By midseason it is the habit of reigning champions of indoor track to settle in their proper niches and fend off the challengers. This year Ron Delany again owns the mile, and Arnie Sowell the half mile and 1,000 yards. Charlie Jenkins hopes he is the man to beat at 600 yards, and shrewd Horace Ashenfelter for the sixth straight year has the worrisome job of beating off upstart two-milers. In the past five weeks, while these constant men have been restaking their claims, the new Hungarian-American, Laszlo Tabori, has been a rather bewildered, dispassionate and mildly happy wanderer, still searching in his new homeland for a racing distance he could call his own.
For his first board test, Tabori picked the two-mile, a comfortable transition for a cinder-seasoned and grass-trained European. He was beaten at the two-mile by a miler, Fred Dwyer, in very smart time. Four weeks ago, in his first mile, Tabori swung his hips and shoulders as unrhythmically as a trailer truck and lost out in a pack finish. He switched back to two miles in the Washington games but dropped out after a mile and a half with his stomach in sharp revolt. At the Millrose Games, he moved back down to the mile against Ron Delany and did as well as, but no better than, any of the mile gang has done against Delany in two years: an honest second place, seven yards back.
Last Saturday, Tabori the wanderer was back for another try at two miles in the New York AC Games. On each trip to New York from his foster home, the University of North Carolina, Tabori brings a Rapid Teaching Master Hungarian-English dictionary. While he is making his way slowly both in the strange way of American talking and the strange ways of indoor running, Tabori will not say much across the language barrier. Facing a barrage of questions, his eyelids come down almost sleepily, and his lips spread in a soft smile, giving the impression that behind his simple answers lie some rather foxy thoughts. Actually his thoughts from week to week have been simple enough, generally confined to what he feels he can do in the single race immediately ahead.
Last Saturday night, 10 minutes before the two-mile field took their marks, Tabori was the season's most famous also-ran. He lay, limp as a body laid out for the morgue, unmindful of the runners pounding through their warmups around him, making up his mind that he had finally built strength enough to dog any rival all the way and win.
In the eight weeks that he has been training seriously in the United States, Tabori and his coach, Mihaly Igloi, have been overdosed with advice from all sides on how a master miler of Europe could best make the transition from the outdoor cinders to the boards. The consensus of this advice says that an indoor runner should do at least part of his training on boards. "I do not like the boards," Tabori has said, "they are too hard." And contrary to all advice he has gone his own European way, working on grass, while Coach Igloi explains approvingly, "Tempo, Tempo. Resolute training." Coach Dale Ranson of the University of North Carolina, who has been serving as foster father these past weeks, remarked, "I do not yet understand what Coach Igloi means exactly by 'tempo,' but I can say this: they know what they are doing." Three weeks ago Tabori broke his rules, ventured onto the board training track at Carolina, and in the company of the promising North Carolina miler, Jim Beatty, ripped off a 3:01.9 three-quarter mile. Two weeks ago, as he lost to Delany, the sharp eyes in the press box of the Garden noted that Tabori was looking smarter on the boards, swinging his outside arm with the easy style of a man who had been at it for years.
In the two-mile at the New York AC Games Tabori looked better still. At the start, Tabori fell into the middle of the pack as it rolled smoothly, Indian file, behind Defending Champion Horace Ashenfelter. At the quarter, John Macy, the Pole now running for the University of Houston, took the lead, picked up the pace, and Tabori stayed with him. With five laps to go, Macy was stalling out. With 250 yards to go, Tabori passed Macy and ran away on his own. As he went across the finish into the blinding curtain of flash bulbs, the timers caught him in 8:53.4, second-best time of the season.
After taking third and shaking Tabori's hand, Defending Champion Horace Ashenfelter (who has made a habit of outsmarting opponents) reflected soberly, "If he's going to run that way for the rest of the season, I'll need more than brains to beat him."
Victorious Tabori confirmed that next week at the national championships he would wander back down to the mile. Why go down where Delany is? "Delany is fast," Tabori submitted humbly through an interpreter, "but in Stockholm once I finished a 1,500-meter with a 1:52.8 half mile, so perhaps I have some speed worth putting against Delany."