Harold Connolly, asquat, blocky man who has thrown the hammer farther than anyone else in the world, sat unhappily under a stand built to support a TV camera and stared out at the pelting rain which had interrupted his event.
"We're all doing terribly," he said morosely, and Al Hall, another U.S. contestant in the hammer throw at the Pan American Games, nodded. "This is an important meet," Connolly went on. "Good for international relations. But otherwise, it's nothing. These South American countries aren't up to world standards in most events. A few more meets like this and they may be, but not yet. Me, I'm not fired up. I'm moving into a new house, it's been a long season and I can't concentrate."
Connolly is typical of track athletes as a group—introspective, self-analytical, loquacious. In Chicago the track men spent a good deal of time talking about themselves and their events.
"Hey," Connolly said to Hall, "where are the days when we used to be vicious, we used to be tigers? Married life is ruining us both," he-said with a wry grin. "Took me a year to adjust to marriage, another year to adjust to the baby. Maybe next year I can get going again."
September 20, 1959
The rain thinned out and died away in a distant rumble of thunder over Lake Michigan. Connolly stood up, preparing to go back to the hammer circle. 'The first two-thirds of the season I averaged 217 feet," he said bitterly. "I'm stretching for 200 now. They'll laugh at me in Europe. They'll all say we should rest. You've got to have the old fire. When you don't you might as well quit, take a rest. That's what O'Brien does. When he loses it, he lays off three, four weeks. Then when he feels it come back, he gets to work."
He went out to the rain-wet cement circle from which the hammer is launched and stretched for his 200 feet. He missed it by inches and eventually finished in second place.
"It was rotten throwing," he said with disgust. "What a way to end the season."
Charley Dumas, first man ever to clear 7 feet in the high jump, waited moodily for his turn to jump. He plucked fretfully at the tiny bop musician's beard he affects and said, "This is going to be terrible tonight; that wind is murder. The bar won't stay up there. But you can't blame anyone. It's just old mama nature." He watched a tense, deadly earnest young Cuban miss. "Don't expect miracles from me," he said. "I haven't had time to work out. I been going to night school, studying geometry, and working during the day. I just came to this meet because I qualified." Dumas went on to win the high jump, at 6 feet 10½ inches, good but off his best.
Sub-peak performances were the rule rather than the exception for U.S. stars at the games, and this departure from form was explained by Dick Howard, the National AAU 400-meter hurdles champion, who finished second at Chicago to the veteran Josh Culbreath.
Howard, whose hurdling technique frequently resembles the form of a small boy jumping a back fence with an armful of stolen apples, said, "This was my 78th time out of the blocks this year. It was Josh's 10th. I'm really worn out. You can't beat a man after that many races. It's hard on us college runners in a long season like this. I have a responsibility to my school [New Mexico University] and it means I run four races a meet. I can show you the clippings—HOWARD WINS FOUR EVENTS. Next year will be the same and by the time of the Olympic trials, we'll be worn out again. I wish there was a way to ease up in the spring of an Olympic year."
He kicked at the thick grass of the Soldier Field infield.
"I'm not making excuses," he said. "Josh is a wonderful runner. But I'm darn glad the season is over."
Mental fatigue, too, affected some of the U.S. competitors, like Don Bragg, surely the best pole vaulter in the world, who sat waiting his turn at the vaulting pits.
"I had trouble getting up about this meet," he said, "until I got this infected blister. Then that gave me something to overcome—a challenge. I'm nauseated right now; I'm nervous; I'm excited. But I wouldn't have been just for the meet itself. I needed that extra incentive of overcoming something."
He watched the early vaults of his competitors with interest.
"Watch these guys," he said. "Watch them wait for their run up to vault. One thing you'll notice is they swallow just before they take off. That's a big thing. Sounds funny, doesn't it? But you got to swallow your saliva just right. When I swallow my spit right, I go. If a guy swallows his saliva and then he doesn't go, he'll psych out. He can't go then. But if you swallow just right, you'll make it."
He hauled the tired, handsome physique which may make him movies' next Tarzan to the head of the runway and stood very still, looking pensively at the high crossbar. Then he swallowed his spit, took off and sailed over easily.
"Next year I'm going to stride through the indoor meets," he said when he came back to the head of the runway. "You can't be ready physically or mentally for all the meets. And the Olympic trials are the big thing. I don't want to miss the Olympics."
The most impressive show of track strength at the Pan American Games was made by a fine group of quarter milers from the West Indies Federation. College-trained in the U.S. and comparatively fresh since most of them had skipped the National AAU meet, they were filled with a tremendous desire to beat their U.S. rivals. They finished 1-2-3 in the 400-meter run and scored a clear victory over the U.S. in the 1,600-meter relay. Their best individual performer was George Kerr, who won the 400, anchored the relay team and finished an eyelash behind Tom Murphy in the 800 meters after running a poor race tactically.
"I guess we have so many good quarter milers because I ran the quarter," said Herb McKenley, the former Olympic star who coaches the West Indian team. "I'm very proud of them all. This was worth working for. George Kerr could have been a double winner, but in a way it's well that this happened to him now. He ran a terrible race in the 800, but he's young and he'll do a lot of improving. I have told him often, 'George, no matter how well or how badly you run, go over each race in your mind before you go to sleep that night and eliminate from them all of the mistakes you realize you made.' "
Kerr's mistake in the 800 was in staying too far off the pace, leaving himself an impossible gap to close against a runner with Murphy's marvelous finishing sprint. In the 400, a timely bit of advice from his coach at Illinois, Leo Johnson, helped him.
"Coming out of the last curve," Kerr said, "with about 20 or 30 yards to go, I heard someone yell, 'Relax! Relax!' I realized right then I was tightening up because I was looking for Ince."
He was worried about Basil Ince, a West Indian teammate, because this was only the second time he had run against the Tufts graduate.
"But I relaxed," he added, "and I won."
Probably the most relaxed athlete on the field was Ray Norton, who kept himself from being a great sprinter in 1958 precisely because he tightened up in crucial races. He won both the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchored the winning U.S. 400-meter relay team. Once, in a 200-meter semifinal, running well ahead in the very easy, very long-striding style which is peculiarly his, he called back over his shoulder to a teammate, "Pick it up, pick it up. They'll catch us."
In view of the fine performance of the West Indians, who beat us in our pet events, that's pretty good advice for the whole U.S. team.
Although Norton tied the world record for the 200 meters around a curve (20.6), he, too, was glad to reach the end of the long season. "I'm terribly tired," he said after the meet. "That tired old feeling I had last year after I got mononucleosis is coming back. I need rest."
Norton, who played halfback on the San Jose State football team last season, is under considerable pressure to play again this year. The attraction of seeing the "world's fastest human" carrying the ball has boosted San Jose's preseason ticket sale from less than 100 to more than 2,500, but Norton, at last report, has not succumbed to the pressure. After an interview with Football Coach Bob Titchenal, Norton allowed that he might come out to afternoon practice, but then he did not appear either at practice or at the training table.
"It's a shame," said Titchenal.
"He has saved himself for the world of sport," said Bert Nelson, editor of Track and Field News.
"I dunno," said Norton unhappily. "I dunno what I'll do."
Whatever Norton does, the rest of the U.S. athletes were looking forward to a long rest before they begin work for the Olympics next season.
Since the Olympics at Rome will take place in late August, the same time as this year's Pan American Games, it might be wise for U.S. track officials to make sure that our athletes do not reach Rome in the same exhausted condition that they were in at Chicago.
"I got to be better for Rome," said Eddie Southern, the Texas quarter miler who ran courageously at Chicago but who could not overcome the combination of a long season's accumulation of fatigue and the interruption of his training by a tour of duty in the Air Force. "I got to be ready."
The whole team has got to be better. The whole team has got to be ready.