The national track championships, which were held last week at Dayton, have the most charitable appearance of all the season's big meets. Here, where topnotchers forgather, young hopefuls are also always welcomed, however much they may clutter up the field. There were at Dayton a number of high schoolers, college freshmen and other comers who could do wonders some day, but by the time all 21 events were done—the running events on a loose, slow track—the old hands had kept most of the titles and the hopefuls were lost in the shuffle.
In the quarter-mile finals, Olympic Champion Charlie Jenkins had plenty to worry him. In the three staggered lanes behind Jenkins, between him and the pole, were Mike Larrabee, the USC graduate, Bob McMurray of Morgan State, and freshman Willie Atterberry of Michigan State, all of whom, by reason of earlier clockings, might well sweep past Jenkins. As the field swung out of the last turn, Jenkins, the Olympic champ, was still in front of Larrabee, McMurray and Atterberry. But out wide in the seventh lane galloped 33-year-old Reginald Pearman, who persistently refuses to be consigned to the attic of has-beens. Pearman hit the tape first in 46.4, the fastest time of any man this year, the fastest time Pearman had ever run in his 12 years in the big time. How old are you and how do you feel, the press asked Pearman. "I am 90 years old," panted Pearman, "and I am very happy."
For a reasonable price of $1.50 a seat, 7,000 people at Dayton virtually got a repeat performance of the 1957 Melbourne Olympic show, with a few changes in the cast. There were at Dayton 45 Olympians, and 14 of 21 events were won by Olympians. The sprints lost a good bit of luster by the absence of Bobby Morrow, who decided that he was too tired after the long Olympic year. The sprints gained some luster by the return of the big redhead, Dave Sime of Duke. A week before the Dayton meet, Sime's track career had been saved in the nick of time by the kindly, pink-cheeked vigilante of amateurism, Secretary Dan Ferris of the AAU. In budgeting his time between his three big aims, a medical career, a pro baseball career, and amateur track, this spring Sime had devoted only three weeks to track, then concentrated on baseball, planning to play in the semipro South Dakota league which has been a dubious summertime haven for college ballplayers. Less than an hour before he started his first game in Dakota, Sime got a wire warning him that he was risking his amateur standing. Sime took off his cleats, put on his track spikes for a five-day workout for the national 100-yard competition. Five days is not quite enough, even for the greatest record breaker of them all. Through his heat and semifinal, Sime improved, but his pickup in the straight was still not what it was a year ago. With 20 yards to go in the finals, Sime, Olympian Leamon King and Willie White were dead even, but King had the edge at the tape.
In the absence of Olympic Champion Parry O'Brien, Olympian Bill Nieder won the shotput, Olympic Champion Hal Connolly won the hammer throw, Olympic Champion Lee Calhoun won the high hurdles; while Olympic Champion Glenn Davis went over the 440-yard hurdles with seeming ease and in cracking fast time, setting a new American record of 50.9, a scant 10th of a second off the pending world record. Not knowing that the high-jump apron at Dayton was hard asphalt, Olympic Champion Charles Dumas had brought long-spiked shoes. Scarcely letting the fact upset him at all, Dumas stopped in a Dayton shoe store, then left all 20 rivals behind at 6 feet 9 inches and went on to win at 6 feet 10¼ inches, wearing tennis sneakers.
After posting a 3:58.7 mile a month ago, the home-grown American running hero of the 1957 season, Don Bowden of California, announced that he would concentrate this summer on the half mile. Two weeks ago, in beating the race-weary Ron Delany in the National Collegiate half mile, he had come within half a second of Tom Courtney's world record. Thus, a week before the national meet at Dayton got under way, it was the half mile that loomed as the thriller-diller—the old rivalry between Olympians Tom Courtney and Arnie Sowell, with Bowden in the middle of it. Then, two days after his great half mile against Delany, Bowden got an itch to try another mile, motivated in part by the fact that the visiting Australian miler, Merv Lincoln, having beaten every Yank so far, deserved more opposition in the final race of his U.S. tour.
So, instead of one thriller-diller, there were two duels: at 880 yards between Courtney and Sowell again, and then between the four-minute milers, Bowden and Lincoln. The mile field, full of tactical caution, hit the half-mark in 2:07, where Bowden took over almost by default. He planned to build his pace up about 500 yards from home and slowly deflate Lincoln's final push. "I was working at it," Bowden reflected later, "I felt I was going along, but I wasn't. It just wasn't there." On the gun lap, Lincoln and also Bobby Seaman of UCLA were pressing Bowden. Seaman passed Bowden and, in the middle of the last turn, with 120 yards to go, Lincoln jumped them both and came down the straight a tactical winner in a proper, tactical time of 4:06.1.
The old hands at the half dallied through the first quarter, leaving the pace to the promising New York high schooler Tommy Carroll. As Carroll moved through the first quarter in 55.9 seconds, the veterans rolled along behind him in a clump, ready to pounce. Sowell made the first move, and in 20 yards Carroll was lost in a stampeding swirl into the final backstretch. Courtney was boxed, and it looked as if Sowell might sneak away with it. But Tom slipped through into the clear and finished with strength to spare, winner in a most proper tactical time of 1:50.1.
The Olympians and other old hands yielded graciously to a comer in the last event, the 220-yard dash. Ollan Cassell, a rangy college freshman whose fame had scarcely spread beyond the hills of east Tennessee, tied the meet record of 21 seconds flat. "In this crowd," confessed Ollan, "I expect I was a bit lucky."