Seldom has a track meet encompassed so much of the magic of brilliant competition, the successful use of the psychological ploys which help make up track excellence and so much of the peculiar excitement attached to international rivalry.
The United States men, as expected, won rather easily, 127-108; the United States women, also as expected, lost 40-67.
From a rich store of memories left with every spectator, a picture which must remain indelibly in the mind is that of Dyrol Burleson, the astounding young miler from Oregon, winning the 1,500-meter run. It was the picture of a 19-year-old college boy smiling in victory in such a way as to demonstrate at one and the same time the spirit of friendly competition that characterized this history-making meet between the two nations and an essential difference between the makeup of the two teams. Burleson, wise enough in his inexperience to let veteran international competitor Jim Grelle decide the pace, ghosted behind Grelle, within striking distance of the fast early pace of Russians Yevgeny Momotkov and Yevgeny Sokolov, for three laps. The tall and slender youngster has a beautifully smooth stride, and he ran very easily, his face showing no strain. When Grelle made his run at the Russians, Burleson went with him and, as the two Americans came off the last turn, it was Burleson who had the greater reserve of strength and speed. He passed Grelle in the homestretch, the Russians now far behind, and he hit the tape as fresh as a daisy. He is, undoubtedly, America's best hope for the Olympic 1,500-meter run.
Yet the high point of the meet, in terms of sheer drama—and it was the sheerest—came with a race which, as a contest, was a walkaway, and which is usually a fairly stodgy event: the 10,000-meter run. But last Saturday in Philadelphia nearly 27,000 people howled and groaned for some 30 excruciating minutes while track's wildest 10,000 meters spun to its agonizing conclusion.
July 26, 1959
The Americans-Max Truex and Bob Soth had never been accorded a chance. Truex, a small, cheerful graduate of USC, had been able to train only 30 minutes a day since the National AAU meet in June because of Air Force demands. Soth, a dogged, persistent competitor, was not in the class of the two Russians—Aleksey Desyatchikov and Hubert Pyarnakivi.
But Truex and Soth, surprisingly, hung close to the Russian pair for the early laps. Then Truex, running in a baseball cap turned backward, prudently dropped well off the pace. Soth, though, stayed up with the Russian duo. Audaciously, on the seventh lap, he sprinted into the lead, and he stayed there until the 13th. There Desyatchikov, who ran the whole race with the machinelike precision of an automaton, took over for good. He won the race so easily that most of the spectators forgot him in the dramatic events which followed.
Soth continued running very strongly for another five or six laps. He had stretched his lead over the second Russian—Pyarnakivi—and, with some six laps to go, he began to make up ground on Desyatchikov. Then, oddly, he began to lean backward as he ran. He ran a couple of laps in this strange, off-balance posture, his legs flicking out regularly with an unnaturally high knee action, and then he began to wobble. ("I didn't hurt," he said later. "With six laps to go I felt pretty good, and I thought I might catch Desyatchikov. But I got awful tired. I knew I was leaning back, and I could hear the crowd yelling at me to lean forward, and I used my arms as hard as I could to keep my balance, but I couldn't get it.")
Going into the 23rd lap, Soth was running with the awful, slow movements of a man in a nightmare. He hit the turn with his feet splaying out helplessly and his body at a dangerous angle, and, for a few torturous moments, he ran in one spot, his legs moving jerkily and his arms threshing with the artificial movement of a marionette. Finally, some vagary let him lurch forward, and he went on around the track in a slow, mechanical doll stride. His face and body were dead white and his eyes were staring, but the legs and arms kept moving until he reached the next turn, where he stepped on the curb, staggered crazily in a tight circle and fell. He climbed precariously to his feet and fell again, his head narrowly missing the cement curb. Then he was picked up, rushed to the locker room, then to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, which is only a few hundred yards from Franklin Field.
During Soth's heart-rending dance with exhaustion, Truex had dropped farther and farther behind the two Russians. But, as Soth was carried by the stretcher bearers in a shambling run out of the tunnel at one end of the track, Pyarnakivi began the peculiar shuffling, backward leaning dance which had begun Soth's collapse. Wearing a white handkerchief around his head, Pyarnakivi had seemed nearly as tireless as Desyatchikov until the telltale lean developed. He fought the now-familiar fight with total depletion of energy for two laps; while he was wobbling slowly and precariously around the track, Truex began making up ground on him rapidly. Pyarnakivi continued the macabre jig down the backstretch of the last lap well over 100 yards ahead of Truex, but Max, running very well, passed him on the last turn and beat him to the wire by 50 yards. Pyarnakivi, unconscious by now of where he was, collapsed over the finish line. He was snatched up before he hit the ground by Vladimir Bulatov, the chunky Russian pole vaulter, and carried tenderly to the sideline, where Nina Ponomareva, the discus thrower, undressed him nearly completely before she was restrained in the interests of decency. Meanwhile, Truex had started to step off the track when Horace Ashenfelter, a veteran distance runner familiar with the myriad of mistakes meet officials are heir to, advised him to run another lap for insurance. This, wearily, he did.
Ashenfelter knew whereof he advised. In a welter of confusion and poor arithmetic the judges awarded Pyarnakivi second place ahead of Truex, although Truex had clearly beaten the Russian by 50-odd yards. They did this on the mistaken presumption that Pyarnakivi had lapped Truex, which he had not. The American team manager, inexplicably, failed to file a protest on this ruling; the next day the Russians fell back on this technicality in their refusal to admit a change in the placement of Truex and Pyarnakivi. Besides, they said, Pyarnakivi had lapped Truex—at approximately the 5,300-meter mark in the race. A careful check of lap times shows that at the 5,300-meter mark Truex trailed Desyatchikov and Pyarnakivi by approximately 24 seconds, or something less than 200 yards, obviously far less than he would have trailed them had he been lapped. Unfortunately, the original placement stood, and Truex, who ran an admirably intelligent race that kept him well within his physical capabilities in the hot, humid weather which did in Soth and Pyarnakivi, was denied his rightful second place.
After so much excitement packed into one 30-minute race, much of the rest of the meet seemed almost anticlimactic. A great deal of the interest of the preceding and following events was in the—often successful—psychological stratagems of the American contestants.
Gregory Bell, a slight, 28-year-old student of dentistry who has jumped over 26 feet more often than any man in the world, accomplished that feat for the 13th and 14th times in this meet. With little chance to work out, Bell knew he had to hit his maximum effort on his first jump. "Besides," he said, "I like to get that big one on the first jump. It psychs the other guys. It psyched Shelby in the AAU. He tied up after I did 26 feet 1½ inches on the first one."
Bell followed his stratagem magnificently. His first jump against the Russians was a walloping 26 feet 7 inches, the second longest broad jump in history. It successfully psyched the Russian 26-footer, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, who fouled three times and came up with 25 feet 9¼ inches for second place.
Parry O'Brien, who is, under the pressure of competition, the best shot-putter in the world, saved his most herculean effort for his final attempt. With a fine sense of theater, O'Brien stood immobile while the public address announcer explained that, with one attempt left, O'Brien trailed Teammate Dave Davis. Then O'Brien dropped a towel on the grass at the 63-foot 2-inch mark (his own world record) and, with an ear-shattering grunt, he heaved the shot out a fraction of an inch beyond that mark, setting a new world record of 63 feet 2½ inches. Then he scooped up his towel with a fine air of bravado and posed happily holding the shot over his head for a coterie of photographers.
A continuing thread of excitement which tied the meet together was the valiant attempt Russia's world record holder in the decathlon made to break his own mark. Vasily Kuznetsov was ahead of the pace which gave him the world record until a brief, torrential downpour soaked the track as the meet drew to its close.
Needing to run the final event—the 1,500 meters—in 5:02.6 to break his record, Kuznetsov paddled around the puddly, heavy track to finish in 5:03.8. His total of 8,350 points was the second highest in history, only seven points shy of his world record.
Yet another memorable picture will be that of Tom Murphy winning the 800 meters. Murphy, once criticized as lacking in tactical sense, paced himself magnificently. "I wanted to run a 54 second first quarter," he said after the race. "I hit it nearly on the nose. I wasn't worried nearly so much about the Russians as I was about Walters. When we came off the last turn I could hear someone at my shoulder and I was scared, but the race went just the way I planned it." It was Jerome Walters
at Murphy's shoulder. The small, courageous half-miler made his bid for the race a little late principally because one of the Russians—Abram Krivosheyev—had passed Walters on the last turn, cut in too sharply and made the American break stride.
"I could have kicked on the turn," Walters said. "I still think I can beat Murphy at the Pan American Games."
Ray Norton, a tall, perfectly proportioned sprinter from San Jose State College, established himself solidly as the latest in the long line of world-dominating American sprinters. Norton won the 100-and 200-meter dashes, taking both of them easily in the floating, relaxed and beautiful burst of speed which spurts him out of the pack at about the three-quarter mark in each race. He anchored the U.S. 400-meter relay team, making an easy victory of a race which, until his final lap, had been uncomfortably close because of the ragged baton exchanges of the American team. Norton, who last year had a tendency to tighten up a little in strong competition, is now a confident, self-assured and virtually unbeatable sprinter.
Another U.S. runner who has gained much needed assurance is Eddie Southern, who won the 400 meters with a superbly planned and executed race which sent him home 10 yards ahead of Dave Mills, the other American entry. "The only thing I did wrong was to start my kick too abruptly," Southern said. "You should step up your speed gradually so that your stride isn't disturbed. I kicked too hard coming out of the last turn, and I tied up a little going into the wire."
Bill Dellinger, who had been given a good chance to beat the Russians in the 5,000-meter run, suffered from having watched the 10,000 meters on Saturday. Saturday night, in the lobby of the Warwick Hotel, where both teams stayed, Dellinger looked worried. "I wish I hadn't seen that," he said nervously. The next afternoon, waiting for the start of the 5,000 meters, he was still distraught. He ran the race overcautiously, allowing the Russians—Pyotr Bolotnikov and Alexander Artynyuk—to build a tremendous lead while he conserved his energy to make sure he did not fall out, as had Soth in the 10,000-meter. Consequently, he was far off the pace of the relatively slow 14:17.8 turned in by Artynyuk, who won, and even farther off his own maximum effort.
There were, too, some pleasant surprises for U.S. track aficionados. Ira Davis, who, like most American track athletes is relatively unfamiliar with the predominantly European hop, step and jump, nevertheless placed second against the Russians with a very creditable leap of 52 feet 2 inches. Davis, with Herman Stokes, gives the U.S. unaccustomed strength for the Olympics in this event. And Mike Herman, competing in only his second decathlon in the U.S., overcame his basic weakness in the shot, discus and javelin to score well enough to beat Russia's Igor Ter-Ovanesyan. Dave Edstrom placed second in the decathlon and may eventually be a worthy teammate of Rafer Johnson, the injured U.S. champion. Al Oerter, the discus winner, bettered his personal best at 188 feet 9 inches, and Al Cantello, the short, deep-chested Marine lieutenant who recently set a world javelin record, showed it was no fluke by beating the very good Russians comfortably.
The American women were, in most instances, thoroughly outclassed by their surprisingly attractive Russian adversaries. In the 200-meter dash Lucinda Williams, running like a female Ray Norton, set an American record, winning in 23.4 seconds; Isabelle Daniels was second in 23.6, giving the U.S. women the only sweep they had. The Russians won eight of the 10 women's events; Barbara Jones, in the 100 meters, was the only other American woman to win; in most of the events the women of the U.S.S.R. so thoroughly outclassed the U.S. entry that the races were virtually divided into two contests: between the Russians for first and the Americans for third.
All in all, it was a tremendously exciting meeting between teams which were very friendly off the field. The officiating and the presentation of events on the field left something to be desired; often a race would start or an Olympic champion would make an attempt in a field event without the crowd being notified of it. But the crowds on Saturday and Sunday were good-natured, knowledgeable and as enthusiastic—nearly—about Russian victories as they were about American.
But the thing which, finally, gave this meet its flavor of extraordinarily determined, all-out competition was the pitting of the U.S. against the U.S.S.R. "It made it all bigger, somehow," Southern, one of the U.S. team captains, said. "You would nearly rather die than lose."
Bob Soth, who, as did Max Truex, recovered rapidly from his complete exhaustion in the 10,000-meter run, was busy taking pictures of the events Sunday.
"I wasn't running to get a point or two," he said. "I was running to beat the Russians. That was the best race I've ever run until I fell out. I'm going to step up my workouts for the Pan American meet. I'll be better then."
He probably will.
DRAMA AND PAIN IN THE 10,000
Time ran out on endurance for three of the four men in the 10,000-meter run. Bob Soth, of the U.S., collapsed with three laps to go. Compatriot Max Truex's last-lap sprint seemed to be justified when he snatched second from Russia's Hubert Pyarnakivi, who finished, then crumpled. Max's feat, though, was denied by the judges' confusion.
Finished before the finish was Bob Soth (No. 63), who led throughout the second quarter of the race. He faded to third. As he began suffering from cerebral anoxia-oxygen starvation of the brain—he ran with his body tilted backward. With three laps to go he slowed to a walk, stumbled from side to side, won a battle with his senses and somehow remained upright. Instinct prodded his feel past one another for almost another half lap before he tumbled to the cinders. He rose, fell again, then was carried off. His pulse was 172, his blood pressure unrecordable by the gauge.
Finished after the finish was Max Truex, who seemed about to drop out midway through the race. He stayed in, fell far behind. With what appeared to be one lap to go, Pyarnakivi began failing badly. In an epic of racing, Truex showed new life and actually began to sprint. He gained almost 200 yards on Pyarnakivi, scooted past him and placed second. Truex, due to confusion on the part of the officials, was advised to go yet another lap. When he finally finished he walked shakily around the infield, then was overcome, given aid by one of his teammates and removed for treatment.
Finished at the finish was Hubert Pyarnakivi, who seemed to run the last mile in a trance. His awkward stride became even more stilted, but he refused to go down. As he entered the last straightaway a teammate, Vladimir Bulatov, rushed to lend a hand. Pyarnakivi finished and was instantly hoisted away by Bulatov, who carried him to a spot next to the pole vault runway. Several other teammates immediately shredded the shirt from his chest, rubbed his arms, pumped his legs and applied artificial respiration. Finally he was carried off piggyback-style by Semyon Rzhishchin.
Fresh at the finish, Aleksey Desyatchikov, the winner, who usually runs this race in about 30 minutes. He ran an extra lap, didn't seem to mind.
CAPTAIN VASILY'S FINE VICTORY
Vasily Kuznetsov, the handsome, relentless athlete shown on these pages, is the finest all-round track competitor in the world. Had it not been for a brief, torrential rain last Sunday in Philadelphia, he would almost surely have broken his own world decathlon record. A serious, sometimes nearly somber man, Kuznetsov submitted to a barrage of questions by a host of American reporters. Asked, finally, whether he resented this interrogation, Kuznetsov smiled a rare smile and said, "No. Why else would I compete?" Whatever his reasons, Kuznetsov competed remarkably well. He won five of the 10 events; the rain delayed the last three events so that he had to rush through the finish of the pole vault, then the javelin and the 1,500 meters, run on a soggy track. Yet Kuznetsov came within seven points of his own world record.
Determination shows as Kuznetsov hurtles down the runway for pole vault.
Calm assurance of a champion stamps Vasily's features after release of javelin.
Fierce grimace reflects Russian's all-out effort to win the discus competition.
Concentration marks Kuznetsov's victorious attempt in the decathlon shotput.
THOSE DARLING 'DJEVACHKI'
In the American mind, the typical woman athlete of the U.S.S.R. looks something like a truck driver with long hair. In actual fact, the women who represented Russia in Philadelphia were, for the most part, dolls. The djevachki, a term of endearment for young pretty girls that the Russian coach was perfectly justified in using, were charming, a little shy and, on the whole, captivating. One of them looked a bit like a muscular Brigitte Bardot; nearly all of them were attractive, despite the fact that Helena Rubinstein has a wide-open market in the Soviet Union. Theirs was a fresh, unembellished beauty which survived the rigors of competition very well, as witness below—not to mention the sultry, stifling, near-90° temperature.