American women took over the world of sport last week—in the air, in the water and on the land:
Pllurrupp! (more or less) went the checkered flag as the starter whipped it downward. Mrs. Patricia Gladney of Los Altos pointed her Cessna 180 lightplane upwind and the 14th annual All Woman Transcontinental Air Race was off into southern California's baby-blue sky.
Sssh! (in suspense) went the crowd at the Olympic track and field try-outs in Abilene, Texas. Mrs. Olga Fikotova Connolly, late of Czechoslovakia, gracefully dispatched, with a ladylike grunt, the discus 172½ feet 4½ inches.
Crack! (quite distinctly) went the gun for the 200-meter backstroke at the women's national AAU swimming meet in Indianapolis. Miss Lynn Burke of Santa Clara, Calif., precisely 2 minutes and 33.5 seconds later, burbled to the surface of the huge Broad Ripple pool shouting with the intuition of her sex: "That's it! That's it! My first real world record!"
July 24, 1960
The girls were well into their big athletic week.
After one last tuck at her brunette curls, Pat Gladney, while first aloft in the women's air race commonly known as the Powder Puff Derby, was but one of the 150 pilots and copilots pushing 79 planes cross-country. Sponsored by the Ninety-Nines, an all-girl flying association whose membership once included the late Amelia Earhart, this year's derby was routed on a gently sweeping curve from Torrance, Calif., across the Southwest, eater-cornered over the length of Tennessee and through Virginia to Wilmington, Del. To win the race is to stay on course, to cut the sharpest corners and to extract the utmost speed over the normal rating of the planes. Mrs. Fran Bera, a four-time winner of the race who wound up sixth in this one, summed up the pilots'-alternatives: "You can't take chances and gamble—then, again, you can't chicken out, either."
Within the wide latitude of these two electives, a number of the ladies still went wrong. High over the Arizona desert, for instance, Mrs. Velma Del Giorno of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. and Mrs. Helen Wetherill of Detroit found themselves off course and out of gasoline. They violated rule one when they gambled they could find aviation fuel on the Navajo reservation that was below them, and, heap big disappointment, they lost. Luckier was another couple that, in similar straitened circumstances, set down on another Indian reservation. Resourcefully they tanked up on automobile gasoline, and, while almost chickening out but not quite, they proceeded by sputters to the next airport.
The 11 compulsory refueling stops along the derby route tested not only the pilots' ability to fly but also the copilots' ability to run. A good runner could make a difference, because time on the ground did not count after the plane's logbook had been stamped by a time clock. Thus, after landing as near as possible to the timing table on the airport apron, the pilot would eject her copilot at full tilt with logbook in hand. Understandably, there were casualties along the way. California's Mary Pinkney called in an orthopedic surgeon, for instance, and he discovered she had pulled a leg muscle sprinting for the time clock in Chattanooga. Betty Hicks, the golf professional, canceled a later engagement at the USGA Women's Open tournament, and her explanation was brief: stiff muscles. California's Ruth Nitzen and Margie James were disqualified in Prescott, Ariz. In her eagerness, Margie had leaped from the plane before the propeller stopped turning, a grievous infraction of race rules.
Every race has statistics, and the Powder Puff Derby does, too. One plane cracked up. Lois May Miles of Northridge, Calif., flying solo, was unable to lower her wheels over Roanoke and was obliged to pancake beside the runway, bringing applause from watching American Airlines pilots. One plane won. It was piloted by Mrs. Aileen Saunders of El Cajon, Calif. and June Douglas of Fall River, Mass., who made better than 15 knots over their rated speed. They won last year, too. One plane w-s absolutely last, this one piloted by Betty Jane and Betty Alyce Farrell, sisters-in-law from California who somehow managed to average 32 knots slower than the plane's normal speed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Abilene, Olga Connolly (an American citizen for only two weeks) had broken the listed American citizens' record in the discus. It lasted just long enough for Los Angeles' outsized ("I won't ever tell you how much I weigh") Earlene Brown to warm up. Then Earlene tossed the discus 4 feet 5½ inches farther than Olga had just done and 8½ inches farther than Olga did to win a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics. Olga was not overly depressed. She still finished in second place and she will still go to Rome, hand in hand with her husband Hal, the hammer-throwing man.
The Abilene trials followed by a week the national AAU women's track meet in Corpus Christi. Not everyone showed up in both places. Betty Luprorini of San Mateo, Calif., though qualified for the Olympic try-outs, preferred to go home and enter charm school. Nor did all of the 130 girls who did show up in Abilene find everything to their liking. There were dogs, cats and large-sized bugs in the dormitories, said some. There was monkey business, too, said Diana Gallardo of Los Angeles.
"I was scheduled to run in the 800-meter third heat," Diana heatedly protested, "yet one minute before the first heat I was told I was entered in that. I had my third-heat race all planned. I knew whom I was going to race against. As it turned out, I was forced to run with kids who had never been in the 800."
She wasn't pushed by the slower pace of the other contestants, Diana said, and she ran so badly she failed to qualify for the final heat.
"And I know why it happened, too," Diana added darkly. "It was because I had complained too much about the bad food and quarters we had in Corpus Christi. It was a deliberate way of getting even with me."
Maybe so, but nobody got even with Chicago's Willye B. White. On her first and only attempt, she sailed 20 feet 4½ inches for a new American broad-jump record and a seat on the plane to Rome. Willye B., let the record show, was somewhat discombobulated when the distance was announced. First she raised up her voice and held a note in the neighborhood of F above high C. Then, in Act Two, she bent down and beat a tattoo on the ground. Finishing off, she opened her mouth again to render a fair imitation of a west Texas coyote. "I'm on my way," she was heard to say.
Some more Olympians
On their way, too, on the basis of their Abilene performances, are Karen Anderson Oldham, a javelin veteran of the 1956 Olympics who came back after four years of retirement, and four standout runners from Nashville's Tennessee State—Wilma Rudolph, Barbara Jones, Martha Hudson and Lucinda Williams—strong favorites to win gold medals. And if gold medals were awarded for pecan harvesting, Earlene Brown would be a favorite in that. As she was telling and showing the Texas people before she left: "First you take ahold of the tree trunk, see, you give it a good shake or two, and...."
Meanwhile again, back at the swimming pool in Indianapolis, Lynn Burke, one of the members of the Santa Clara Swim Club, had come to the nationals with a plastic, red-and-green toy frog. This mascot observed most of the meet from the starting blocks, where he stood on his own two feet. Every bit as self-sufficient, the Santa Clara team set four American records and two world records. Lynn, for her part, picked herself up from a sunstroke on Saturday and on Sunday added a world record in the 100-meter backstroke to her previous record in the 200-meter. Chris von Saltza, another member of the team, set American records for the 100-, 200- and 400-meter freestyle. And Ann Warner set an American record for the 200-meter breast-stroke—breaking the one she set last year.
Having accomplished much of what they came for, the three Santa Clara swimmers withdrew a few feet to give the 194 other girls on hand a chance. Donna de Varona, a 13-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., was equal to the challenge and set a world record in the 400-meter individual medley. Told of her time before it was announced on the public address, Donna was temporarily nonplused but recovered quickly to say: "In that case, I think I'd better comb my hair."
Los Angeles' Carolyn House, though only 14, wrote down a lap-by-lap time plan for her 1,500-meter freestyle race and followed it so closely that she became the first American woman ever to swim the distance in less than 20 minutes. Handicapped by extremely limited vision in her left eye, Carolyn explained how she beat Defending Champion Sylvia Ruuska: "Whenever I lost sight of Sylvia I just swam harder to make sure I would hold my lead."
But Carolyn was not the only girl who overcame a physical handicap to win in Indianapolis. Arizona's Patsy Willard was severely injured three weeks ago when she struck her head on the board during a dive. Her scalp required 57 stitches. Last week, with a pink dishpan sponge under her cap, she repeated the same dive she had missed before and won the title for the three-meter springboard. "I just tried not to think about what happened last time," Patsy said later. "Besides, I knew they had sewed me up real good."