The new Los Angeles Sports Arena, site last week of southern California's first indoor track meet, squats, blue and modern, just outside the immense cement oval of the Los Angeles Coliseum. Inside it is bright and clean and looks something like a vast operating theater, and it is a wonderful place to watch a sports event. It seats its audience in upholstered comfort and is probably the only place in the world where the crowd is never in any doubt as to its own size. Mounted in the arena are electric crowd counters, recording each click of the turnstiles. They stopped at 12,753 at this meet, within 500 of capacity.
The arena is a far cry from the grimy environs of Madison Square Garden, but the special excitement of indoor track was there. The crowd, a quieter but more knowledgeable group than the rowdy inhabitants of New York's Garden, showed an enthusiasm which augurs well for the future of indoor track in outdoor-minded Los Angeles.
The meet itself was conducted with commendable briskness and with about half as many officials as clutter up the infield at indoor meets in the East. Meet Director Herschel Smith, inexperienced in indoor track, hadn't scheduled enough relay races; thus there were long stretches when the wooden oval went unused. Because of this the meet lacked some of the three-ring excitement of a track night at the Garden, but the crowd did not seem to mind.
There were some characteristic California touches. A Hollywood starlet was named Queen of the First Los Angeles Invitational Indoor Track Meet. The officials wore sports jackets and slacks, or ordinary business suits, instead of the black tie uniform of indoor officials in the East. Ordinary events received special promotional names—most of them belonging to advertisers in the official program—like the Union Federal Savings High Jump, the Tom Harmon Olympic Games Tour Two-Mile Relay and the Bushnell Binoculars 600 Yard Run.
There was a flurry of excitement when the shotput began because no one had thought to procure an indoor shot, which is covered with leather to keep it from hammering the floor to pieces. Parry O'Brien, grumpily battling the flu, saved the day—or night—by lending his own indoor shot for the event. O'Brien, who by virtue of a. strenuous weight-lifting program has raised his weight from last year's 235 to a muscle-bulging 250, then leaved his personal shot 63 feet 1 inch to set a new world indoor record, only an inch shy of his outdoor world record.
O'Brien made the record on his fifth throw, at which time he was trailing Dave Davis, who finished second at 61 feet 6½ inches. Parry, with his customary self-confidence, said he was not worried by Davis' fine put. "I like it that way," he said casually. "It shows me what I have to do." The 15 pounds of muscle O'Brien has added seems to make him even stronger. At 27 he seems a good bet to win his third Olympic title and to reach 65 feet in the shot, which is his personal goal.
A BOW TO THE EAST
This courteous California crowd saved its loudest applause for the efforts of Easterner Don Bragg, who just missed making a 16-foot pole vault. (The world indoor record, made a year ago by Bragg, is 15 feet 9½ inches.) Last September, at the tag end of a long track season, sitting on the grass of the infield at the Pan American Games in Chicago, Don had said, "I'm just going to stride through the indoor season. You can't stay at a peak too long, and I want to be ready for the Olympic trials in July." But at Los Angeles last Friday he did 15 feet 5½ inches easily, clearing the crossbar by a good six inches. "I didn't see any point in raising the bar to just 15-10," he said later. "I told them to put it at 16. Why break the record by an inch or so? I felt real good. Real good."
On his first attempt at 16 feet, Bragg lifted his body cleanly over the crossbar and began to drop as the crowd loosed an explosive roar. He brushed the bar gently with his chest and knocked it down. On both his second and last attempts he was over the bar again but again hit it on his descent.
Almost certainly Bragg will make 16 feet before this track season ends. He has been working out for only three weeks, but he has retained the marvelous technique which made him the most consistent vaulter in the world last year. "I went up to 227 pounds after the Pan American Games," he said. "And I meant what I said about taking it easy during the indoor season. I'm not working hard. It just seems to come easy this year. I don't know why."
Both Bragg and O'Brien, of course, will be favored to win their events at the Olympics. They may be joined in the winner's circle at Rome by a slender young man named Dyrol Burleson, who looks as if he'll become the finest miler in U.S. track history. Burleson is a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Oregon. At Los Angeles, running for the first time in his life on boards, he won the mile in 4:06. He did it easily, moving with a light, economical stride which seems effortless. Dan Waern, the great Swedish miler who has been under four minutes six times, faded sadly in this race. He had a bad cold and was not in peak condition, and he finished a poor fourth behind the veteran Phil Coleman and George Larson, a little-known Oregon teammate of Burleson's who ran a strong 4:07.8. Larson, overshadowed at Oregon by Burleson and by Jim Grelle, is the latest in a long list of fine distance runners developed by Bill Bowerman, the Oregon coach. Bowerman, an intense man, workshis athletes hard in spurts and rests them hard in between.
HUNGRY AND ANXIOUS
"You have to keep them anxious," Bowerman said. "I mean anxious to run. Take Burleson. He loves hard work and he would work constantly if I let him. But I like to keep him hungry. Hungry for running and hungry for competition. When the conditions are right I let him work as hard as he likes. But I make sure he slacks off, too."
Bowerman, who is America's top distance-running coach, modestly attributed the success of Grelle (who won the 1,000-yard race in 2:09.5 earlier in the evening), Burleson, Bill Dellinger, Larson, Jim Bailey and the rest of his signally successful distance men to the Oregon climate.
"It very seldom gets too hot or too cold there," he said. "This last week, for instance, it was around 30. That's not too cold to work out. The kids pull a stocking cap over their ears, put on their long-handle drawers, wear mittens and run. In the summer, if it does go over 80, we work in the evening after it cools off. I won't run a boy in hot weather. The heat is enervating and the boy gets dehydrated and exhausted, and that probably has some kind of psychological effect on him in a race on a hot day."
For Burleson's very good mile the weather in the Sports Arena was about the same as it was outside in Los Angeles—cool and balmy. Dyrol, running well off the pace until the last two laps, came up fast and finished very strongly—which prompted the veteran Phil Coleman, who was second, to say: "If Burleson and Herb Elliott were coming into the last straightaway of the mile together, I think Burleson would win."
Incidentally, Burleson and Grelle, who finished 1-2 in the mile in both the AAU and U.S.-Russia meets last summer, have agreed not to compete against each other during the indoor track season. Grelle, who has graduated from Oregon, will run in the Mill-rose mile in Madison Square Garden, but he may switch to another event for the Olympic trials. He thinks that Burleson is capable of a 3:56 mile outdoors right now.
Aside from the obvious fact that most of the competitors were in exceptionally good condition for so early in the season, two factors contributed to the excellence of the performances in this meet. One was the track, which is the one used in the Milwaukee Journal Games and which was borrowed and shipped west in three trucks for the occasion. "It's the best board track in America," Max Truex said after his two-mile race. Truex, who has been bothered by loose ligaments and a dislocated bone in his foot, had trained for only two weeks and lost to a whistling finish by Jim Beatty, a North Carolina graduate who ran the fastest race of his life (8:57), four full seconds under his previous best outdoor time. Beatty attributes his improvement to a training program given him by Mihaly Igloi, the Hungarian coach who defected from his country's Olympic team in 1956 and now handles the Santa Clara Youth Village team.
The second advantageous factor was the clean air. By the end of a track meet in Madison Square Garden the spectators nesting high up under the roof in the second balcony have difficulty seeing the athletes through the drifting clouds of smoke. In Los Angeles, reminded two or three times not to smoke by the public-address announcer, the track-wise crowd obeyed and the air was clean all evening. The smoke-laden atmosphere of eastern indoor meets has long been a pet peeve of visiting athletes, especially Europeans.
"The conditions here were just about ideal," Bragg pointed out after his Herculean attempt at 16 feet. "All they needed to make it perfect was foam-rubber shavings in the pit, instead of sawdust."
All in all, the first Los Angeles indoor meet was a resounding success, financially and artistically. It will be followed on Saturday night, February 13, by another, this one sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Glenn Davis, Army football's onetime Mr. Outside, who is handling the arrangements for the Times meet, has scheduled more relay races, and he also plans to cover the infield at the arena with green sawdust to give the place a lawnlike appearance. Oh, California.
Davis also tried earnestly to sell Don Bragg on the idea of flying from the Philadelphia Inquirer Game (which will be held the Friday night before the Times meet) to compete the next day in L.A., but he was unsuccessful.
"I'm just striding through the indoor season," Bragg repeated. "I can't burn myself out before the Olympics. That's my goal. That's everybody's goal."