The Europeans do not have the ability to explode," Parry O'Brien, a very explosive gentleman, once said. O'Brien was speaking of the shotput; he was in Moscow at the time and he was explaining why the Russians could not compete on even terms in his specialty, but his critique might as easily have applied to the sprints. The Europeans have never been a factor in the Olympic sprints, and their lack of explosive speed has explained their failure.
But in Rome in September, the U.S.'s wonderful sprinters may be surprised. A cocky, truculent German, a quiet, confident Englishman and a bashful Canadian could, conceivably finish one-two-three in the 100 meters and somewhere among the first six in the 200. It is conceivable but, happily, not very likely. Ray Norton, the tall, strong, very confident American sprinter, probably will run all three of them off their legs in the last 20 yards of each sprint.
The man with the best chance against Norton is Armin Hary, a department-store clerk in Frankfurt, West Germany, who has the fastest—and most controversial—start of any sprinter. Hary set a world record in the 100 meters at Zurich on June 21, doing it twice for good measure. His first start—as usual—was fast, and the officials refused to certify it. He demanded another chance, ran the race again and was again clocked in 10 flat. Said he, typically: "I am not only the fastest man in the world. I am the happiest. I should have tried to run the 200 meters as well."
Hary's race is won or lost in the first 20 yards. Propelled by his tremendous start, he has jet-fast acceleration for 20 yards, fades slowly thereafter. If the starter at Rome holds him, he may be no factor at all; if, as was true in Zurich, the starter allows him to get away, he may be hard to overtake. "I'm getting a complex about my start," he said recently. "Naturally, I'm happy to have it, but everywhere people are beginning to think I'm cheating." Even one of Hary's Frankfurt teammates, Sprinter Karl-Heinz Naujoks, complains of his start. When Hary ran 5.9 to break the indoor 60-yard mark, Naujoks said, bitterly, "Armin was favored by the starter. He should have been called back." At Friedrichshafen, where Hary ran a disallowed 10 flat, other runners complained that he was off the blocks and running before their hands were off the ground.
Harry Jerome, a 19-year-old Canadian who is a freshman at the University of Oregon, equaled Hary's 10 flat for the 100 meters last week in the Canadian Olympic trials. This came as no great surprise; Jerome whipped Ray Norton in the Modesto Relays track meet in May, running 100 yards in 9.4. His start then was good but not exceptional. Impressive to watchers, however, was the fact that Norton, who got a poor start, was unable to make ground down the last 20 yards. Jerome is the antithesis of Hary; he is quiet to the point of being inarticulate. After beating Norton, he said, obviously astounded at himself, "I just came for the experience."
The third foreign threat to U.S. domination is a slender, dark-haired Englishman, Peter Radford. Radford is probably better at 200 meters than at the shorter sprint; running in Europe against Europeans, he has gained the reputation of being the best curve runner in the world. His 20.5 is equal to Norton's best performance this year and to the world record. But he may be in for a decidedly unpleasant surprise when he faces the American sprinters in Rome. Nearly all American sprinters are well-balanced, intelligent curve runners.
And the best of the Americans is Ray Norton.