was at the height of his influence and powers in 1960. At the kickoff of the Olympic Summer Games in Rome, he released a letter to all Olympians that grew feelings of good will towards the Soviet Union.
As David Maraniss wrote in his brilliant book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, “Khrushchev’s message was meant not just for the Soviets but for all athletes gathered in Rome, even if it was boilerplate Soviet rhetoric… ‘The Olympic Games were worthy because they improved brotherly contact among sportsmen of different countries,’ he noted, concluding: ‘I wish all sportsmen taking part the best success in sports as well as in work, studies, and their private lives.’”
Maraniss emphasized that “American diplomats had been frustrated for days by the seeming propaganda coup the Soviets gained when newspapers around the world reported on the message of peace and friendship that Premier Khrushchev sent to the Olympians in Rome.”
Khruschev, in the summer of 1960, was heading to New York City to address the United Nations, and he was at the top of his game.
But four years later, at the end of the first week of the Tokyo Summer Games, the world learned that one of the most powerful men in the world was deposed. As Ron Barak, US gymnast at the 1964 Games related to me, it was all a bit of a mystery.
“The day in the Village began like any other day during that two-week period. Then people began noticing the Soviets were gone. No one had witnessed their departure and until they returned late in the day, no one knew what was behind it. But there