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The six minute Louvre.

Any sportsman will tell you that the only three things to see in the Louvre are the "Winged Victory of Samothrace," the "Venus de Milo" and the "Mona Lisa." The rest of the sculpture and paintings are just so much window dressing for the Big Three, and one hates to waste time in the Louvre when there is so much else to see in Paris.

Ever since the Louvre acquired these works of art, amateurs from all over the world have been trying to cut down the time it takes to see them. Before the war the world record was held by three Scandinavians, who had managed to make the course in seven minutes thirty-three seconds. This record stood until 1935, when a britisher, Mergenthaller Waisleywillow, paced by his Welsh wife, did it in seven minutes flat. Waisleywillow in his first attempt made it in six minutes and forty-nine seconds, but was disqualified when he forgot to make a complete circle of the "Venus de Milo."

The record stood until 1938, when a Stockholm man, known as the Swedish Cannonball, introduced sneakers and made it in six minutes and twenty-five seconds.

That record stood during the war years, and it wasn't until 1945 that an attempt was made to beat the Cannonball. This time, because of the travel restrictions in Europe, the Americans had the course to themselves. The first one to take the Blue Riband to America was Tex Houston, from Oklahoma, who shaved two seconds off the record. In 1949 a track star from Miami University (Ohio) made it in six minutes and fourteen seconds. In 1951, the Australians took the title away from the americans with a six-minute-twelve-second Louvre.

By this time everyone was talking about a six-minute Louvre. Scientists said that under perfect conditions, with a smooth floor, excellent lighting and no wind, it could be done. But for four years no one was able to beat the Australian.

Then one Sunday I was tipped off that an American tourist was going to try for the record. His name was Peter Stone, and he had made several previous attempts that had failed. Mr. Stone has been cited in many magazines and newspapers for a famous remark. After studying the "Winged Victory" for an hour, he said, "It will never fly."

He also was once asked to leave the Louvre when he said in a loud voice in front of a group of tourists who were looking at the "Mona Lisa": "I know the fellow who has the original."

Stone had brought his traner along with him. He was wearing special indoor track shoes, and he had emptied his pockets of anything that would weigh him down. In choosing Sunday morning for the test he had banked on several things. One was that no tickets are required to get in and he would not lose precious seconds at the ticket booth.

Another was that the Louvre is pretty empty on Sunday mornings and most of the halls would be clear. In order to comply with all the rules, Stone had to get out of a taxi and tell the driver to wait. Then he had to rush into the museum, make the course and get back in the taxi. The taxi had to be four feet away from the curb before he was officially clocked. Timekeepers from the American Express, Thomas Cook & Son and the French Bureau de Tourisme were on hand.

Stone received last-minute instructions from his trainer.

"Whatever you do, keep away from the 'Rape of the Sabines' or you're a goner."

Stone wiped his track shoes in the box of resin that the Louvre keeps at the door for tourists and then got into the taxi. A gun went off and he jumped out of the taxi and rushed into the museum. The rule of the course is you must walk, you cannot run. Keeping his eyes straight ahead, he whizzed past the Salle Denon. At the foot of the Daru staircase, with just a glance at "Winged Victory," he turned left and rushed down two small flights of stairs past the rotunda straight to the "Venus de Milo." He circled the statue completely and headed back toward the "Winged Victory," shortcutting through the Roman and Greek antiquity rooms. His time was a fantastic one minute and fifty-eight seconds to the "venus."

Stone took the stairs two at a time and stopped for two seconds in front of the "Winged Victory." He had a choice of two routes: the Salle Daru, where Napoleon I was being crowned, of the Salle Sept Metres, where the Italian school was hung. He chose the Salle Daru, paused only for a second at the Napoleon painting and then rushed into the Grande Galarie, where "Mona Lisa" was waiting. In thirty seconds he was at the painting. The rules state that a contestant must make some innocuous tourist remark at the painting.

Stone said, "I don't see what's so great about it," and then wheeled, this time taking the Salle Sept Metres. He rushed down the stairs, not even bothering this time to look at the "Winged Victory," hightailed it through the Salle Denon and was out in the street and in a taxi before you could say Leonardo da Vinci. As the taxi pulled away a gun was set off and Stone's time was recorded at five minutes fifty-six seconds, a new world tourist record. The Blue Riband was brought back to America.

Turning down offers from magazines and travel agencies that wanted to use him for testimonial advertisements, Stone modestly gave much of the credit to his trainer.

"The next record I'm going after is St. Peter's in Rome," he said in an exclusive interview. "And then, who knows--perhaps I'll try the Tower of London. They say you can't do it in less than four minutes. Well, let's just see."

The champ threw his arms around his mother and the photographers started taking pictures.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Buchwald, Art
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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