International Meet Means Good Will Through Sports

By Frank Anthony

The Centre Daily

Jan. 26, 1970    They say love is the universal language.  Saturday night it was more like a sport called gymnastics.  Because, to 7,385 people jammed in Rec Hall no word, no activity, could have struck a more impressive or symbolic chord of harmony and peace than the international gymnastics competition between the Penn State Nittany Lions and a team from Bulgaria.

For the past three weeks it had been billed as another major step in international good will through sports, and that's exactly what it was.

But for the real show stopper, it was the pretty pony-tailed girls of the Bulgarian women's Gymnastique Moderne team who brought down the house with their fascinating routines of enrhythmics, rhythmic gymnastics and interpretive dance.

They couldn't speak English and few if any in the crowd understood Bulgarian, but they communicated to each other in a language everybody knows and understands -- excellence of performance and thunderous applause.

Twice pretty Violetta Elenska was called back to the floor for bows and encores after her sensational rope jump exhibition.  And world champion Maria Gigova completely hypnotized the audience with her unbelievable hoop routine to the music of "Havah Nagila."

Where the girls left off, the men picked up, providing a pulsating match of strength and stamina which Penn State finally won 168.1 to 167.25.

But this was more than just a gymnastics meet.  It was what people at Penn State have come to know best as an "extravaganza" -- a Gene Wettstone extravaganza -- replete with concert band, gala flags, colorful flowers and exciting exhibitions.

Wettstone is the Penn State gymnastics coach and ever since 1954 has been arranging international competitions for the United States and Penn State.

Even Penn State's 1969 Orange Bowl football team got in this act as quarterback Chuck Buckhart presented the top three individual finishers in the meet with authentic Pennsylvania brass kettles filled with oranges, emblematic of the Nittany Lions  10-3 victory over Missouri New Year's night.

Then as the final touch to an already spectacular evening, each of the girls on the Gymnastique Moderns team was presented with a special corsage and a big hug and kiss from the Penn State gym team.

Arranged by Wettstone and Ernest B. McCoy, Penn State's dean of health, physical education and recreation, the trip by the Bulgarians began in America Friday as the group arrived at Penn State on the first leg of a five-stop tour that will also include South Illinois University, Chicago, Clarion State College  and Temple University.

As part of their visit they were given a grand tour of the campus and one of the things that reportedly intrigued them most were the jukeboxes in the student union building.

"They were completely fascinated by the jukeboxes,"  said one of the tour guides.  "Every time someone pushed one of the buttons, their eyes were glued to the glass at the tops watching the records change."

But perhaps it w as pretty blonde Vera Marinova who summed it all up best.

"I guess students are the same all over the world," she said through an interpreter, fixing the pink ribbon which held her swaying pony tail in place.  "The people have been so nice here.  Even the cold weather is just like home.  It's been very interesting to see the different educational differences in the systems here and in our country."

Vera is hoping to receive her law degree this July.

"This truly was another milestone in the continuing efforts to achieve peace through sports," thought most of the crowd, echoing the theme of the meet, as they filed from Recreation Hall four hours after the grand parade of nations started it all off.

"It truly was that."

This page was created on October 30, 2006.
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