On saturday night in Boston a fusillade of pistol shots will signal the beginning of the indoor track and field season. There has been a smattering of small indoor meets already this winter in this place or that, but now, in the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus meet on the 160-yard board track of Boston Garden, the big men come together for the first time this year, the crowd draws its breath, the starter fires his gun, and indoor track is off and running in a helter-skelter swirl of colliding bodies, sharp elbows, spills on the turns and all the splinters anybody could ask for. It will continue its mad, if fascinating, pace each weekend from this one until that of March 24, in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and various way stations like East Lansing, Michigan, and Hamilton, Ontario. At its conclusion the keen observer will be able to say with reasonable assurance just which competitors were outstanding in which events, but anyone who thinks he will be able to go further and point out that this man or that is a sure bet for the U.S. Olympic team next November will be dead wrong. For the Olympics are run outdoors and the relation between indoor and outdoor running often is nebulous.
Right now, then, might be as good a time as any to recall with reasonable accuracy a remark made by an ardent devotee of indoor track and field a few years ago to an ardent devotee of outdoor track and field who had been deriding the indoor sport as a carnival.
"What you have to remember," the indoor man said in rebuttal, "is that they're two entirely different sports, even though the same people compete in both. The main difference between them is this: outdoors the fastest runner wins, indoors the best athlete wins."
This was, of course, a didactic, dogmatic remark and completely unacceptable to the outdoor man, who repeated that indoor meets were nothing more than garish and fraudulent imitations of true (meaning outdoor) track and field competition.
Maybe so. But there is a germ of truth in the indoor man's definition. Outdoors on a broad cinder track where 12 men can line up abreast, and where a half-mile race may turn only three curves, the winner of any race almost inevitably will be the fastest runner in that race on that day. Indoors the fastest runner should win, but it is in no wise inevitable. Consider. On a standard banked board track (which measures 11 laps to the mile and 160 yards to the lap) it is not possible to line up more than five or six men abreast at the start. And in a fast start if more than two of these are still abreast at the first turn there is trouble, with runners who ordinarily would be concentrating on racing full speed ahead trying instead to keep from hurtling off the boards. Add the fact that even a half-mile race indoors has 11 such trouble-making turns and one can begin to appreciate that radical delineation of the difference between the two forms of track. The athlete with the greater sense of anticipation, the greater awareness of the relative positions of himself and his opponents to one another and to the beginning or end of a straightaway or a curve, the greater presence of mind in a moment of great physical stress, the greater fire and feel for direct competition, stands a much better chance of surviving the fury of indoor running than the man who lacks these qualities, no matter how fast the latter can run.
HERE COMES HEWSON
That is the big reason, of course, why the forthcoming visit of England's Brian Hewson is anticipated with such relish by track and field buffs.
Hewson is the good-looking young Englishman pictured on this page who last May accomplished a rather remarkable feat. He ran a one-mile Race in less than four minutes (3:59. to be exact) and yet finished third, which was certainly not so serious nor sad a thing as the disappointment Robert Scott experienced when he reached the South Pole only to find that Amundsen had gotten there a month earlier, but which in a way was probably as frustrating.
That was the memorable race in which the Hungarian Laszlo Tabori won in 3:59, with Chris Chataway second, inches ahead of Hewson. Frustrating or not, it clearly demonstrated that Hewson was one of the fastest milers in the world, faster even than our own David Wesley Santee (who has a 4:00.5 to his credit, but whose difficulties with the Amateur Athletic Union over his expense money may yet keep these two superb runners from meeting). But how well he will run indoors against such as Santee is the question that entrances the indoor track bug.
Last year Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark learned the nuances of board running so well that he went home with a new world record for the indoor mile. This, a 4:03.6 performance in the Wanamaker Mile, was the result of a combining of a perfect tactical race and a lightning-like finishing sprint. In other words, the fastest runner also knew how to run. But Nielsen had had four indoor mile races before that one. Hewson has to do what he can do in two: either the Baxter Mile in the New York Athletic Club games on February 11 or the national championship mile in the AAU meet on February 18. Santee (if he runs) will try to regain the prestige he lost against Nielsen last year. Little Fred Dwyer, who scored a smashing tactical triumph over both Santee and Nielsen in the Baxter Mile last year, is nursing a bad leg, but he may fulfill his own promises to himself. He did 4:01.8 last June. Ronald Delany, the Villanova sophomore from Ireland whose finest performances up to now have been at the half-mile and 1,000 yards, may enter the mile lists this year, and if Hewson misfires and Santee doesn't run and Dwyer stays hurt, Ronald, who has run a 4:05.8 mile outdoors, may be the hero of the year. If Bobby Seaman (4:01.4 last June) or Bill Dellinger or Billy Tidwell go east, the mile may have its greatest indoor year ever.
But if there is an "if" in the mile picture, there is none in the indoor middle distances: those races at 500, 600, 880 and 1,000 yards. Two superb young Pennsylvania collegians are the favorites here: Arnie Sowell of Pittsburgh at 880 and 1,000, and Charley Jenkins of Villanova at the 600- and 500-yard distances.
The fact that these two have quite casually been cast as the men to beat is an impressive compliment, because the competition they have to face is probably the strongest in the history of indoor track. Jenkins, for instance, will have to face Lou Jones, who set a world record in the 400-meter run at the Pan-American Games last March, and who is working his way back into top form. Jim Lea, the casual Califor-nian who fought Jones to the tape in that race, may turn up at the eastern meets, and so might J. W. Mashburn, the powerful quarter-miler from Oklahoma A&M. Dick Maiocco, Joe Gaffney and Reggie Pearman, all shrewd and knowing board-track competitors are also in the running for invitations to the big races. It should be noted that such invitations are hard to come by, since meet promoters hate to start more than four men on the narrow indoor tracks in the lightning-fast 500-and 600-yard races.
Sowell's competition in the slightly longer races is equally impressive. It includes powerful Tom Courtney, whose 1:46.8 for 800 meters in Europe last summer was the fastest 800-meters run in 16 years. Ron Delany has beaten both Courtney and Sowell and has proved to be very much at home on the board track. Joe Deady, the stylist who anchored the great Georgetown two-mile relay team back in 1950 and 1951, came out of obscurity last Saturday to set an indoor world record in the three-quarter mile run and serve notice that he, too, would have a good deal to say about the indoor season. Lon Spurrier, the world half-mile record holder, may be able to make the eastern meets and so may Lang Stanley, who came within an ace of beating Mal Whitfield in the Compton Invitational half-mile last spring.
WHEN TO ACCELERATE
And, of course, in all the middle distances there is Whitfield, two-time Olympic 800-meter champion, who three years ago finally solved the puzzle of running indoors ("You should accelerate going into the turns instead of decelerating," he claimed) and with his silky-smooth stride operating perfectly won 13 straight races, among them three in indoor world-record time. He has his eye on an unprecedented third straight Olympic title and has no intention of letting Sowell, Jenkins or anyone else keep him from his goal.
For the rest, look as always to Horace Ashenfelter in the distance races and to Bob Richards in the pole vault, though brawny young Don Bragg, who has cleared 15 feet, is a threat to break all vaulting records if he can ever bring his enormous strength under the control of an efficient style.
Look to the nonpareil Harrison Dillard in the hurdles, despite challenges from such as big Jack Davis, who seems hampered by the short distances (45 to 70 yards) indoors. Dillard will be seeking his ninth indoor AAU title in 10 years, his 10th straight Millrose win and his 11th straight Cleveland K of C victory, a record of consistency without parallel in the precarious field of hurdling, where almost anything can happen to cause defeat: a bad start, a bump from another runner, a false step or one knocked-over hurdle.
THE LITTLE SPRINTS
The indoor dashes are, for the most part, strange, abbreviated things of 45, 50 or 60 yards that seem to end almost as soon as they begin, but the sprinters who enter them are the best in the world. This year's exceptional field includes Olympic Champions Andy Stanfield and Lindy Remigino, Pan-American Champion Rod Richard, AAU Champion John Haines and Olympian Jim Gathers.
High jumping, conversely, does not appear to have any particularly outstanding competitors, unless Ernie Shelton decides to leave California for a tour of the indoor circuit. Shotputter Parry O'Brien will put in an appearance in a few of the meets.
Finally, there are the relays, where Villanova, anchored by Jenkins, should be outstanding in the mile. Syracuse and New York University seem best in the two-mile. It doesn't really matter, though. To the dedicated indoor fan the relays are always exciting, for here is furious, high-speed, man-to-man competition sustained over one or two miles around turn after turn, down straightaway after straightaway. Here is the epitome of indoor running. When the last wild relay is done and the indoor man walks out into the night he glows with pleasure and anticipation of the next meet, and the next meet, and the meet after that.
ARNOLD SOWELL runs "so soft," but is pick in star-packed middle distances.
RON DELANY has face of Irish poet, runs with raw power, is threat to Sowell.
BOB RICHARDS has dominated pole vault for almost decade, is crowd-pleaser.
HARRISON DILLARD, a marvel of consistency, is best indoor hurdler ever.
BRIAN HEWSON, England's 3:59.8 miler, will run in NYAC and AAU meets.
WES SANTEE, storm center of American track, could be man to beat Hewson.
THE MEETS TO SEE
Jan. 14, Massachusetts K of C, Boston. First big meet of season. Run since 1936, except war years. New faces pop up yearly in Prout 600, Cheverus 1,000.
Jan. 20, Inquirer Gaines, Philadelphia. First held in 1945. Run in Convention Hall on sharp-turned 12-lap track. Inquirer Mile is featured event.
Jan. 21, Evening Star Meet, Wash. First held in 1947. Run in huge armory on big (220-yard) casein-coated flat track. Includes women's AAU nationals.
Jan. 28, Boston AA Games, Boston. Sixty-seventh renewal of one of oldest, most respected indoor meets. Famed Hunter Mile, in which Santee set shortlived world record last year, is feature.
Feb. 4, Millrose Games, N.Y. The most famous of all indoor track meets. Run annually since 1908. Wanamaker Mile is single most important race run indoors. Superb relay races.
Feb. 11, NYAC Games, N.Y. The pioneer indoor meet, first held in 1868. Baxter Mile (1910) is oldest of all "cup" miles. Prize entry this year is Four-minute-miler Brian Hewson.
Feb. 18, AAU Championships, N.Y. The national indoor championships and thus a key meet. Also a jumbled one because of huge entry list. Sowell tied world record in AAU 1,000 last year.
Feb. 25, IC4A Championships, N.Y. Eastern intercollegiate championship meet. Over 60 colleges. Villanova (Delany, Jenkins, Bragg) good bet to beat out Manhattan. Sowell will run.
Mar. 3, K of C Meet, N.Y. Last big meet of season in New York and often the best, competitively. Top performers of year are invited. Casey 600 and Bren-nan Mile are prime events.
Mar. 3, Big Ten Meet, East Lansing. Big Ten indoor championships, on 220-yard clay track in Michigan State field house. Events include 300, 440, 600, 880 and 1,000. State (Ed Brabham, Henry Kennedy) may unseat Michigan U.
Mar. 10, Journal Games, Milwaukee. The newest (1951) and by far the best run of all the major meets. The Journal Mile almost always won in crack time.
Mar. 16, Cleveland K of C, Cleveland. Begun in 1941. Greg Rice set world 2-mile record in 1943. In 1945 Sweden's Gunder H√§gg won the mile event.
Mar. 24, Daily News Games, Chicago. Started in 1937. Last big meet of season, has largest crowds (16,000-17,000). Santee won '55 Bankers Mile in 4:04.2.