Indoor track, sport's answer to the three-ring circus, springs full-grown from the winter much as Athena sprang fully-armed from the head of Zeus. The smoke-filled arenas of the indoor sport begin operation in late January with no warmup period, and the clatter of spikes on boards goes on until early spring, when the athletes move out into the open air, blink at unaccustomed sunlight and stretch their legs on the longer cinder tracks.
The indoor meets create an excitement often lacking outdoors. The athletes crowd the infield and the fans hang close over the edge of the narrow track, communicating an urgency to the performances. Elbowroom for the runners is at a premium, so that the races are often won by superior tactics rather than speed. A pair of sharp elbows is a definite advantage.
This year, as the season began last week with the annual Massachusetts Knights of Columbus meet in Boston Garden, a half dozen faces familiar to knowledgeable indoor track fans were missing. Bob Richards, who won or shared the national indoor pole vault championship eight times in the last decade, turned professional during the summer of 1957 to take a job as sports director of a California oil company. The two best hurdlers of 1957—Lee Calhoun and Milt Campbell—are missing, too. Calhoun was married on a TV giveaway program last August and among his other gifts was a year's suspension by the AAU, which considered his kinescopic wedding an impairment of his amateur standing. Campbell spent the fall running kickoffs back for the Cleveland Browns. Tom Courtney, the Olympic 800-meter champion and world outdoor 880-yard record holder, has turned to another indoor sport this season. Courtney, beset by his studies at the Harvard Business School, has planned a severe cerebral conditioning program which does not allow him time to train properly or to run in the meets.
Freddie Dwyer, for the last few years one of the nation's best one-and two-mile runners, is in unofficial retirement due to a bursitis condition in his left heel, and Horace Ashenfelter, holder of the American indoor and outdoor two-mile records, has also retired.
While there are heirs apparent to the niches vacated by these men, it is not too early to begin wondering about United States' chances in the big track year which this should be, or even in the 1960 Olympics, against a Russian team which has, year by year, become stronger. The 1958 indoor track season may be a valuable time of assessment. Already some quiet but intent soul-searching is going on.
"We were lucky in the Olympics in 1956," argued Dink Templeton, California's Bernard Baruch of the track world, recently. "The Russians lost their sharpness because of a lack of-pre-Olympic competition. They'll be ready in Rome and we'll have to be better."
Templeton is a former Stanford coach, a small, gnarled man of 60-odd who carries his years airily. He is, too, a man of strong convictions and an ebullient willingness to express them.
"I think our track coaches are pretty good," he said, grudgingly. "But in track you have to remember even if the coach is lousy it doesn't prevent a boy from working and learning. What we have to learn is to work hard enough; some coaches will tell you that if a boy works hard, he'll go stale. You can't be any good unless you work hard."
Templeton was sipping from a cup of coffee at a restaurant across from the San Francisco radio station where he is employed as a sports commentator.
"Now Dave Sime has been used to prove that you shouldn't work hard. Sprinters are prima donnas, anyway," he remarked. "Morrow is the best competitor, but Sime has the most natural ability. But the first year he ran he worked hard and he got better. You got to work hard and the Europeans know it. Vladimir Kuts runs 25 miles a day and the rest of them are the same way. No athlete is ever able to find out what constitutional strength he has until after a couple of years of great effort. They have to work their tail off to find out if they have got it."
He sipped at the coffee morosely.
"The only time you improve is when you put yourself under pressure," he said. "We don't train that way. Take high jumping. Only Les Steers would go out and jump for height every day. The rest of them jump for form. The Russians copied Steers's form and his training methods and they got great high jumpers. Take Parry O'Brien. He's another one who believes in work. He tops them all. Back in 1951 he lost the shotput to some kid from Texas A&M. You know what he did? He went out the next day and he put the shot for eight hours without stopping. That's why he's great."
He thumped the table gently with his fist, jiggling the coffee in his cup.
"The Russians have skipped all the nonsense about overtraining," he said. "An athlete can't burn himself out. Sure, he can get sick and tired of running or of competition and need a rest, maybe, but he can't burn himself out. You ask the doctors what they mean by an athlete burning himself out and you hit a blank wall. And the kids are willing to work hard, if you give them the chance. They don't mind working if they feel they are getting somewhere. After they get in condition, it isn't so hard, either. Personally, I think the trouble is that too many of the coaches burn out, not the kids."
Templeton ruminated a moment, then went on.
"Another trouble we have in the United States—especially in the distances—is that the athletes quit too young," he said. "A distance runner reaches his peak long after college, and most of ours quit when they get out of college. After all, the thing called old age in an athlete is in the nervous system. It doesn't deteriorate very quickly. But after a boy gets out of college, even if he competes some, he is not under much pressure. He gets a lift from alarm when he represents his college. He's afraid of losing. You take that fear away and replace it with complacency and he loses a lot of the nervous energy he gets from alarm. We need meets which will create public interest in athletes after they have finished college and which will give them good incentive to compete, too. Sure, eventually the athletes reach the point when they no longer feel the alarm you need to get nervous energy. When there is no more alarm, it means you have gone to the well too often. But there are quite a few years between the end of college and that time."
Bert Nelson, publisher of Track & Field News and probably the most knowledgeable track fan in the United States, lends a cautious second to Templeton's theories on training.
"The cultural and social pattern of the country is a factor," he said. "Our athletes simply do not have the time to devote to training that the Russians and some of the other European countries have. The Hungarians practiced twice a day, three hours at a time, 365 days a year. Our college athletes have trouble finding the time for one two-hour session a day. Vladimir Kuts considers three hours' hard work a day is the absolute minimum. The Russian high jumper, Stepanov, practiced 400 leg swings a day. Age for age, our milers and two-milers are as good as anybody, but they quit before they reach their peak. Maybe you can't blame them. How many men would want to give up highballs, go to bed at 10 p.m., watch their diet and train as hard as the Europeans do between the ages of 20 and 30? And how many can afford to?"
Nelson cites the University of Southern California's Max Truex as an example of the efficacy of hard work.
"He's our one big hope for world class in the distances," said Nelson. "Only one man ever has run a faster 5,000 meters than Truex at the same age—22. And Truex works like a dog."
THE DISTANCE RACES
Truex is a short, stocky, crew-cut, blond junior at the University of Southern California. As a high school senior he set a national interscholastic record of 4:20.4 in the mile. He has run the fastest three-mile in the history of U.S. track, and his peak years lie well ahead of him. Truex agrees with Templeton and Nelson on the value of hard work by both runner and coach. He trains every day of the year and this season he is scheduled to compete in five indoor meets in the East and Middle West. He is a strong threat to break the two-mile record (8:50.5) and the three-mile (13:45.7) in the national AAU championships.
Truex will undoubtedly be on the United States team this year which is scheduled to meet the Russians in Moscow in the first of two U.S.-Russia meets tentatively set for July 28 and 29. Meantime, he should find strong competition during the indoor season from John Macy, the transplanted Pole who represents the University of Houston, and from Macy's teammate, Jerry Smartt, who is scheduled to come East, too. Despite the retirement of Ashenfelter and Dwyer, the field in the two-mile and three-mile runs for the indoor track season is strong; Ron Delany, the indolent Irishman who has won 19 straight indoor races, may move up from the mile to the longer races in some meets and he may double up in the IC4A competition. Strong dark-horse possibilities are Lew Stieglitz, ex-Connecticut runner, who finished second to Delany in the IC4A two-mile last year and won the Penn Relays two-mile championship; Deacon Jones of Iowa, who ran a 9:04.2 to win at the Massachusetts K of C meet; and Velisa Mugosa, a student of philosophy and geography at the University of Belgrade. Mugosa is a darkly handsome Yugoslav who has won the 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-meter championships of his country for the last five years.
The showpiece of any indoor track meet is the mile, and the show competitor in the miles scheduled this season, as last, is Villanova's and Ireland's Delany. The slender, dark Irishman with the odd, shoulder-hunching running style has won 16 straight indoor miles and three races at other distances since he last lost indoors. He scored a tremendous 1,000-yard-two-mile double in last season's IC4A and just about the only question on Delany is whether he will break the indoor mile record. Says Ron: "If the competition is provided—say, three good milers—anything can happen." The anything in this case includes a four-minute indoor mile and, as of now, it appears likely that Delany will have the three good milers to push him to that mark. Since he notoriously runs only fast enough to win, the competition is an absolute necessity if he is to be the first man to hit four minutes indoors.
Two midwestern distance runners—Phil Coleman and Ted Wheeler—provide strong but not record-setting competition. Coleman won the Massachusetts K of C meet last year in the absence of Delany (4:10.8), and looks very fit this year. He pressed Delany to a 4:05 mile at Boston last Saturday, doing 4:05.7 himself. Mustachioed, round-shouldered Wheeler took first at Milwaukee in 1957 in 4:13.3 and ran a 4:07.2 for a third at Chicago. Burr Grim of Maryland and Jim Beatty, formerly of North Carolina and now in the Army, are back for another spin on the indoor merry-go-round; Grim, third last week to Delany and Coleman in 4:08.9, nipped Wheeler for second in Chicago last year in 4:07.2, won the Delany-less IC4A and was consistently around 4:11 in five other meets. Beatty, who beat Grim for both the mile and two-mile Atlantic Coast Conference titles, had a best time of 4:09.1 for third in the New York Athletic Club meet; he will probably run better as a two-miler this season. The most promising dark horse in the mile is frail-looking George King, the 130-pound former NYU runner. He is training for a 4:04 mile and, while he may not beat Delany, he could be the one to provide the impetus to send the Irishman to a new indoor record. And if he doesn't, Istvan Rozsavolgyi, Hungary's 3:59-miler who will compete in three or four meets, just might.
Tom Courtney's preoccupation with his studies and the uncertainty imposed on Arnie Sowell (ex-Pitt) by his Army service add up to confusion in the 880- to 1,000-yard distances for the indoor season. Sowell was undefeated last season; he holds the 880-yard indoor record (1:50.3) and is co-holder with Don Gehrmann of the 1,000-yard record (2:08.2). Now he is a second lieutenant who has just graduated from infantry school at Fort Benning and he has not had time to train properly.
"I'm in fair but not tiptop shape," he says. "If I can get leave, I should be in as good shape as last year by the time of the AAU." If Sowell manages to reach this condition, only Ron Delany, should he drop down to the 1,000-yard run for a race or two, could prove more than a match for him. Dave Scurlock of North Carolina, a picture-book runner, came on very well at the end of last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference 880 title and finishing second in the New York K of C meet and at Cleveland. He has an outdoor best time of 1:48.3. Manhattan's Tom Murphy ran a 1:10.7 600 early this season and appears ready for a strong year; he has done 1:49.8 in the 880 outdoors. Others whose chances lie within the realm of possibility are the outdoor 600-yard record holder, Willie Atterberry of Michigan State and Yale's Tommy Carroll, the youthful indoor and intersholastic record holder in the 880, who ran wonderfully well to win the 1,000 at Boston. Carroll will probably skip several meets to conserve his energy for the big ones.
Charlie Jenkins, the Olympic 400-meter gold-medal winner, dominated the 600 during the 1957 season. He should do so again when he is in proper condition. Jenkins won eight major meet titles last winter and is the current record holder at 500 yards with a 56.4. On the strength of his 1:10.7, Murphy appears ready to push Jenkins, if not beat him, and Morgan State's Bob McMurray is another strong challenger. McMurray was only a yard behind Jenkins in 1:11.1 in last year's New York K of C meet and he has a fine best time of 46.7 for the 440 outdoors. Joe Gaffney, in superb condition for so early in the season, won the 600 at Boston, but in a slow 1:13.1. Ancient Reggie Pearman of the New York Pioneers astounded track fans by beating Jenkins in the Millrose 600 in 1957; if his remarkable legs retain their spring, he might astound more this year.
Dave Sime, Duke's brilliant, red-haired sprinter, gave up all thoughts of a pro baseball career to concentrate on the sprints, looking ahead to the Olympics. With Sime on the boards, muscular, chunky Ira Murchison, who was unbeaten indoors last winter, may see his streak broken. Murchison may have an advantage in that Sime doesn't care much for the wear and tear of board running. A fast-developing sophomore from Pittsburgh, who hails from Brooklyn's Boys High, could conceivably upset both Sime and Murchison: Mel Barnwell seems better fitted for the 220 outdoors, but he has the quick speed to be an indoor threat, too. Bobby Gordon, a thick-chested youngster who was the leading ground-gainer for the Morgan State football team last fall, is a good long-shot bet. Gordon has done 9.5 outdoors and last year won the Pioneer Club's 60-yard dash in 6.3. Lieutenant Ken Kave of the U.S. Army and Villanova's Ed Collymore fill out a big field of truly capable sprinters.
In the hurdles, Elias Gilbert of Winston-Salem Teachers, Hayes Jones of Eastern Michigan and National Decathlon Champion Charlie Pratt appear most probable inheritors of the laurels abandoned by Lee Calhoun and Milt Campbell. Gilbert has tied the world record of 13.4 seconds for the 120-yard high hurdles outdoors and Jones has a very fine best of 13.7 in the event. They have never met indoors.
The relays are difficult to handicap, depending upon variables of personnel and conditions, but there appears to be one certainty this season: at full strength the Morgan State mile-relay team will be practically unbeatable. Last season the Morgan State team divided honors with Villanova; the same team has returned, while Villanova was almost wiped out by graduation. Manhattan, after beating a sub-par Morgan State and Villanova in the Massachusetts K of C in a crisp 3:20, looks ready for an exceptional season.
In the two-mile relay, Georgetown, undefeated last year, may again be the best in the East, although Manhattan, powered by Murphy's blistering anchor leg, beat Georgetown by three yards in 7:40.9 at Boston last week. Should Occidental send its great two-mile relay team east to campaign, the resulting three-way duel could produce a new world record.
THE FIELD EVENTS
In the high jump, Villanova's 5-foot 9½-inch Phil Reavis, who won or shared nearly all of the indoor titles last year, is back and so is his teammate, Charlie Stead. However, should Charley Dumas decide to make his indoor debut this winter, both Reavis and Stead may have to take a back seat. Dumas, the outdoor record holder at 7 feet½ inch, has never tried the indoor sport, but he should have little difficulty. Reavis and Stead have both cleared 6-9 and Reavis can almost be counted on to make that height any Saturday night. He has been hampered early this season, however, by a pulled groin muscle. Stead was a surprise as a sophomore last year and tied Reavis at 6-9½ in the IC4A championships. George Dennis, formerly of Morgan State and now with the Philadelphia Pioneer Club, appears as the strong threat after going 6-9¼ at Boston. Floyd Smith of the Chicago Track Club cleared 6-8½ last year and won himself a hatful of firsts; should he come East he, too, could press the two Villanovans. The bespectacled, studious-looking Smith soared to 6-11¼ outdoors last season, best jump in the United States.
The retirement of Bob Richards in the pole vault leaves the indoor laurels almost entirely to muscular Don Bragg. Bragg won five firsts indoors in 1957 and is almost always good for 15 feet. Bob Gutowski, the world record holder outdoors, will probably compete in only one indoor meet this season, so that Bragg's strongest competition should come from Jerry Welbourne, Mel Schwarz, Eeles Landstrom and George Roubanis, all of whom might, in a moment of unusual inspiration, clear 15 feet.
Since most of the shotputters hail from California and the Midwest and do not compete indoors, this event is seldom exciting unless Parry O'Brien can be lured from the West Coast. Indoor and outdoor record holder O'Brien competed in only two meets last winter (New York AC and the AAU), won both with sub-60-foot tosses. Ken Ban-turn, former Manhattanite, could clear 60 feet indoors if he competes this year. He has done it outdoors. Dave Owen of Michigan has done 59 feet indoors, Bill Nieder (ex-Kansas) 62-2. These two seldom enter the eastern meets, but should top the Midwest.
All in all, the indoor season appears likely to produce at least two records—by Truex in the two- and three-mile runs—and possibly two more, by Delany in the mile and Georgetown, Manhattan or Occidental in the two-mile relay. In any event, it will engender excitement, a circus atmosphere and a winter book oh the outdoor prospects.
It may even produce some new U.S. stalwarts for the great international battles to come.
POKER-STRAIGHT running style of Max Truex brings victory (below) as the stubby Southern California distance star cements his claim to ranking as United States' strongest threat to the Europeans in their specialty. Truex plans expanded indoor campaign.
THE INDOOR MEETS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Inquirer Games, Convention Hall, Philadelphia
Washington Evening Star Games, National Guard Armory, Washington
Boston AA Meet, Boston Garden
Millrose Games, Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
New York AC Games, Madison Square Garden
National AAU championships, Madison Square Garden
Big Eight championships, Kansas City Auditorium (also March 1)
IC4A championships, Madison Square Garden
Atlantic Coast Conference championships, Woollen Gymnasium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Big Ten championships, U. of Illinois Armory, Champaign, Ill. (also March 8)
New York K of C Meet, Madison Square Garden
Heptagonal championships, Barton Hall, Ithaca, N.Y.
Central Collegiate championships, Western Michigan Field House, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Chicago Daily News Relays, Chicago Stadium
New York Pioneer Club Meet, 369th Armory, New York
Cleveland K of C Meet, Cleveland Arena
THE MEN AND THE MARKS
BEST INDOOR PERFORMANCE
BEST INDOOR PERFORMANCE
IRA MURCHISON (W. Michigan)
MEL BARNWELL (Pitt)
60-YARD HIGH HURDLES
CHARLIE PRATT (Phila. Pioneers)
HAYES JONES (E. Michigan)
CHARLIE JENKINS (Villanova)
BOB McMURRAY (Morgan State)
ARNIE SOWELL (U.S. Army)
DAVE SCURLOCK (N. Carolina)
RON DELANY (Villanova)
PHIL COLEMAN (Chicago TC)
JOHN MACY (Houston)
JIM BEATTY (U.S. Army)
PHIL REAVIS (Villanova)
CHARLIE STEAD (Villanova)
DON BRAGG (Shanahan CC)
EELES LANDSTROM (Michigan)
* made in competition outdoors
** made at 3,000 meters outdoors