As the outdoor track and field season hit full stride last weekend before the eyes of 40,000 cheering buffs at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia and another 18,000 at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, it became increasingly clear that the bulk of the U.S. national team which goes against the Russians this summer will come from the Midwest and Southwest.
For the great central sector of the country, the Drake Relays are the glamor meet of the season, an annual showcase for superb performances. This year 13 meet records were broken at Drake, a sure harbinger of big things to come. Olympian Eddie Southern anchored Texas to a mile-relay record. Olympian Glenn Davis set a new mark in the invitational 440. Jim Graham turned in the first 15-foot pole vault in Drake Relays history. Hayes Jones ran the fastest high hurdles and Ira Murchison the fastest 100-yard dash (when he edged Olympic Sprint Champion Bobby Morrow in 9.4) though their records were declared unofficial because of a following wind.
Possibly the most interesting record breaker of all at Drake was Bill Alley, the burly Kansas javelin thrower who set his third meet record in three weeks. Aerial bombs were bursting high over the stadium to announce the end of the two-day carnival and the crowd was rising to leave when the public address system boomed out the report that Bill Alley had hurled the javelin 253 feet 5½ inches to break the old mark by more than 20 feet. Alley, a relatively unfamiliar name in track and field, epitomizes the new and increasingly successful effort on the part of our young athletes to establish U.S. prestige in events where we have been sadly lacking of late.
Bill Alley is an intense young man of 22 who collects Indian artifacts and throws the javelin. He started both avocations at the same time, and as of now he is the best American javelin thrower since the Indians deposited the artifacts he digs up near his Short Hills, New Jersey home. Although he says otherwise, it seems reasonable that a determining factor in his transfer last year from Syracuse University to the University of Kansas is that Lawrence, Kansas, near the Kaw River, was at one time rather heavily populated with Indians. But Alley spends more time driving spikes into trees and throwing javelins than he does searching for arrowheads.
May 3, 1959
"I really came to Kansas because I wanted to be on a national champion track team," he said recently. "I think we may make it this year." Alley is a loose-limbed, powerful athlete whose 217 pounds are draped deceptively over a tall, broad frame. He probably knows as much about the technique of throwing a javelin and about the aerodynamic characteristics of the javelin itself as anyone else in the country ("He has taught me things," Kansas Assistant Coach Rex Grossart says).
Alley set a new American record in the javelin throw at the Texas Relays early in April when he hit 270 feet 1½ inches. He threw only once, and on that throw he tore loose some adhesions in his elbow which had formed following an operation in 1957.
"I could feel it go," he said afterward. "It wasn't serious, but since the first throw was good enough I didn't want to take a chance."
Alley likes to warm up after the other competitors are well along. He usually takes his practice throws outside the stadium, in relative seclusion, and then walks in to the javelin range. By then, the other javelin men have stripped off their sweat suits and are getting off fairly long throws. Alley, a student of human nature as well as of aerodynamics and javelin technique, trots up to the runway, sweat suit still on, and casually unleashes a heave of some 230 feet.
"It shakes them up a bit," he says. "They watch the javelin and see where it lands and they lose some of their concentration. They begin worrying about me and not about their own problems."
Of course, Alley's opponents still manage to get off good throws. At the Kansas Relays, for instance, Bill trailed through the preliminary throws. Alley had improved the streamlining of his javelin by filling in the angle between the raised cord grip and the shaft with plastic, and was upset when the meet field judge ruled the javelin illegal. This happened just before Alley was to take his first throw, and he scurried about, frantically looking for another javelin which had been weighed and approved. He borrowed one finally and threw it quickly, the throw good for only about 220 feet. Then Alley raced back to the Kansas Field House and scraped the plastic off his own javelin, had it reweighed and came back. His next throw was another bad one, for him, again about 220 feet. On the third throw of the preliminary round he got off a high, strong cast, the javelin boring up until it hit a stream of wind pouring over the edge of the concrete stadium. The turbulence lifted the nose of the javelin, and the cast, which on a less windy day might have been good for 260 or more, died at 220 again.
Alley conferred with Grossart, the Kansas assistant, who explained that the turbulence began at the level of the top of the stadium.
"I'll aim at the bottom of the flag," Alley said, looking at the end of the stadium, where the flag snapped under the gray, rain-laden skies.
In the next round, the first in the finals, Alley got off a throw like a Texas golfer hitting a drive into the wind. The javelin sailed just under the layer of turbulence and landed 254 feet out, good for a first place and a meet record and good enough for Alley to quit for the day.
Alley is a perfectionist in the technique of throwing a javelin. "I guess I got interested because when I was a kid and we played games throwing spears and things, I could throw a little farther than the other kids," he said. "Then a guy named Jim Farrell helped me a lot when I was in the seventh and eighth grades. He had a track and field club and he taught all the kids the way to throw the javelin and discus and the rest of it."
Alley learned his lessons well enough to win the New Jersey state high school championship. As a sophomore at Syracuse he reached 242 feet 6 inches, the best ever made by an eastern collegian, and he won the IC4A championship.
He was a good basketball player, too, but in a game at Syracuse he nearly ended his chances in track. Going up under the basket, he was tripped and came down heavily on his right elbow. Operated on for the removal of bone chips in January of 1957, he was out of action for the season but spent a good deal of time thinking of training routines for throwing the javelin. He came up with an odd set of exercises. One of the things he does is spend time driving spikes into a tree with a heavy sledge.
"When I was a kid I helped my dad build a kind of log house one summer," he said. "I remembered the effort you have to use to hammer in nails over your head, and now I do that to develop snap in straightening my arm. I throw a light shot to develop strength, and sometimes I throw a golf ball to develop speed. Then I run up and down the stadium steps a couple of times a week—six round trips, running up and walking down—to develop leg strength and stamina. I work with heavy bar bells during the off season to develop bulk strength, and I work with lighter bar bells during the season."
Alley spends about three hours a day working out. His training program boosted his weight from 205 to 217 pounds this year.
He uses a long, slingshot motion in throwing the javelin, with his arm extended more than most javelin throwers. This gives him more speed and whip, but it is hard on his elbow. "I figure my arm will last through the Olympics," he said. "Then I'll retire."
Alley spends much of his practice time trying to perfect his approach, a particularly thorny problem for most javelin competitors.
"You have to learn to convert the forward momentum of your run-up into momentum for the javelin," he says. "And you have to get your body into position to throw as you near the point of release. That means you have to change from a regular run to a series of cross-steps just before you release the javelin. Lots of boys I have watched come to nearly a complete stop just before the throw, so that the run doesn't help them any. I can throw over 210 feet by taking just one step, so I figure right now I'm adding about 60 feet from my run. I've watched Bud Held throw and watched movies of him, and I figure he gets about 110 feet from his run. I'm working to get that extra distance into mine. It's mostly a matter of timing and balance."
The four cross-steps Alley takes just before the release are, as he puts it, "four very quick dance steps." To make them easier, Alley took ballet lessons during the off season. "They would help any athlete," he said. "They're a big help in the run-up."
Alley's ambition, besides being a member of a national championship track team, is to win the Olympic title and set a new javelin record. The record now is 281 feet 2¼ inches, set by Egil Danielsen of Norway. Alley has watched movies of Danielsen in action, but he can't tell how much Danielsen gets out of his run-up. But if Alley can get as much from his as Held does—110 feet—and can throw 210 with only a step, it's obvious that Danielsen's record will be in precarious position, indeed.