"Well, in ourcountry," said Alice, "you'd generally gel to somewhere else—if you ranvery fast for a long time as we've been doing."
"A slow sortof country," said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all therunning you can do to keep in the same place; if you want to get somewhere elseyou must run at least twice as fast as that."
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
As far as anyoneknows, not even the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce really believes or hasbothered to claim that Alice found her Wonderland in the middle of the LosAngeles Coliseum. But those astute gentlemen could, for once, be overlooking agood thing. This weekend the vast athletic arena in southern California willtake on all the aspects of a Wonderland when more than 250 of the best trackand field men that the United States—or any other nation—has ever produced willfind their problem strangely similar to that of Alice: to get farther they aregoing to have to run at least twice as fast.
What they arechasing is a plane to Melbourne, Australia, and although it will not leaveuntil November, to be on board as a member of the U.S. track and field team forthe XVI Olympiad they must place among the first three in one of 17 events atthe final U.S. Trials at the Coliseum on Friday and Saturday. Or else they willfind out that running very fast for a very long time—and some have been chasingthat plane for nearly four years—will indeed have got them nowhere at all.
July 1, 1956
In the finalanalysis the Trials are no more than the name implies: a method of finding outwho is deserving to represent this nation at Melbourne. But for those who lovethe sport, this week's program will be far more than that. They believe thatthe Coliseum will be the scene of the greatest track and field meet the worldhas ever seen. Not in the matter of drama and glory perhaps, for there theOlympic Games are supreme. But in the matter of colossal races and stupendoustimes they feel that nothing that has gone before will compare to the 1956 U.S.Olympic Trials. This being Hollywood, not even those particular superlativessound out of place. Perhaps they wouldn't anywhere else either.
The world, forexample, has known eight 15-foot pole vaulters. They are all U.S. citizens andthe six still competing will be at Los Angeles—and three of them will notqualify for the trip to Australia. Again, what nation has three 60-footshotputters? Or, for that matter, what other nation has even one? This seasonalone seven U.S. high hurdlers have done 13.8 or better and three of them haveequaled or been under the Olympic record of 13.7. The best time ever recordedin the event by a foreign athlete is 14 seconds flat. And where else can ourrecord-smashing sprinters and 400-meter men and 26-foot broad jumpers find thecompetition they will get right here in their own backyard?
So, in manyevents, the biggest test of this Olympic year will come not in Australia but inLos Angeles. The attention of some 50,000 fans at the Coliseum and uncountedmillions more watching over a national television hookup will be drawn mostirresistibly to a special group of events.
One is the 400meters. It is here that Lou Jones and Jim Lea and J. W. Mashburn get togetheragain for the first time in over a year to continue a quarter-mile feud thathas been going on, in one form or another, for more than four years. And ifworld 400 meter record holder Jones and world 440-yard record holder Lea andtwo-time NCAA champion Mashburn should stumble, then there are others ready totake over. Like Charley Jenkins, AAU champion in 1955 and runner-up this year.Or Tom Courtney, the wonderful half-miler who switched from his specialty lastweek to beat out Jenkins for this year's AAU title and in the process ran thefourth fastest 400 meters ever turned in around two curves. Or Johnny Haines,the tremendously versatile sprinter from Pennsylvania who is having much moretrouble trying to make up his mind whether to go after the 100 or the 400—orperhaps both—than he is running once he gets on the track.
Then there is the800 meters. It is an event on the fringe of the are where the rest of the worldtakes over nestling between the shorter races so dominated by the United Statesand the distance races in which we frankly have little chance. But we have avery good chance at 800 meters because of Courtney—and because of Arnie Sowell.At the Coliseum, for the first time this year, these two friendly enemies willtangle outdoors, on the one hand the-little wraith from Pittsburgh who holdsthe American 800-meter record, on the other the powerful-striding Army privatefrom Fordham by way of Fort Dix who held the record until Sowell broke it. Andagain, should these two falter, there are others almost as good: Lon Spurrier,holder of the world 880-yard record but never able to beat the other two;amazing old Mai Whitfield, twice an Olympic champion and ready for onemagnificent effort to win a third; and Lang Stanley of San Jose State.
And there are, ofcourse, the dashes. The year 1956, in America, has been a year of greatsprinters: there is Bobby Morrow of Abilene Christian, at 20 an old pro withhis flashing speed and wonderful poise and a young man who in recent weeks hasalmost ended all speculation about the world's best dash-man. Trying to revivethat speculation at 100 meters will be Dave Sime of Duke, who before an injuryin the NCAA 200 meters at Berkeley would have been at least a co-favorite withhis Texas rival to win both races. There is Ira Murchison, the chunky littleArmy star who, like Morrow, has tied the world 100-meter record of 10.2 thisyear. There is also slender little Leamon King of California who, like Sime,has tied the 9.3 record for 100 yards. And to chase Morrow in the 200 are thetwo veterans who ran one-two in the 1952 Olympics and, while Morrow rested onthe sidelines, did almost the same last week at Bakersfield—Andy Stanfield andThane Baker.
There are thosewho say Don Bragg, the Villanova muscle man, is ready to step forth as heirapparent to the pole vault crown. But the old king himself, the Rev. RobertRichards, is a long way from announcing his retirement and would like anotherOlympic championship himself. Both Bragg and Richards may have trouble. Thefield they must face includes four other members of one of sport's mostexclusive clubs, the 15-footers: Occidental's Bob Gutowski, Ron Morris ofSouthern Cal, Jerry Welbourn of the Air Force, and the man who finished secondto Richards at Helsinki in 1952, Don Laz.
And far down thelist the prospects are bright. Who can say what is to happen when HaroldConnolly and Cornell's Al Hall meet again in the hammer, or when Charlie Dumasand Ernie Shelton go after that ever-elusive seven-foot high jump once again,or when colorful old Fortune Gordien seeks to better his own world record inthe discus with one hand while holding off the tremendous challenge of O'Brienand young Ron Drummond with the other; or when broad jumpers like Greg Bell,Ernie Shelby, John Bennett, George Brown and Ross Range get together. Somewheredown in the pit at the Coliseum Friday night a 26-footer is going to miss thatplane.
Last week's AAUmeet at Bakers-field was, so to speak, the final semifinal before this week'sultimate Olympic Trials. And Bakersfield proved important for our hopes.Eighteen months or so ago, when athletes and coaches and officials began tochannel all their thoughts and plans toward the 1956 Olympic Games, there werethose among the bystanders who wondered if perhaps the United States wasn'tjust perhaps, going to encounter some real trouble. A year ago, after the 1955national championships, hardly anyone felt that way any more; the runners andjumpers and hurdlers and weight men all looked too good. But nothing was soconvincing as last week's show in the sun-baked San Joaquin Valley. For onething there was the track, a new crushed-brick and clay running surface whichwas built for records ("the fastest by 1½ seconds for a quarter-mile lapthat I have ever seen," said Jim Lea) and for another there were theathletes. Although a few who had already qualified for the Olympic Trials inthe NCAA and service meets decided to take the week off, most of them showed upto join the already imposing list on hand who had been ineligible for theprevious weekend's competition but now were prepared for their big chance. Enmasse, they set out immediately to uphold the chamber of commerce bulletins(about the track) and the glowing words in the sports pages (aboutthemselves).
In Friday night'sfirst event—the hammer throw—Connolly whirled around the ring like a dervishand sailed the murderous-looking 16-pound ball 205 feet 10½ inches to break hisown AAU record. In the night's third event, the 800 meters, Sowell scamperedinto his usual early lead and then breezed to a 1:49.8 time. This not onlybroke John Woodruff's 19-year-old meet record but went down in the track bugs'books as the fastest 800 meters ever run in a preliminary heat while lookingback over one shoulder.
Then in the firstheat of the 100 meters Morrow got off to a good start and at 30 yards decidedto turn it on. When he turned it off, he was across the finish line in 10.2,breaking not only the meet record but, for the second time in a month equalingthe world record as well. And there were rumors afloat that more unofficialclocks caught him in 10.1 than in 10.2.
The pi√®ce derésistance, however, was provided by Jack Davis, the big San Diego Navy hurdlerout of Southern California, who finally caught and passed the world record hehad been chasing with almost superhuman concentration for six years. He ran13.4 seconds for the 110-meter high hurdles, a 10th of a second faster than thetime of a former Trojan teammate, Dick Attlesey, in 1950.
"I had a goodstart," he said, "and at about the third hurdle I figured I was inpretty good shape. Then along about the fifth or sixth hurdle I decided thiswas it, so I poured it on." That was evident even from 50 rows high up inthe beautiful new Bakersfield Stadium. Davis suddenly seemed to explode and ranoff, from that point, to lead Dillard to the tape by almost seven yards.
It was sweetsatisfaction, therefore, for Lee Calhoun to beat Davis for the first timeoutdoors in the finals an hour and a half later, but because of the recordDavis didn't mind so much. He had already qualified for the Trials in theservice competition a week before and told everyone before his trip toBakersfield that his only purpose was to test the track and set a new worldrecord. He almost made it look easy.
The recordbreaking continued. In the sixth event, king-sized Ken Ban-turn, certainly oneof the most agile giants in captivity, rippled his 6 feet 6 inches across theshotput ring to unleash a throw of 59 feet 1½ inches, thereby toppling not onlyOlympic Champ Parry O'Brien's meet record by 1¾ inches but O'Brien's serenityby a considerably greater margin. For this was O'Brien's first defeat sinceDarrow Hopper of Texas A&M pulled the trick back in the 1952 OlympicTrials. Of course O'Brien had an off night, since seldom does he go below 60feet any more in any meet, but it still wasn't fun. By week's end he waslooking forward quite eagerly to another chance in the Coliseum.
The night's sixthmeet record came in the 400-meter hurdles when Ohio State's Glenn Davisfinished strong to pull away from the Texas freshman, Eddie Southern, over thelast two hurdles to win in a time of 50.9 and leave Defending Champion JoshCulbreath back in fourth place. Saturday they started in all over again. Sowellsoundly beat those who dared to challenge him, including Whitfield andSpurrier, by half a dozen yards in 1:47.6. Horace Ashenfelter, surprise victorover his foreign foes in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at Helsinki, appearedready to go after it again with a front-running time of 9:04.1, some nineseconds better than the record set by Harold Manning way back in 1934. AndCourtney ran down Jenkins with a tremendous stretch drive which took a 10th ofa second off one of the best AAU records in the books, the 45.9 turned in byHerb McKenley in 1948.
There were thesurprises too. Baker and Stanfield proved that Morrow would have no easy timein the 200 meters by running one-two in 20.6 and equaling the American recordaround a turn. And not the least surprise was in the one event on the programwhich served as a final Olympic tryout, the 10,000-meter run. USC's chunkylittle sophomore, Max Truex, once noted for having set the nationalinterscholastic mile record but in recent weeks noted chiefly for his inabilityto even finish a race, came through with a blazing kick to speed away from thefield. The other two to make the plane were Dick Hart, the defending champion,and Gordon McKenzie, veteran of the New York Pioneer Glub. But, as in the 1,500meters (won by another surprise named Jerome Walters in 3:48.4 over Fred Dwyer,America's 4:00.8 miler) and in the 5,000 meters (Hart, 14:47.4), the timeturned in by Truex (30:52.0) was hardly startling by international standards.Asked where they thought Dave Stephens, the Australian six-mile record holder,would have been at the finish of Friday night's race, the visiting Aussie presscorps merely smiled in unison and answered, "Home in bed andasleep."
There were almostas many surprises as new records. In addition to Calhoun and Bantum and Waltersand Truex, Ron Drummond beat both Gordien and O'Brien with his discus throw of180 feet 3 inches and tacked the AAU title to the NCAA championship he won aweek before; Ernie Shelby went almost a foot past his previous best when hebroad-jumped 26 feet 1¼ inches while Greg Bell, the recent NCAA champion aswell as defending AAU titleholder, could salvage only a tie for third.
And, as everyonehad known there would be, there were the tragic moments too. Sime, for one,sitting on the sidelines and watching others run. Lindy Remigino, foranother—the 1952 Olympic 100-meter champion trailed Morrow when the young Texanran his world-record-equaling heat, and then failed altogether to qualify forthe Olympic Trials, although he did slip in later in the 200 meters. And JimGolliday, who didn't make it in either one, in fact didn't even bother to tryfor the 200 meters after running a miserable sixth and last in the first heatof the 100 semifinals; Jim Golliday, one of the finest sprinters of all timewho shares the world record of 9.3 for 100 yards and, because of an injured legmuscle much like the one he has had all year, failed in the same way to qualifyback in 1952. Now he will probably never make it, and his bad luck saddens alltrack fans.
In fact if therewas anything disappointing about the entire show, it centered around the 400and 800 meters—and how can you be disappointed over times like 45.8 and 1:47.6.But everyone was a little unhappy that the world's three ranking 400-meter men,Jones, Lea and Mashburn, decided to pass up their event at Bakersfield becausethey had already qualified in an earlier meet.
But probably theywere concerned only with getting a little rest before heading for the Coliseum.As the queen told Alice, to really get somewhere there, they are going to haveto run at least twice as fast as that.