Thrice lastautumn, while sound boiled up from all the broad decks and crowded galleries ofMelbourne's historic Cricket Ground, a rangy, dark-thatched and extraordinarilyself-possessed young sprinter from Texas fled to victory ahead of the fastestrunners in the world. Twice—in the Olympic 100-and 200-meter races—he wonindividual events and became the first man to thus gain two gold medals for theU.S. since the great Jesse Owens did so in Berlin back in 1936. He ran theanchor lap in the 400-meter relay and made another American triumph (and a newworld record) certain with a final, unchallengeable burst of speed. In thoseexciting moments Bobby Joe Morrow of Abilene Christian College and the Valleyof the Rio Grande earned clear title to the accolade: Sportsman of the Year for1956.
Athletic prowesswas not the sole reason for Bobby Morrow's selection, although it was animportant factor indeed in a year so notable for excellence in sport. Hismultiple victories, gratifying though they may have been to his countrymen,could hardly have qualified him for the honor if they had not also served todramatize the spirit as well as the accomplishments of the Olympic movement.But Bobby Morrow the unusual sprinter is also an unusual young man, and nonesymbolized more eloquently than he the ideals of sportsmanship which theathletes of the U.S. Olympic team took with them to Australia.
They were idealswhich often seemed extraordinarily perishable during the troubled Olympic year1956, but which, by the same token, also seemed extraordinarily precious. Inseeking a successor to England's Roger Bannister (1954) and Brooklyn's coolyoung Pitcher Johnny Podres (1955), it would have been difficult to deny anOlympic athlete who embodied them as did Morrow—and who could run like ascalded cat into the bargain.
For all this,Bobby Morrow was hard pressed by other deserving athletes in 1956, a year ofglittering performances and great moments in many fields of sport. MickeyMantle gave the grand old game of baseball a peculiar kind of excitement whichit had not known since the days of Babe Ruth. The broad-backed, boyish Yankeeoutfielder, now 25, had a wonderful season generally, but it was his prodigalearly-summer production of home runs that stirred the public soul. Mantle endedup with 52, eight short of Ruth's record, but for the first time in decades,fans turned out to marvel at soaring drives made at the expense of their ownteams. Meanwhile, that aging Giant discard, Sal Maglie, was sold to the Dodgersand all but hypnotized National League batters in one of the most heart-warmingcomebacks on the mound in modern times. And in October the Yankees' tall nightowl, Don Larsen, performed the Miracle-in-The-Bronx by pitching the firstperfect game in 34 years and the only no-hitter ever accomplished in a WorldSeries.
Floyd Pattersonbecame heavyweight champion of the world at 21—the youngest in the history ofthe prize ring. Few fighters of such obvious talent were ever so consistentlydowngraded by the so-called experts as was Patterson in the first four years ofhis professional career. The International Boxing Club steadily refused himfights at Madison Square Garden during his climb to the top, and after hisvictory over Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson last June—won the hard way with a brokenright hand—the New York sportswriters tolerantly characterized him as adeserving tyro who could not hit. His savage grace, his weaving, highhandeddefense and the thunderclap punching which stopped Archie Moore and won him thechampionship seemed to burst upon them and upon the television public (whichhad seldom been allowed to see him) as a revelation. But, revelation or not,Patterson was enthusiastically accepted as a worthy successor to RockyMarciano.
Nineteenfifty-six was not only an Olympic year, it was a great one for track and fieldall around the world, and many of its memorable feats took place at Melbournewithin a few hours of Bobby Morrow's own triumphs. Russia's incomparableVladimir Kuts, the only other man to emerge from the main stadium a double goldmedal winner, not only succeeded Czechoslovakia's storied Emil Zàtopek as theworld's greatest distance runner but—by the manner in which he won the5,000-and 10,000-meter races—proved himself, indisputably, the greatestdistance runner of all time. Fordham's big Tom Courtney also made trackhistory; for sheer courage and wild drama nothing in the Games quite touchedhis finish in the 800-meter run—although he was almost unconscious fromexhaustion and quite obviously beaten 30 yards from the tape, he somehowmanaged a second stretch drive, overtook England's Derek Johnson and flunghimself over the line first.
Ireland's (andVillanova University's) young Ron Delany beat the greatest field of milers everassembled in winning the Olympic 1,500 meters. Australia's world record holder,John Landy, failed to gain his heart's desire, a victory for his country in themetric mile. But Landy stamped his name on the year 1956 nevertheless; histhird-place run in the Olympics, made on crippled legs, was a feat of gallantryin itself, and the world of track would not soon forget how he flew 8,000 milesto California last spring and then ran two sub-four-minute miles in eightdays.
Nineteen-year-oldCharles Dumas of Los Angeles high-jumped seven feet plus a half inch at theOlympic trials, the first amateur ever to clear the magic height in competition(professional basketball's Walt Davis having twice jumped seven feet duringexhibitions in 1955). That dedicated old cannoneer, Parry O'Brien, threw the16-pound shot 63 feet 2 inches—extending his own world record by more than 2feet and heightening his pre-eminence among weight men. New Jersey's husky MiltCampbell broke the Olympic decathlon record. At the Winter Olympics in Cortina,Italy, Austria's engaging Toni Sailer performed sensationally as he swerved andplummeted to victory in the downhill, the slalom and the giant slalom.
Handsome FrankGifford, left half back of New York's football Giants, earned the professionalleagués most-valuable-player award with dazzling bursts of ball carrying. NotreDame Quarterback Paul Hornung, playing on the worst Irish eleven since WorldWar I, performed game-day miracles all by himself—and was quite possibly thebest college back of the year.
Endless othersearned the right to admiration and applause: the Hungarian Olympians (see page20) for coursing the world as flag bearers of freedom; gentle, 82-year-oldSunny Jim Fitzsimmons for his final successes with Nashua—and his first with anew potential champion, Bold Ruler; England's Donald Campbell for driving hisjet-powered speedboat Bluebird 280 miles an hour despite choking engine fumesand nightmarish vibration; Althea Gibson, the Negro girl who made good inbig-time tennis, and Australia's Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad for their dominationof all the world's courts; Avery Brundage, despite the hornets' nests hestirred up, for his stubborn insistence on pure amateurism; California'sspecial boxing investigator, James Cox, and New York's boxing commissioner,Julius Helfand, for their effective drives against the crooks and leeches ofpugilism; and many more.
But sportembodies drama as well as simple competition; its pressures can wrench forthinto public view all the multitudinous shapes of the human soul, sometimes inways which transcend the simple rules and simple ends of games and races. Suchwas the case with the Melbourne Olympics, which were successfully held in atime of world unrest and bitterness, and which were witnessed by nearly twomillion people and followed by uncounted millions more. They were the grandsporting event of the year and more. Nobody in Melbourne recited that sorry oldcliché—that international sport is a panacea for the world's ills. But to saythat the Games were not heartening evidence of man's capacity for decency, orthat they stirred no faintest freshening of faith in the brave if faulty dreamsof humanity, would be cynicism indeed. It does not seem overdramatic to suggestthat Bobby Morrow, as Beau Ideal of the U.S. Olympic team, was something alittle larger than a fine sprinter in 1956.
He was, and is,of course, an uncommonly fine one; if he is not, clearly, the "world'sfastest human," as he was billed on his triumphal return to Texas, he wascertainly the fastest human practicing in November and, on the basis ofperformance, the most successful sprinter in the world in 1956. A great manypeople in the U.S. still feel that Duke University's Dave Sime, the big redheadwho deserted baseball to burn up the indoor tracks last winter—and who amazedthe world with a 20-flat 220 outdoors last spring—would have led the dash menin Melbourne if he had not pulled a muscle in the Olympic trials. The evidencefor such belief is inconclusive. Sime beat Morrow in the 100-yard dash at theDrake Relays; Morrow beat Sime in the NCAA 100-meter finals at Berkeley. Eachrace was won by one step at the start. And it is a hard fact that sprinters,like Thoroughbreds, must be sound or they are useless; in a field of sport inwhich leg injury seems almost a by-product of speed, Morrow has beenfantastically immune to damage.
He is unusual ina good many other ways—the sort of Texan which most of the U.S., the sort ofAmerican which most of the world has had too little opportunity to know. TheMorrows of San Benito, Texas are a prosperous, unostentatious and deeplyreligious rural clan. Bobby's father, Bob Floyd Morrow, a big, white-haired andtheatrically handsome man, is an elder in the Church of Christ—an evangelisticfaith, widespread in the South, which is exactingly dedicated to the preceptsof the New Testament. To Cotton Farmer Bob Morrow, his four farming brothersand their families, religion is as integral a part of life as breathing. Theyare tough people; that God-fearing soldier, Stonewall Jackson, would haverecognized them instantly, for his divisions were stiffened with thousands likethem—hardy farmers and back-countrymen with a stubborn and uncomplicatedconviction of "strength in the Lord."
Sprinter Bobby isa good-looking fellow with a flashing grin, a sense of humor and an innatesense of poise; his travel have taken him to great many many big cities, and hehas become an after-dinner speaker of some competence and has stood before thetelevision cameras with Ed Sullivan without turning a hair. He is an importantadjunct of Abilene Christian College, a cluster of severe, tan brick buildingsoverlooking the treeless, dusty west central Texas prairies. Abilene Christian,founded to educate young men and women of the Church of Christ, is a small(2,000 students) liberal arts school now, but its trustees and officers hope tobuild it into a big university, and in Bobby Morrow they have been granted atremendous source of publicity. But if Bobby's gift of speed has made himfamous it has not changed his nature.
Life at AbileneChristian is considerably different from that at the average coeducationalcollege. Students do not smoke on the campus; few of them, in fact, smoke atall. They shun liquor and do not dance. The school has a big brass band, butthere is no musical accompaniment to the hymns which students sing in chapelevery morning—members of the Church of Christ feel that the Bible does notsanction the use of instruments with religious music. Its students are afun-loving lot, nevertheless, and if the school finds expression in the Bibleit also finds expression in going forth to conquer in athletics.
Bobby Morrow fitsinto this atmosphere perfectly. His religious feelings seldom show on thesurface—in fact he is a practical joker of the flour-in-the-dormitory-bed andpotato-in-the-exhaust-pipe schools—but he leads prayer at times in chapel,seriously studies the Bible and never misses attending services on Sundaymornings and Wednesday evenings. He is not a self-effacing young man, but he isa humble one in many ways. The excitement of the big-time running has notdimmed his enthusiasm for ACC's kind of big evening: the "ice creamparty." Like most of the school's married couples, Bobby and his prettywife Jo Ann keep an old-fashioned freezer in the kitchen of their off-campusapartment; when they ask friends to drop in they crank up a quart of ice creammuch as more worldly young couples break out Scotch and ice cubes.
If Morrow hadbeen left to his own devices, however, he would probably not have gone tocollege at all. The Rio Grande Valley, in which he was raised, is a rich, flatcountry, splashed with the crimson of bougainvillea and with tall palmsmarching on its distant horizons. Bobby's father farms 600 acres of dark,irrigated land (cotton in summer, vast areas of carrots in the winter), and hisolder brother and uncles farm thousands of acres more. The Morrows practice ahighly remunerative kind of mechanized agriculture, although they live simplyenough in a plain, white clapboard farmhouse, and Bobby learned farming as hegrew. He drove tractors at 12, got the hang of welding, repairing heavyequipment, seeding, "busting" cotton roots with a plow, and irrigatingbefore he was much older.
He loves the hotborder country. He is a pistol marksman, a crack shot with both rifle andshotgun, hunts deer and the ferocious javelina in the rough country near Uvaldeand fishes the bays of the Gulf of Mexico with a light casting rod. As he wasgrowing, his father gave him land—he now owns 40 acres which produce a bale of$200 cotton and $100 worth of carrots to the acre (and to which he hurriedlyreturns during every vacation). As a high school senior he knew exactly what hewanted to do with his life: he wanted to marry slim, dark-haired Jo AnnStrickland, his childhood sweetheart, and live on the soil and in the hills andon the water.
In the end,however, the lure of the Olympics was too strong to resist. He ran 100 yards in9.6 seconds three times during his last year in high school and got his timefor the 220 down to 21.1. Every college in the Southwest Conference and a goodmany big schools from other states paid him court. He suspects, however, thatif his high school football coach, Jim Barnes (now the principal at SanBenito), had not talked to him, glowingly, about his chances of representingthe U.S. at the Melbourne Games, his athletic career would have ended then andthere. He was married the summer after graduation and was undecided about thefuture until late August. Finally, however, he and his young wife drove toAbilene, registered at ACC, rented an apartment and set about going to collegetogether.
The next spring,the name Bobby Morrow burst into sport pages all around the world; as a19-year-old freshman, he ran 100 yards in 9.1 seconds, a fantastic feat eventhough he was aided by a seven-mile wind which nullified it as a record. Butthe road to Melbourne was a difficult one, for all that. Nobody has quite theinsight into Morrow's trials as has ACC's coach, Oliver Jackson, a lean, ruddy,cheerful man with a rare grasp of the subtleties involved in bringing runnersto their peak.
"Bobby,"he says, "is a born sprinter. All you had to do was take one look at himeven as a junior in high school, and you couldn't miss it. He's big—he stands 6feet 1 and he weighs 175 when he's right. He has long legs. Unlike most menbuilt that way, he's got terrific power in his thighs and he's got leg speed aswell as big stride. He runs right—he leans a little and pushes the ground backrather than reaching out and putting extra strain on his legs. I'm certainthat's one reason he doesn't get hurt. He's tough, too, though—a strong man. Hedidn't get hurt playing football. Last year some of our big football playerswere lifting a bar bell in the locker room, and Bobby walked over and liftedmore than they could. He's a great competitor; he hates to lose.
"But he stillhad to learn. He didn't know how to start. In high school he didn't driveout—he'd just sort of stand up and start running. He didn't relax enough. Hisarms were wrong; he carried his elbows out wide and tightened up at the end ofhard races. But Bobby has a great faculty—tell him something once, and he getsit."
As Bobby recallsit, his time of transition was not quite that simple. Relaxation in a sprint isa curious act of self-communion—a man must run his hardest, but must hold backthe natural tensions of combat. Bobby learned to run with his lips slightlyparted—if the lips are parted, the jaws are not likely to be clenched, nor thearms and shoulders strained. He learned to keep his hands loose, to checkhimself 40 yards out, to see if he could feel the flesh below his cheekbonesmoving slightly to the rhythm of his running—if so, he could count on beingrelaxed. And to augment his natural strength and stamina, in training he ran a220, walked one, ran one, walked one—beginning at a 24-second pace and endingup, after four or five, by attempting to do 21 seconds. He learned to ease offin the middle of a furlong without really losing speed and then to drive forthe tape.
By his sophomoreyear he was—in the opinion of Clyde Littlefield, the University of Texascoach—the "most consistent sprinter I have ever seen." It was a goaltoward which he had been laboring hard. The hundred can be lost by anysplit-second mistake and, like every other U.S. sprinter, Morrow couldpractically feel the fresh, dazzlingly talented youngsters developing allaround him. Duke's Dave Sime was the prime example. "Bobby gets nervouslike everybody else," says his close friend, the ACC hurdler Ken Fannon,"but the day he raced Dave Sime at the Drake Relays was the only time I'veever seen him show it. He couldn't hold still. I've never seen him lose histemper either, but after Sime got the jump on him and won that hundred—well, hewas certainly determined. 'I can beat him,' he kept saying. 'I can beat him.'"
In the weeks thatfollowed, Morrow worked, hour after hour, on starts. "A start shouldn't bea tense thing," says Coach Jackson. "It should have quickness—like agood welterweight throwing a punch." Morrow was already a good starter, butnow he toiled to make everything involved in the first split second of therace—the angle of his back on the blocks, the exact motion of his left arm—soautomatic that he would not go wrong under the severest pressure. He did notconsider outguessing the starter. He felt, for one thing, that the practice wasun-Christian. He also felt he would be much safer, in the long run, to simplylet the sound of the gun trip him into action.
He was vastlyreassured by his double victory in the Olympic trials, went back to San Benito,worked hard on his farm for a month and a half, and then, in August, begantraining again on the high school's dirt track. He felt sick. He grew sickerevery day, but stubbornly kept on running, although his legs felt like rubber.After two weeks he drove to Abilene. "He had some kind of virusinfection," says Coach Jackson. "He had lost 20 pounds and he couldn'teat. I took him to a doctor, and after that he began feeling better but youjust couldn't work him."
In California,during training meets with the Olympic team, he lost—and lost—and lost.Australia seemed "like Alaska. It rained every day. It was cold. I wasafraid to work and afraid not to. My weight was coming back, but I'd go out andtry short bursts with Milt Campbell [New Jersey's big Negro decathlon winner]and he'd pull away every time. I got shin splints [a painful distortion oftendons which hold calf muscles to the shin bone] and it hurt to run."
For all theexcitement they stirred in spectators, the Olympics meant weeks of boredom andtension to the athletes. "Sit in your room," says Bobby. "Eat. Goout and work. Come back. Eat. Sleep. That was about it. You really couldn't goanywhere or do anything." He was so discouraged at Bendigo—where the U.S.team competed shortly before the Games—that he refused to enter the hundred."I just couldn't stand getting beaten again." But he did run the 200meters and found, to his vast relief, that his painful and difficult traininggrind in Australia had paid off. He felt competent again. After the qualifyingheats of the Olympic 100 meters—during which he twice equaled the Games recordof 10.3—he felt certain of winning. "He was a wonderful sight in thefinal," says Jackson, who was on hand to watch his pupil. "Bobby justseems to rise a little, out about 40 yards, and sort of float." But Bobbywas mortally afraid that Andy Stanfield, winner of the 200 meters at Helsinki,might beat him in the longer race.
He lay on amattress beneath the stands before the 200-meter final, wet with cold sweat andqueasy with nervousness. He had to push through spectators as he walked in froma warmup track to compete; it seemed an imposition too great to bear."Sometimes," he says, "you feel as though you want to run out ofthe stadium and never come back." But the field, staggered for the start,ran immediately into the turn and, says Bobby, "I love to run on a turn. Ihad Stanfield just ahead of me and I watched him and gave it everything I had,and when we got into the stretch I knew I could do it." He did, and brokeJesse Owens' Olympic record by a tenth of a second with a 20.6 race. Afterthat, his winning 100-meter relay lap seemed to follow almost as a matter ofcourse.
Morrow was hardlyback in Texas, where he was welcomed with bands, cheers, speeches, parades anda big barbecue on the football field at San Benito, before he was looking aheadto more running; he expects to compete for two more years in college, for twoyears in the service, and then hopes to represent the U.S. once more at theRome Olympics. He has high hopes of running even faster, of bringing himself tonew peaks of physical efficiency until he is 25, and he obviously dreams of thenine-second hundred.
In talking thusof the future, Bobby Morrow was explaining a good deal about his immediatepast, about many of his colleagues in amateur sport, and about the impact ofthe Olympic Games upon the world. He ran for but 41 seconds in winning histhree gold medals, but to prepare himself he had hoped, and planned, and toiledfor years. The amateur's only reward—and his gift to the world—is simply theknowledge of excellence. Bobby Morrow is one of the rare ones who achieved—andgave—a little more: a distillation of excellence, in his case as pure and headyan essence as the Olympic Games have ever known.
1954 Sportsman of the Year
1955 Sportsman of the Year
1956 Sportsman of the Year
MOST DRAMATIC SINGLE PERFORMANCE
No one had ever pitched a no-hit game in World Seriescompetition before. No one had pitched a perfect game in the major leaguessince 1922. And no one was noticing Don Larsen of the New York Yankees in thefirst place, since his opponent in this fifth game of the 1956 Series, theheroic Sal Maglie of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was pitching brilliantly. But afterMaglie's dreams of glory were ruined by a sudden home run in the fourth inning,attention swung with mounting intensity to Larsen as he methodicallyoverpowered batter after batter, inning after inning. Into the ninth hepitched, with the world watching. Maglie said: "I know how he felt, and Ifelt sorry for him." But Donald James Larsen mopped his brow, threw theball without winding up, got the last three outs and wrote The Perfect WorldSeries Game into sports history.
FINEST PERFORMANCE BY A VETERAN
Four weeks after the baseball season opened, SalMaglie, 39, turned in his suit to the Cleveland Indians, who had found littlefor him to do, and headed back to the old National League—and the BrooklynDodgers. He took with him an old glove, a head full of pitching craft, amerciless curve and a glinting determination to become a winner again. Beforethe season was over he had won 13 games for the Dodgers and assured them of thechampionship of the National League. On Sept. 25 in Ebbets Field he culminatedhis comeback from baseball obscurity by pitching a no-hit game againstPhiladelphia, first of his long career. As the last out settled in FirstBaseman Gil Hodges' glove, the allegedly unemotional Sal the Barber cried tohimself: "I got it! I got it! My God, I got it!" He all but madeBrooklyn forget his years as a hated Giant.
SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR
Pat Keller McCormick was in fourth place when thefinal night's competition in the platform dive began at Melbourne's Olympicswimming pool. Her last dive was a running forward one-and-a-half somersaultwith a twist. She performed the exacting movements in flawless fashion andentered the water cleanly. As she surfaced, the judges' cards flashed: 18.17points—Pat had clinched her second gold medal of the 1956 Games. Moreover, shehad given the finest woman divers in the world a go at her 1952 Helsinki titlesand dived them off for an unprecedented double sweep. At 26, Pat McCormick,wife of an airlines pilot, Glenn (who is also her diving coach), and the motherof an infant son, Timothy, is now ready to end her Olympic career, settle downin California: "I will be quite happy to give up all that glitteringhardware for five babies."
HARD LUCK CASE OF THE YEAR
In 1956 Joe Louis was worse off than a man on atreadmill. The penalties and interest on his unpaid income tax for 1946-51swelled the debt to well over a million dollars. In a desperate attempt to getlucky he became a clumsy attraction on the clowning pro wrestling circuit."It ain't stealing," Joe said defensively, while Internal Revenue menwaited outside his dressing room for his meager take. Then he discovered he hada cardiac contusion and could wrestle no more. When others tried to raise moneyfor him, he sent their contributions to charity. "This is my debt," Joesays, "and I'm the one who should pay it." In 1956 Joe Louis, a manwith a history of fast planes and gleaming limousines, took the subway for thefirst time in his life. He let two crowded trains go by before he realized thathe had to get in there and shove with the rest of them.
In these sequence pictures (scan from bottom to top) only one runner, Bobby Morrow, has launched himself perfectly—straight, low, fast and unwobbling—in a semi-final Olympic heat at 100 meters. From left to right: Hector Hogan of Australia, M. L. Rae of New Zealand, Morrow, Marian Foik of Poland, Thane Baker of the U.S., Boris Tokaryev of Russia. Morrow won in 10.3, equaling the Olympic record; then came Baker (10.4) and Hogan(10.5).