The tall, blond youngster, moving with a graceful, precise and economical stride, took the lead almost casually as the Baxter milers moved into the last two laps of the race. Dyrol Burleson slid by Jim Beatty, running confidently, and began the long, hard, finishing drive with which he usually kills off his competition. He seemed sure that it would kill off Beatty; the crowd in Madison Square Garden last week, responding to his bid with a steadily mounting roar, seemed sure of it, too. But Beatty, a short, deep-chested runner whose stride is choppy by comparison with Burleson's, refused to die. He hung a step behind as the pair left the field far back. Then, as they came out of the last turn, Beatty began his own drive, a powerful burst climaxed by a lunge which catapulted him into the yarn an Adam's apple ahead of Burleson. It was the best mile race of the indoor season (4:05.4) and, more importantly for track fans, revealed an exciting new competition between two of the finest distance coaches in the business.
Mihaly Igloi, Beatty's coach, is a small, sandy-haired humorless man who is fanatically devoted to teaching the art of running far and fast. Bill Bowerman, Burleson's coach, is a big, outgoing man with a somewhat violent sense of humor who is just as obsessed with track as Igloi. Igloi, who defected with other Hungarians after the 1956 Olympics, now coaches the Santa Clara Youth Village, a club for track hopefuls near San Jose, Calif. Bowerman is coach for the University of Oregon.
In indoor track meets from Los Angeles to New York and Philadelphia, the two men last week proved their pre-eminence in the matter of producing distance runners. Bowerman, who has developed more home-grown distance stars than any other American coach, was spreading his talent in unprecedented fashion. He had Jim Grelle (first in the 1,000) and Bill Dellinger (second in the mile) at Los Angeles; George Larson and Dick Miller (third and fifth in the mile) at Philadelphia; and Burleson and Vic Reeve (fourth in the mile) at New York. Igloi, with a smaller stable, beat Bowerman's Oregon runners at Philadelphia with Laszlo Tabori in the mile, and he beat them again in New York's Baxter Mile with Beatty, a North Carolina graduate with a heretofore undistinguished record.
Igloi, who fusses over his runners like a mother hen, was at Philadelphia and New York. Bowerman, a much more relaxed type who nonetheless shares Igloi's intense personal regard for his athletes, remained in Eugene, Oregon to teach a class in skiing, sure that his preparations had been as complete as he could make them and that his boys would perform well on their own.
Bowerman knows his runners well enough to be sure of their reactions to any situation. Like Igloi and, indeed, following in the tradition of most European coaches, he has a deep regard for the psychological problems of his athletes, and his success in developing this country's first nucleus of distance runners comes as much from this aspect of his coaching as from his considerable technical gifts.
"Bill is always thinking about you and helping you," Dellinger, who is one of America's strongest hopes in the Olympic 5,000-meter, said in Los Angeles. A 25-year-old graduate student, he has been under Bowerman's tutelage for six years. "Last year I was still in the Air Force and I was going to run in the Coliseum Relays. I was lying in the hotel room trying to decide whether to run in the mile or the two-mile. The phone rings and it's Bill. 'What are you going to run in tonight?' he wants to know. I told him I didn't know. 'Try the mile,' he said. 'We been working toward it, and I think you're ready.' I don't even know how Bill knew where to find me. But he did."
Grelle, who won the 1,000 at Los Angeles, is typical of a Bowerman-trained runner. He's almost painfully slender, and he's devoted to Bowerman. "If he has one idea that takes precedence, it's that he likes you to watch your weight," Grelle said. "When you check in with him, he says 'You better lose a couple of pounds.' He says it without hardly looking at you. You could probably be dying of beriberi and Bill would say, offhand, 'You better lose a couple of pounds.' "
Bowerman has a detailed schedule for each of his athletes to follow, based on what he considers their capability to be. He has, for instance, five-minute milers, 4:24 milers, 4:04 milers, and the boys in these categories stick to the schedule he gives them. Eight of his runners are capable of 4:10 or faster.
"Every kid thinks he can run a four-minute mile," says Bowerman. "But if he's at the schedule point where he's a 4:12 miler, there's no use kidding himself. He works at that pace and schedule."
Igloi's runners are usually much more mature than the youngsters Bowerman develops. Tabori, for instance, is 28, and Beatty, who came to Igloi after finishing four years of college, is 25. Dellinger, 25, and Grelle, 23, are the oldest of Bowerman's stable; the others range from 18 (Reeve) to 21 (Miller). Burleson, who may be the best miler in the U.S. come time for Olympic trials, is only 19 and can reasonably be expected to improve until he is in his late 20s.
Bowerman is a testy taskmaster who insists that his runners do what he thinks best.
"He wants you to run so's you get a clock in your head," Dellinger says. "If he says, 'I want you to run a 60-second quarter,' and he gets some freshman who's trying to make an impression and runs it in 57 seconds, he really chews him out. He'll say, 'I want you to run what I tell you to run. If you don't, I won't time you any more. You can go run on your own. You're not learning anything.' "
Strict as he is in practice sessions, Bowerman relaxes his runners with some fairly atrocious practical jokes. Dick Miller, a two-miler who tried the mile at Philadelphia and found the combination of his first indoor meet and the unfamiliar distance too much, was the victim of a typical Bowerman jape.
Eating rare roast beef some six hours before he was to run, the scholarly-looking Miller told this story with huge, if mystifying, pleasure.
"Bill kept after me for a long time to get some dental work done," he said. "He's that way. He knows every little thing about you and he worries about you. You can go to him with any problem, and he'll hustle out and do something for you. Anyway, I finally got the dental work done, and when I came out to practice, he said, 'Open your mouth and let me see.' So I opened my mouth and he popped a worm into it. Of course I spit it out, and he said, 'Don't do that. You're supposed to bite down on it.' "
When he's not busy working with his runners or devising new and more horrible practical jokes, Bowerman is a tinkerer. He makes track shoes for his athletes, trying always to cut down on weight. "The ordinary track shoe is covered with junk," he says. "Leather trim, tongue, laces. All unnecessary." Bowerman's shoe, which he cuts and sews himself to fit the athlete, is a combination of scraps of leather, elastic and canvas which weighs only about four ounces, as against 6½ ounces for the ordinary shoe. Bowerman figures that if he cuts the weight of the shoe an ounce, he's saving the runner from lifting approximately 200 pounds in a mile race, depending upon the runner's stride. Bowerman has also devised a track surface made of a combination of rubber and asphalt which he believes will be in general use in a few years. A portable shot-put ring which he worked out has a surface of plywood and industrial paint and gives good traction even in the rain. Parry O'Brien likes the ring very much and may eventually break a world record in one developed by Bowerman.
Bowerman lives with his wife, Barbara, and two of his three sons (one is in the Marines) in a big, rambling house he built himself. It is situated on 90 acres of land overlooking the McKenzie River, and on almost any given day you are likely to find there—in addition to a lively assortment of livestock including rattlesnakes, raccoons and sheep—Oregon runners, alone or in packs, who drop in at odd moments with or without invitation.
In Bowerman's lexicon, the highest praise he can give a runner is to call him a tiger. The six he sent out last week are all tigers. "A tiger," Burleson explained before his race in New York, "is tough. Aggressive. Bill doesn't want you to give away anything on the track. Never make it easy for the fellows you run against."
Burleson ran a reasonably tigerish race Saturday night in losing to Beatty, Igloi's tiger. He and Vic Reeve, a freshman from Canada, flew in from Eugene some seven hours late, reaching New York at 5 in the morning of the day before the race.
"We had a seven-hour layover in Chicago," Burleson said. "We went in to watch a movie while we were waiting, and it was very cold and I got the sniffles. But Beatty ran a fine race."
Burleson and Reeve relaxed the night before the meet by going to see The Music Man. They had seats in the front row and seemed as amused by a lady cellist as by the show. She bowed away without missing a note while reading a magazine.
Saturday the Oregon runners slept until 1 p.m., then visited the Empire State Building and the United Nations. They dressed for the meet in their hotel room, reached the Garden in time to warm up, ran their race and went back to the hotel. They did not see any other events because Burleson was so disgusted with himself.
"I wasn't driving off the turn," Burleson said furiously in his hotel room as he changed from his track clothes. "I didn't think anyone was coming up. I don't care if the time was good. It doesn't matter. It's the guy who crosses the line first. I hope I can run against Beatty again soon."
Burleson was still angry with himself after he had dressed. "I shouldn't eat anything," he said morosely. "I just had one meal today, but I think I'll put myself on bread and water. I ought to teach myself a lesson."
He relented in time to eat a turkey sandwich and drink two glasses of milk in the hotel coffee shop. He is rail-thin, like the other Oregon runners, and he pushed away an order of French fried potatoes that came with his sandwich. "No dessert," he said. "Bill says we can eat anything we like, but some things should be avoided, like French fries and dessert."
He got up and stretched, a tired and unhappy youngster.
"Let's get to bed," he said to Reeve. "We've got a 7 o'clock plane." He and Reeve walked away, two thin, very young-looking tigers on the way back to tell Bill what had happened.