The first man who dropped down out of a tree, lit on two feet and took off in a cloud of dust two jumps ahead of a saber-tooth tiger was the forerunner of foot racing. There were no AAU officials around to award him a gold medal if he won his handicap 440 from the beast; the only incentive he needed to set a fast pace was the thought of being nipped at the wire. Finishing second was more than a disgrace; it was fatal. The human race, consequently, went to the swift, and when man decided to move into caves, it's likely he could do a tidy quarter mile with a club in one hand and a cave woman in the other, especially if paced by one of the larger carnivores. By the time man had outfooted the dangerous animals, he had, understandably, developed a liking for foot racing which persists to this day. The stop watch has replaced the tiger, and a baton makes do for a club, and the indoor arenas must seem like home to erstwhile cave dwellers. Nothing has replaced the woman.
Foot racing, now, is fun and games. There are few spectacles in the world of sport to compare with an indoor track meet for color and movement and excitement. The floor of Madison Square Garden, where the National AAU indoor championships will be held Saturday night, takes on a carnival air when the lineal descendants of the fleet cave man test themselves against one another. The tight, banked board track nestles practically in the laps of the front-row spectators and the balconies hang low overhead, freighted with excitement and noise. The action is squeezed into the tight space of the arena, so that everyone sees everything. The infield is a melange of bright sweat suits and somber tuxedos; there is an unconscionable number of officials at any indoor meet, strutting among the varicolored uniforms of the competitors like so many penguins at a peacock party. The sideshows—the high jump and the pole vault and any other field events run off in the infield—are much more readily apparent than the same events on the wider stage of an outdoor meet. In the Millrose Games recently, Jerry Welbourn, one of several 15-foot vaulters competing on the indoor circuit, sailed up in an attempt at 15 feet. His light Swedish steel pole buckled and Welbourn somersaulted spryly into the sawdust pit. The 15,000-odd people in Madison Square Garden gasped in unison; at an outdoor meet, the same incident might easily have been overlooked, especially if a race had been in progress. The building drama of the successively higher trials in the pole vault and the high jump is much more effective indoors, where the vaulter, at the peak of his leap, is on fairly intimate terms with the spectators in the balcony.
The National AAU indoor championships will begin the second half of an indoor season which, so far, has followed form almost too closely. No one has seriously challenged Ron Delany in the mile; no one, for that matter, has been able to set a fast enough pace to push Delany to the indoor mile record so palpably in his grasp. The shoulder-hunching Irishman, who runs as though he expected a nip in the rear from a counterpart of the cave man's tiger, is a racer, not a runner. He races against men, not time, and unless the competition is extraordinary, his performances are not apt to be record breaking. In the National AAU he will face, for the second time in his career, the Hungarian world record holder in the 1,000-and 2,000-meter runs, Istvan Rozsavolgyi. Rozsavolgyi, after a delay over the issuance of his visa, arrived in the United States just in time to compete in the New York Athletic Club indoor meet at Madison Square Garden last Saturday, and acclimated himself with remarkable facility to the vastly different technique of running indoors, finishing a good second to Delany. He is a former pupil of Mihaly Igloi and, under proper conditions, could doubtless push Delany even harder, if not beat him. Unfortunately, Rozsavolgyi must return to Hungary early in March. The rest of the mile field includes the same talent Delany has beaten over and over this year.
The one event which has provided surprises for the indoor track nut this season is the sprints. Ira Murchison, the stocky little Negro sprinter from Western Michigan who has a jet-quick start, dominated early indoor meets. He lost two of three sprints to Duke's Dave Sime in Washington as Sime's superior top speed told at 80 and 100 yards after Murchison's getaway held up in the 70-yard sprint. Murchison and Sime were expected to renew their personal rivalry in the Millrose Games, but a pair of long shots stole the show from them. Murchison failed to reach the finals of the 60-yard sprint when his starting block slipped in the semifinals and he could not make up the two yards the slip cost him. Ken Kave, a former Morgan State sprinter now a lieutenant in the Army, won the heat in 6.1 seconds, tying the world record. Sime, who started well enough, still could not catch Ed Collymore of Villanova, who also ran a 6.1 in his semifinal, although he qualified for the finals. Kave finished first in the finals, with a husky Penn State freshman, Bobby Brown, in second. Collymore finished just ahead of Sime in third. Sime attributed his difficulties to overtraining; a week later in the New York Athletic Club games, he beat Kave and Brown in a 60-yard sprint in 6.2 after he had not worked out in a week because of a strep throat.
February 24, 1958
Elias Gilbert, the pencil-thin hurdler from Winston-Salem Teachers College, has dominated the high hurdles all season, taking over with the retirement of Milt Campbell and the suspension of Lee Calhoun. Willie Stevens, who once came close to beating Gilbert in his specialty this season, has also entered the AAU; Charlie Pratt of the Philadelphia Pioneer Club, who beat Gilbert at the Boston AA meet and Francis Washington, Gilbert's teammate at Winston-Salem, are the only other hurdlers near his class, with the possible exceptions of Georgetown Sophomore Alfred Hoddinott and Hayes Jones of Eastern Michigan.
At 600 yards, no one seems likely to catch Charlie Jenkins, the Olympic 400-meter champion. Jenkins, running at 1,000 yards in the first indoor meet of the season, turned in one poor race. Since then he has won four races in a row and seldom been pressed in any of them. Here again, as in the mile, the cast of characters is a familiar one little likely to offer a surprise, unless Manhattan College's Tom Murphy provides it. Murphy is a strong, driving runner of the Tom Courtney type; his anchor laps for the Manhattan mile and two-mile relay teams have been superbly run, and if Jenkins should be only a trifle off, Murphy is the most probable upset threat. He handed Dave Scurlock his first indoor defeat of the year in the NYAC meet, outkicking the North Carolina runner for a strong victory in the 880-yard run. Josh Culbreath, the world record holder in the 440-yard hurdles, is a mild threat, as is Joe Gaffney, of the U.S. Army, who has run consistently.
Scurlock represents a new face—or, at least, a relatively new face—in the 1,000-yard run. The tall (6 feet 4½), long-legged runner from the University of North Carolina has won two indoor races this season in good times. Since the field for the AAU event includes only runners he defeated in those two races—and defeated easily—it is reasonable to assume that Scurlock, who sets a blazing pace and maintains it until his opposition falls back, will have no trouble. Zbigniew Orywal, the Polish import who has improved steadily as he becomes accustomed to the hurly-burly of competition on the small indoor tracks, might, with luck in negotiating heavy traffic, collar Scurlock. Tom Carroll, Yale freshman who set a national high school outdoor record in the 880, is a strong runner but an inexperienced one. Carroll may skip the 1,000 to try the mile.
Rozsavolgyi is entered in the three-mile run, and, should he try this event in preference to the mile, he will find strong competition from John Macy, a Polish refugee who recently dropped out of the University of Houston. Deacon Jones, Iowa's slight but brilliant two-miler, has skipped the AAU meet, leaving the three-mile to Macy, Rozsavolgyi or, if you prefer, Velisa Mugosa, the Yugoslav distance runner who has improved consistently if not spectacularly in the five weeks he has been competing in this country. Mugosa defeated Macy in the NYAC two-mile, running by far the best race he has turned in since he came here and winning easily in a stylish 8:59.
In field events the only sure winner is Parry O'Brien, who set a world indoor record at Frankfort, Germany two weeks ago with a put of 61 feet 8½ inches. O'Brien reached 61-5½ in the Garden last Saturday, again breaking his listed world indoor record. O'Brien, a gentleman who restrains his modesty notably well, foresees a 65-foot effort for himself in the near future and possibly in the AAU. None of his competitors can even mention such a distance.
Don Bragg, who has had difficulty reaching 15 feet this season, and Bob Gutowski will have other 15-foot vaulters to worry about. Jerry Welbourn and Ron Morris have cleared the height and one of them is pretty sure to do so again in this meet.
Regardless of how the races and the field events come out, the National AAU indoor meet, as ever, will have in full measure the urgency and excitement of all indoor meets. The surging, lifting, building tension of well-run relays, of tautly contested distance races and the explosive thrill of the short hurdles and dashes...these are the things which bring the track nuts back to see the old familiar faces. You may grow accustomed to the faces, but you never grow cold to the races.
BIOPERSE: HIGH LIFE OF A LITTLE MAN
Seven years ago, when he was 14, Phil Reavis (see cover) was saddled with one of boyhood's more onerous chores. He had to ride herd on a 4-year-old brother, an occupation which kept him out of the playground baseball games and other team sports. For lack of anything else to do, Reavis repaired to the high-jump pit and practiced high jumping, a sport which allowed him to keep an eye on his small and lively brother.
He was just out of junior high school then, a short (5 feet 5), wiry youngster. Through a long summer of baby-sitting at the high-jump pit, Phil boosted his altitude to 4 feet 8 inches. Now a 21-year-old senior in education at Villanova University, Phil is 5 feet 9½ inches, has high-jumped 6 feet 10 inches, and no longer baby-sits, even when he returns to his home in Somerville, Mass. He has probably jumped farther over his own height than any American ever has. "I hear about a Nigerian who jumped 13½ inches over his height," Reavis said the other day. "I've done 12½ inches and I'm hoping to get the other inch this year."
If he does manage to jump 6 feet 11 (a new world indoor record), which would give him a tie with the Nigerian, Reavis will doubtless do it in competition. He averages an inch or two higher under competitive pressure than he does in his best practice jumps. "The meets bring you along," he said. "The higher the bar gets, the smoother the jumps. When I'm jumping good, I iron out when the bar gets over 6 feet 4."
Reavis is a relaxed competitor, in sharp contrast to many track athletes. "I like to talk to people between jumps," he says. "Gets my mind off it. Then sometimes I watch the other boys jump and analyze their styles. Sometimes you pick up something that helps."
Phil considers his lack of height a psychological advantage in competition. "You take the 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 boys," he says. "They start jumping, usually the bar is not as tall as they are. Then a tall man, when the bar gets over his head, why it's a new thing to him and it bothers him. Me, the bar is always overhead and it doesn't make much difference how far."
Reavis is a quiet, pleasant young man whose upper lip is underlined with a thin, feathery mustache. He hopes to teach history when he is graduated from Villanova in February of 1959 and his competition in track will likely end with his college eligibility. "I may not even jump in the National AAU outdoors unless I'm doing something promising," he said. "I enjoy high jumping, but I don't think I want to keep in shape for another Olympics."
Reavis prefers indoor meets, although his best outdoors is only a half inch under the 6-10 he cleared two years ago indoors.
"I'm light and I have a quick take-off," he explains. "The boards give you a fast lift and I can take advantage of it. You take jumpers like Charley Dumas and Ernie Shelton—they use a long leg swing and their foot stays down so long, they lose that quick reaction. I'm working on a longer leg swing myself, but my style is pretty well set and I don't want to fool with it."
Phil is aiming at 7 feet, an amazing height for a 5-9½ jumper.
"I once thought 6 feet 7 would be my maximum," he says. "I got over that barrier, and I don't recognize any other."
Reavis will be one of the stars on display at the National AAU Indoor meet Saturday when he faces a strong field of high jumpers, including George Dennis, who has tied Reavis three times for first in recent meets; Bob Barksdale, Ernie Shelton and Floyd Smith.