The track at Modesto Junior College in California's San Joaquin Valley was very hard and very fast and, before the spikes of the runners kicked tiny pits in it, it looked like a smooth gray cement highway. As the runners fitted their feet into their starting blocks for the 100, the packed crowd quieted. Track crowds in California are mannerly and knowledgeable; they seldom stand at the end of a powerfully contested race and they sit mute at the beginning as they did for this race, matching Olympic Champion Bobby Morrow and San Jose State's fine Ray Norton.
At the gun the field flashed out of the blocks in a multicolored surge, and in the first 20 yards, a youngster from the University of Oregon named Roscoe Cook had won the race—he was four yards in front of Morrow and Norton, and he was three yards in front 80 yards later. He ran very smoothly, his face showing little strain, his hands relaxed, and he tied the world record of 9.3 seconds.
Norton, who finished second, was watching Morrow and didn't notice the flying Cook until it was too late to do anything about it. Indeed, it was probably too late 10 yards from the blocks, so explosive was Cook's start. Morrow, who was to win the 220 later in a very creditable 20.5 seconds, finished fifth. He had worked hard for the 10 days preceding the meet, and he said later: "My legs were dead. Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference anyway, but they felt dead."
Norton, although he lost the 100, showed clearly that he must be ranked now among the two or three best sprinters in the world. He closed rapidly on Texas' Ralph Alspaugh in the anchor leg of the sprint-relay race which saw Texas set a world record of 39.6 seconds. Norton also overtook Texas' Eddie Southern on the anchor leg of the 880 relay, running a magnificent 19.8 for the 220 yards and doing it easily and under control all the way. Now, especially in view of the misfortune which befell Morrow a week later in Houston at the Meet of Champions, Norton can claim to be the best sprinter in the country.
(The California Relays at Modesto on Memorial Day and the Compton Relays a week later, and, last Saturday, the Meet of Champions at Houston, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships at Sioux Falls, S. Dak., and the Central Collegiate Conference championships at Milwaukee were the final major track meetings before the climactic National Collegiate championships this Friday and Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., and the National AAU championships on June 19 and 20 in Boulder, Colo. The AAU championships will decide the makeup of the U.S. team that will meet the Russians in Philadelphia in July.)
The two California meets—at Modesto and at Compton—produced heartening performances for American track enthusiasts. Aside from the brilliant sprinting by Cook and Norton, there was the prodigious javelin throw of Al Cantello, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. Cantello broke the world record in the javelin at Compton, throwing 282 feet 3½ inches on his third attempt and giving the U.S. added strength in an event where strength has not been very apparent until recently. (Bill Alley of Kansas turned in a fine 266-foot 6-inch throw at the CCC meet.) Cantello, who attended LaSalle College during his undergraduate days, had never reached 260 feet officially before. He is a short, thick-chested athlete who has taken up weight training in the last year. "My biggest problem has always been to relax," he said after his record throw. "I guess that's the big problem most track athletes face. Doing the best you can without conscious strain."
In the hop, step and jump, an event traditionally underplayed and understaffed in the U.S., a pair of Americans provided hope at Modesto. Alvis Andrews, representing the Southern California Striders, set a new American record with 52 feet 5¼ inches; Herman Stokes, from the same club, did 51 feet 6½. This is still a couple of feet short of the world record held by Oleg Ryakhovsky of the U.S.S.R. but it indicates a growing interest in this rather esoteric event which may mean that by Olympic time, the U.S. will have contenders in this event.
In all three of these meets, in events contested by some of the finest runners in the world, the results often turned on psychological factors, or on the minutiae of training which cut off a tenth of a second in an athlete's time. Cook, the surprise winner over Morrow and Norton at Modesto, listened to Wilbur Ross, the coach at Winston Salem College, the day before his race. His starts had been poor and Ross told him to stay down longer out of the blocks instead of straightening up quickly. The result in the 100 was a 9.3.
The 440-yard run at Compton, which had been billed as a match between world record holder Glenn Davis and Texas' Eddie Southern, who has run only a tenth of a second off Glenn's 45.7 record, was won, surprisingly, by Mike Larrabee of the Southern California Striders in a superb 46.1. Davis and Southern, in adjacent lanes, raced each other. Southern, who had never beaten Davis in a major race, hung doggedly to the Ohio State star's shoulder through the first 300 yards and Davis, trying to pull away from Southern, ran that first 300 too fast. In the one-turn race Southern and Davis were ahead of the field coming out of the turn but neither of them had anything left for the stretch run. Larrabee passed them easily, and Colorado's Chuck Carlson passed them, too. Southern gained a modicum of satisfaction by outrunning Davis down the stretch to finish third.
"I don't care much about losing," Southern said later. He was stretched out on the infield, his face beaded with sweat, his chest still heaving. "I don't care about that. But I outfought him down the stretch. This was getting to be too big a thing for me. I was thinking about it. I fought him off in the stretch and I don't care about losing. I thought he was running too fast but I wanted to stay on his shoulder. I'll be all right for the NCAA and the AAU now."
Southern and Davis ran again the next night in Houston. Both of them flew all night from Los Angeles. Davis, tired and 10 or 12 over what he considers his best weight, had a particularly trying trip. His plane was an hour late out of Los Angeles to begin with, and he had bought a box lunch to eat on the flight. His seat was next to an active 4-year-old, and Davis, trying desperately to sleep in order to store up energy for the meet the next night, finally bribed the youngster with the box lunch. He ate an apple, gave the rest to the boy, who finally subsided.
Then Davis, on a hot, very humid night and on a track much slower than the track in Compton, beat Southern in 46.9 seconds around two turns. "I felt pretty good," he said, later, grinning. "I'm glad I didn't eat the box lunch."
Morrow, who has been the nation's best sprinter for several years, ran into disaster in Houston. He skipped the Compton meet and arrived in Houston fresh and strong, and in the 100 there he started very well. At 50 yards he was running beautifully, two yards ahead of Bill Woodhouse, his smooth, relaxed stride eating up the track. Then, suddenly, in midstride, he broke and began to hobble, his hand pressed against his left thigh high up near the hip. Woodhouse went on to win the race, but he did it unnoticed. Morrow, after a few painful steps, lay down on the track and rolled in agony. He was carried off by two trainers.
Later, lying on a rubbing table in the dressing room while a trainer applied an elastic bandage to his thigh, he appeared relaxed. "I've had cramps before," he said. "Usually at night after a hard race. This is the first time during a race. I think it's all right now." He moved his leg gingerly, flexing it carefully. The leg moved easily, without giving him pain.
"Maybe it's only a muscle spasm," he said hopefully. Later he jogged a little to loosen the leg, and it is unlikely that it will keep him out of the AAU meet. He ran better in the 60 yards he managed than he had all season, according to his coach, Abilene Christian's Oliver Jackson.
Morrow's sudden cramp pointed up a theory expounded at length by Bud Winter, Ray Norton's track coach at San Jose. Winter, who has put together a remarkably strong track team at San Jose State despite the fact that he has no track scholarships and a track budget of only $2,800 for the season, is probably the nation's firmest exponent of relaxation.
"I taught relaxation during the war to pilots," he said late one afternoon last week, sitting in the skimpy wooden stands at San Jose State, watching his athletes work in the still-bright California sun. "We were losing pilots in training because they were too tense. Pilots who had been fine in training tensed up going into combat and were lost. Pilots on Guadalcanal couldn't sleep at night because the Japs were sending over nuisance bombers to disturb their rest. We had to figure out some way to relax them. We worked out a program that taught pilots how to relax themselves, and we ran a test on two platoons, 60 men in each platoon. The 60 who learned how to relax did better in everything which requires physical coordination."
He watched Norton run, the lean, handsome boy moving very easily, his hands flopping.
"Watch his lower lip," Winter said. Winter is a sun-scorched, intense man who talks very rapidly, as if his ideas outpaced his words. "That's what we work on. The lower lip and the hands. If his lower lip is relaxed and flopping when he runs, his upper body is loose. If his hands are relaxed, his arm muscles are relaxed. You got to run relaxed to get maximum speed. If you have antagonistic muscles working against each other, you're working against yourself."
Winter loosened his jaw and flipped his lower lip with his hand.
"Like that," he said. "It's got to be loose. Now, here's what we do. We take a kid's a good sprinter, we time him over 30 yards. We let him take a flying start, then, three times in a row, we get his time over a 30-yard stretch. Say a good sprinter, he'll run that 30 yards in 3 seconds flat, maybe. Three times in a row we time him, 3 seconds flat, with him going all out, straining. Then we say, 'O.K., now, do it at four-fifths speed. Don't strain.' So he runs it at four-fifths speed and we time him and he comes up to me and I say, 'What do you think your time was?' And he'll say, 'Oh, maybe 3.4, Coach' and I'll show him the stop watch. You know what? Nine times out of 10, he's run it two-tenths of a second faster. He's run 2.8. You believe that? It's true."
He stopped to ask a pole vaulter if a new pole suited him. "It's got a belly in it," the vaulter said. "Does it bother you?" Winter asked. "No, Coach," the boy answered. "I put it in. It helps."
Winter turned back. "Take Norton," he said. "He was tensed up a little last year. Now he runs easy, relaxed. When he ran the 9.3 not long ago, he was real loose. When he crossed the finish line, his hands were limp, his mouth was open and loose. The tough thing is to teach a boy to keep that relaxation under the strain of strong competition. We have a course here in relaxation that I teach. I make the boys want to take it. Now Norton can run under stress and stay relaxed. That's why he's better."
Norton, involved with final examinations, did not run at Compton the week after the Modesto meet, nor at Houston; Morrow ran very well at Houston but the tension was there in him, and it is possible that that tension, in a runner who is normally the most relaxed sprinter around, helped the sudden muscle spasm along.
The two California meets helped point up the strength of Coast college teams for the upcoming NCAA meet. A surprise team, Oregon, must be reckoned with: Cook, with his new start, has to be rated among the best college sprinters; Otis Davis, a remarkable athlete who ran his seventh quarter mile at Modesto and won in 46.2 seconds, is a likely point-getter in his event; Dave Edstrom, the decathlon star, is also a good high hurdler; and Jim Grelle is one of the three best college milers in the country.
But off the showings in these penultimate meets, Kansas must still be considered the strongest team in the NCAA competition. Allen is by far the best collegiate javelin thrower; Broad Jumper Ernie Shelby finished second to Los Angeles State's Joel Wiley in the Compton meet, but Wiley (who did 26:2‚⅛ at Modesto) is ineligible for NCAA competition, and Darrell Horn, of Oregon State, who is probably the next best collegiate broad jumper, does not figure to challenge Shelby too strongly. In Charley Tidwell, Kansas has one of the best low hurdlers in the college ranks, and Kansas has all-round point strength to go with its stars.
Briefly, by events, the NCAA looks like this: in the DASHES, Abilene Christian's Bill Woodhouse, San Jose State's Norton and Oregon's Cook are the class of the field. The QUARTER MILE should go to Eddie Southern, who is just beginning to hit peak form, although Jack Yerman of California, Chuck Carlson of Colorado, and Otis Davis of Oregon could upset Southern. The HALF MILE should belong to North Carolina's Dave Scurlock, who administered a sound thrashing to Ernie Cunliffe of Stanford at the Compton meet and ran 1:49.8 in doing it. Joe Mullins, a Nova Scotian attending Nebraska, has done 1:49 flat, and George Kerr of Illinois is up close. Oregon's Grelle, Ed Moran of Penn State and Oklahoma's Gail Hodgson (who did 4:03.4 at Houston) should fight out the MILE. The THREE-MILE belongs to Miles Eisenman of Oklahoma State or John Macy of Houston. The HURDLES are a dogfight between Hayes Jones of Eastern Michigan and Elias Gilbert of Winston Salem. Dick Howard of New Mexico is the best in the 400-METER HURDLES, unless Southern doubles in the quarter mile and the 400-meter hurdles, a nearly impossible feat.
In the field events the state of Oklahoma owns a monopoly in both the shotput and the POLE VAULT. Two Oklahoma State vaulters—Aubrey Dooley and Jim Graham—have done 15 feet 5 inches this year and Oklahoma's J. D. Martin has done 15 feet 3¾. No other collegiate vaulter is in their class. Oklahoma also has the nation's best collegiate SHOTPUT pair in Dan Erwin and Mike Lindsay, a London, England, transplant. Erwin and Lindsay managed a record of sorts at Houston, when Erwin won with 58 feet 1½ inches and Lindsay finished second with 57 feet 1½. Their combined total of 115 feet 3 inches is the best combination result by two members of the same team. (Al Oerter and Bill Nieder of Kansas did 114 feet 10 three years ago.) In the DISCUS Utah State's Jay Silvester is the best. Defending champ Don Stewart of SMU should again outleap everyone in a wide open HIGH JUMP competition. Two other almost certain winners are Shelby in the BROAD JUMP and Alley in the JAVELIN.
All in all, the U.S. has produced a bumper crop of track athletes in this, the pre-Olympic year. The American youngsters, in direct contradiction to the contention of Avery Brundage (SI, Feb. 2), seem to be growing stronger, faster and quicker.
If they can learn to relax, this country is in no danger of becoming a second-class track power.