The following is a wrestling anecdote from my book:
"Each winter the U.S. sent a team to Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia, for a tournament followed by three dual meets. In exchange, the USSR National Team traveled to the United States each spring for the World Cup and a series of three dual meets here. On several occasions in the Soviet Union there were hints of restrictions. One such incident that comes to mind occurred during my second trip as a competitor.
Most of our U.S. teams had at least one wrestler who was a member of Athletes in Actionâ€™s (AIA) team. The AIA is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. They utilize the platform of sport to extend Christâ€™s message to the world. And what more fertile audience than an atheistic state whose propaganda discouraged any religious worship? More importantly, because the U.S. wrestlers were guests of the Soviet sports minister, the team was subjected to far less scrutiny than in the normally intrusive customs process. The AIA athletes knew this, of course, and used the opportunity to smuggle in a few cases of Bibles translated into Russian. On this particular trip John Peterson, an Olympic champion and AIA member, was part of our team at eighty-two kilograms while I was in the seventy-four-kilogram weight class.
Following a night in Moscow, the team flew to Tbilisi on Aeroflot. The next day, after our morning practice, we returned to our hotel. Shortly afterwards two KGB agentsâ€”a euphemism for thugsâ€”grabbed my arms and guided me to a private room. The setting was surreal. Like a scene in a spy novel, the lights glared in my face as they began to interrogate me. Meanwhile, on the desk behind them was a small black-and-white TV showing Midnight Cowboy with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, dubbed into Russian.
It might sound more captivating if I could say that the sweat poured down my forehead and my heart raced as my emotionless interrogators glared at me. But in reality it took all of my restraint not to laugh. As the agents questioned me regarding the dispensing of Bibles, I realized they had mistaken me for John Peterson. Irritated but not afraid, I did not try to reason with the interrogators. Instead, without divulging who may have passed out the Bibles, I told them, â€œCheck my room. I assure you, you wonâ€™t find any Bibles.â€ As I suspected they might, they soon released me, warning, â€œYou will remain under scrutiny.â€ No kidding!
That they would risk the negative international press by detaining a member of a visiting sports team, was highly improbable. So, no one was allowed into my room for the remainder of my stay in the USSR. As if I would be naive enough to trade anything in my room. We were, of course, aware that our rooms were most likely bugged.
When we arrived, the first item of business was to keep Big Brother busy. It was common practice to designate someone on the team to mention to his roommate that the radio, a lamp, or, if there were one, the TV was not working. Of course we would not report it to any of the hotel employees, including the security women parked at the elevator twenty-four/seven. If a repairman responded unannounced to fix the supposedly broken item, we knew our rooms were bugged. This game was something to amuse us over
This night at dinner the team had plenty of amusement. Our team leader, who had no prior experience traveling within the Soviet Union and was unaware that a few team members had smuggled in a few boxes of Bibles, was still in a state of shock. I think he may have feared the Russians would banish me to a Siberian prison camp on his watch. Of course, I could not let the opportunity pass. First thing at dinner that evening, in comments meant to be overheard by our team leader, I reminded John Peterson that he owed me since â€œone more cigarette burn and I was giving you up.â€ At that moment, we all laughed, even the team leader."