All five of them were world record holders. They were introduced first at the finish line of the 100-meter dash, then trotted back the length of the course through the crowd's roar to wait for the starter's gun. A thin drizzle began as they set their starting blocks, but in the almost electric tension of the moment none of the 40,000 people at the Penn Relays paid any attention to it.
Nor did the sprinters. Bobby Morrow, the Olympic champion, was grim and withdrawn and calm. The road back for Morrow has been a long and difficult one, and this race was to be an accurate measure of how much farther he has to go. Dave Sime, who four years ago was the fastest human in the world, looked pale and very tense, his eyes blank and unseeing. Short, stocky Bill Woodhouse was businesslike. Tiny Ira Murchison was relaxed, bouncing easily, shaking his hands loosely and smiling.
The fifth man was Ray Norton, double sprint winner in the U.S.-Russia and Pan American meets last summer. Norton's square, tough face was set, his jaw locked. He had been unbeatable for a year, but he had never faced a field like this one. "This is it," his coach, Bud Winter, had said the night before. "If he can relax and run his race against this kind of competition, they'll never beat him."
May 8, 1960
Now, at the starting blocks, the five sprinters crouched tensely. Twice they broke in false starts. The first time it was Norton, and the other time two or three broke together. On each of the breaks Morrow, the veteran of a hundred big races, remained steadily in his blocks.
When the gun finally cracked and they were away, it was Morrow whose quick reflexes sent him into the early lead. The big sunburned Texan led the field by a stride at 20 yards. Here was the time when Norton might try too hard and chop his stride and lose.
But he did not. In a beautiful, smooth, lifting burst of speed he drew even with Morrow 40 yards out and then began pulling away. Sime, who had started poorly, moved too, not gaining on Norton, but leaving Morrow behind. Murchison, up with the leaders for the first 50 yards, faded and finished last. Woodhouse stayed close up and finished fourth.
At the finish it was Norton by two yards over Sime, with Morrow another two yards behind. The time—10.5—was not remarkable, but the race was run into a four-mile wind and over a track chewed up by the hordes of runners competing in the two-day meet.
Winter hugged Norton after the race. "The time doesn't matter," he said. "That takes care of itself, just so long as you win. Nobody has any idea how much this means," the coach went on. "This was Ray's biggest psychological hurdle. By far his most important race ever. Now he's over it all. He knows he can do it, and he's loose." He looked over at Norton, who was by now pulling on his gold and white satin warmup suit. "Come on, Ray," he said. "Get those wrinkles out of your forehead " Norton laughed and the wrinkles disappeared.
Norton, Sime, Morrow and Ed Collymore raced at 200 meters later in the gray, rain-spattered afternoon. The tension was notably lacking in this one; everyone, including Norton, was sure he would win it and he did. He ran it in 20.6 seconds, around a full curve, tying the listed world record. He ran easily and confidently, and he looked like the finest sprinter in the world.
"I knew he was ready physically," Winter said. "I never told anybody this, but in workouts he ran a couple of six-flat 60s—in a sweatsuit." The American record for 60 yards—there is no official world mark—is six seconds flat.
Paradoxically, the only people in Franklin Field who were not convinced of Norton's pre-eminence in sprinting were the men he defeated.
Murchison, recovering from three serious operations last summer which dwindled his weight to a wispy 94 pounds, felt good. "I didn't have the lift at 50 yards that I used to get," he said. "But my health feels just fine. The thing that kept me alive last summer was the knowledge that I could run again, and now I know for sure I can. I'll be back."
After the 200, Sime, second again, was happy, too. Plagued during his entire running career with a succession of pulled muscles, he felt good about running hard from start to finish. "I'm getting there," he said. "Finally coming along. This is the first time I've finished two races since I don't know when. I ran a 20.8, and it's been a long time since I've done that, too. I can take a month of real hard work now without any trouble."
Later Sime sat beside Norton on a bench near the high-jump pit as John Thomas, the incomparable high jumper from Boston University, set anew world record of 7 feet 1½ inches. The crowd howled with delight at Thomas' record, but most of their emotion had been spent on the dashes.
Sime asked Norton about his workout schedule, and Norton said, "I get most of it from my coach's book. Bud Winter. He's done this book So You Want to Be A Sprinter and that's what I use. I'll send you a copy."
"I think my coach can get one for me," Dave Sime said thoughtfully.
At the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Bill Nieder, the new world record holder in the shotput, tossed the 16-pound ball 63 feet 11½ inches to beat his eminent rival, Parry O'Brien, and Dave Davis, another of the shotput big four (Dallas Long, the fourth member of the group, was competing in a triangular meet in California where he did 60 feet 5¾).
"O'Brien's a great competitor," Nieder said afterward. "He showed it when he came back with that 63 feet VA after I did 62 feet 8½ on my first try. But if he had a psychological edge it's gone now because I didn't choke up. We're not really mad at each other; we're just firing each other up."
Someone asked Nieder if he and O'Brien had ever come close to fighting. "No," Nieder said patiently. "But if we could get 100,000 people to pay to see us, maybe we'd put on the gloves and go at it."
Glenn Davis, forced out of competition last summer by a sore back, then hampered this year by three attacks of tonsillitis, showed his old mastery when he beat Texas' Eddie Southern by four yards in the 400-meter run. "He's 10 pounds underweight," said his coach, Larry Snyder, who is also the 1960 U.S. Olympic team coach. "But he's coming along." Everyone is.