The desultory basketball game stopped momentarily and the players waited. At the far end of the court a tall, wide-shouldered young man placed his feet carefully in his starting blocks, coiled back on his legs tensely; next to him, looking compact and small by comparison, another sprinter settled himself as the starter raised his gun. The basketball players jumped at the oddly loud blast of the pistol in the empty gym and the two sprinters exploded out of the blocks, the shorter one briefly ahead by a foot or two, then quickly dropping back as the runners, shoes squeaking on the polished court surface, fled down court and out through open double doors to brake themselves against a corridor wall in a hall outside the gym proper.
It was a quiet afternoon at Duke University gymnasium last week. Dr. Bob Chambers, the track coach, looked briefly at his stop watch as Dave Sime, wide grin splitting his face, ran back through the doors into the gym.
"I got it now, coach," he said exuberantly. "I got it. I watched Elder to see what he was doing that I wasn't and I got it."
Sime crouched in a starting position while Chambers watched.
February 10, 1958
"Look," he said, "I was doing like this." He raised his rump, his legs straightening and his weight moving forward onto his hands. "I couldn't get any pressure on my legs. Then I noticed Elder gets down like this." He dropped his rear slightly and shifted his weight back, so that his legs were bent more and carried some of the weight of his body.
Chambers watched noncommitally. "That was 5.2," he said drily. The indoor world record for the 50-yard dash is 5.1 seconds; Sime, running on a slick basketball floor with unspiked shoes, had been only a tenth of a second off.
Sime tried a half dozen more starts, getting off the blocks explosively each time. Chambers finally had to make the enthusiastic youngster quit, and Sime was bouncing happily as he left to dress.
Most track fans will agree that Dave Sime, when he reaches top speed, is the fastest human being in the world. Only Bobby Morrow, Texas' great Olympic champion, can contest this claim; in the two times Morrow and Sime have met, Sime has won at 100 yards and Morrow at 100 meters. Sime beat Morrow in 9.4 on a wet track at the Drake Relays in 1956; later in that Olympic year, Morrow beat Sime in the NCAA 100-meter finals at Berkeley, Calif., but Sime was already feeling the twinges of a pulled thigh muscle which later cost him his chance to make the U.S. Olympic team. The muscle was injured first in Sime's world record 20-flat 220 at Sanger, Calif.; then, in the finals of the NCAA 200-meter dash, the muscle was badly injured and Sime was unable to finish the 100-meter dash in the Olympic trials two weeks later.
"I just didn't have enough experience to know what had happened," Sime said the other day. He was sitting in the cafeteria at the Duke student union, eating a midmorning snack of a sweet roll, two glasses of orange juice and a cup of coffee. "The leg bothered me after that 20-flat 220. I pushed all the way in that race and I was a little off balance at the start and I felt a little pull. Then, when I worked out, I'd feel the muscle hurt on starts, but I thought I could work it out. It hurt on the start in the 100 against Morrow, but it felt all right after I was running. Then, when I pulled it in the 200 meters at Berkeley, it hurt at the start again, but when we went into the turn, I felt like I was moving up on Morrow, and then the muscle went. It was just like someone had lassoed my left leg and pulled me back."
Sime is an impatient, ebullient young man. He has matured a good deal in the two years since he missed the Olympic squad, but then he was much too impatient to allow the leg time to heal. He pulled the muscle again trying to qualify in the Olympic trials in which he was allowed to participate by special dispensation.
"I couldn't even jog on the leg during the two weeks between the time I hurt my leg in Berkeley and the trials," he said. "I just kidded myself, I guess. I wrapped the leg real tight for the 100 meters, but the first step I took out of the blocks in Los Angeles, it felt like someone had stuck a knife in my leg."
Sime rested a month after the Olympic trials. Then he had an opportunity to tour Europe with an American track team made up of non-members of the U.S. Olympic squad, and he took it, although the leg still bothered him.
"It got well enough for me to run the 100," he said. "But I wasn't really nearly ready for competition. And I pulled the muscle again in London."
The impatient youngster then, finally, gave the leg time to heal. His left thigh shrank during the three months he laid off—from September through November of 1956—and he took a special course of exercises with weights to build it up again. By December of 1956 he was ready to test it.
"I had to build up his confidence for that race," Chambers, his coach, said. "He was running the 100 meters at the Sugar Bowl track meet in New Orleans and I told him that all we wanted to do was get a race under his belt and not to worry about the time."
Sime ran a 10.2 100 meters, only a tenth of a second off the world record. "I guess that was the turning point coming back," he said. "It proved my leg was all right again." Sime's trials were not over, however. A case of flu interrupted his indoor season; when he recovered from that, he made a trip to Burma for the State Department, ran another 10.2 100 meters in Rangoon, and returned with a case of dysentery which kept him off the track for a week. He won ACC and IC4A sprint championships, took off to play baseball, and came back at the tail end of the baseball season to run a 9.3 100 in the Carolina AAU meet at Raleigh.
As the summer of 1957 began, Sime still cherished visions of a baseball career. He signed to play semipro baseball in South Dakota in a league cleared by the NCAA, but two hours before he was to play his first game, he learned that the AAU would not sanction his playing and he came back to Durham.
"I was stuck with nothing to do last summer," he said. "The AAU meet was coming up and I worked out two days and ran in that and lost to Leamon King by a foot in the 100. Then I got a chance to tour Europe, so I ran in France, Switzerland and England."
Sime ran 28 races and won all of them. "I was running the curve a lot, too," he said. "It didn't bother my leg at all."
When Sime returned to Duke in the fall of 1957, he decided to give up baseball. "I didn't give it up for track," he said. "I just didn't think I could play baseball and get my medical degree, and I think it is more important to be a doctor than to be a major league baseball player."
With baseball out of the way, Sime has devoted full time to track. During the fall, he worked indefatigably. "One day I ran 30 100s," he said. "I'd run a 100 at good speed, then taper off for 50 yards and walk back, then run another 100. That built up the power in my legs. And I'd run up the stadium steps four or five times to get more drive."
Sime also lifted weights in order to strengthen his arms and shoulders. "If you're strong on top, it helps," he explained. "You can let your arms go free without thinking about using them and they will aid you. I think I'm faster now than I have ever been."
He sipped at his coffee.
"Yes, my speed itself is much better than it has ever been," he said. "My starts have always been terrible, but maybe I've got that licked now. I experiment a lot with starts, but I think I got it now. I don't want to get bogged down too much indoors. It may hurt my legs. Running on boards is like playing tennis on asphalt compared to playing on grass. I'm going outside in March and I won't be back on the boards until next year."
He finished his sweet roll, and grinned.
"Lots of runners wouldn't eat a sweet roll," he said. "They get real picayunish about their diet and the things they do. They won't play golf or tennis. I figure that hurts them psychologically. If you eat good food, I guess it doesn't make much difference what it is."
He put his empty plates on a tray and stood up.
"I was coming up straight too fast on the start," he said, thoughtfully. "I'd pop straight up and my body angle would be wrong. Then a guy like Ira Murchison is ahead of you and you start to lean and you're off balance and you can't run. I run pretty straight up so I can get my legs up higher and if I lean, I lose speed. Ira beat me at the start in the 100 at Washington last week and I started to lean and I said to myself, 'He's gonna throw you off balance, Dave,' and I straightened up and got even with him and I knew I could take him. And if this start is right now, I won't be giving away so much and I won't have any tendency to lean."
He walked off with the tray, straight up, with no lean.