As a tall, thin Finn named Pentti Karvonen cleared the final hurdle in the 3,000-meter steeplechase last week, the 45,000 people in Helsinki Olympic Stadium sent him home with the long, thunderous, faintly savage "aaaahhhh" which serves them as a cheer. It is a chilling sound, but it reflects the nature of the Finns and their abiding enthusiasm for track and field and it seemed to lift Karvonen almost bodily across the finish line. His time was 8:48.4, faster than any U.S. athlete has run this year, and it is only an indication of what Karvonen, and a stream of European runners, can do.
Indeed, as the European track season moves toward its climax the wondrous performances of the U.S. athletes in the Olympic trials at Palo Alto may be surpassed time and again. The Scandinavians are only now beginning serious training and in the rest of Europe runners are not yet really fit, but their early performances indicate trouble ahead in nearly every event. No one nation, of course, will challenge the U.S. for the track and field team championship.
The two-day duel meet between Finland and Sweden is an annual affair which sometimes leads to bloodshed. That it did not this time is probably due as much as anything to the fact that the Finns won comfortably and enjoyed the whole show hugely. The stadium, built for the 1952 Olympics, was full both days and the knowledgeable spectators seemed to appreciate everything. They chased home the last-place finishers in the 10,000 meters with the same long, noisy "aaaahhhhs" that had spurred on Karvonen.
His performance was the best of a number of good ones at Helsinki and at an international meet held the day before in Oslo. It was also the most dramatic. Less than a year ago Karvonen, a 24-year-old goldsmith who had run the steeplechase in 8:45 and was expected to run it much faster, underwent a serious stomach operation. Nobody but Karvonen and his trainer thought he would ever run again. The fact that he did, and well, reflects the special Finnish quality of sisu, a word which means a combination of guts, foolhardiness and stubbornness. Karvonen, and for that matter all Finns, are imbued with sisu to spare.
Their officials are imbued with something else—maybe sense—which American track officials might borrow with profit. Before each race they walk onto the infield in columns of two and march right off when their duties are done. This is a pleasant contrast to the U.S. infields, which are a gaggle of officials, each bustling around to find somebody to chase off.
At Oslo, Belgium's Roger Moens, the world record holder in the half mile, provided the week's other excellent race, running the 800 meters in 1:46.9. Moens was almost alone for the second quarter and won by some 30 yards. A moody, temperamental runner who has an unbeatable finish in a fast race, he is the almost unanimous choice of European track experts to win the 800 meters at Rome.
Another winner in the Oslo meet was Laszlo Tabori, and this should lend encouragement to the U.S.'s Dyrol Burleson, who has beaten Laszlo easily. The expatriate Hungarian who trains at the Santa Clara Youth Village under Mihaly Igloi won a hairline victory in the 1,500 meters in 3:43.8. He ran the meticulously planned, carefully paced race that one has grown to expect of Igloi-trained runners and held on down the stretch to break the tape ahead of Norwegian Arne Hamarsland and the newest European mile sensation, Rumanian Zoltan Vamos. Vamos has a whistling fast kick, which he begins some 300 meters from the finish, but it failed him at Oslo. Vamos defeated one of the best German milers, Hans Grodotzki, rather handily at Prague in June; if this race against Tabori at Oslo accurately represents the relative merits of Burleson and the European milers, then Burleson has a chance at Rome.
Slow and unpopular
Dan Waern, the excellent Swedish middle-distance runner, won both the 1,500 meters and the 800 meters at Helsinki, much to the disgust of the Finns. Waern's times were comparatively slow, but he was obviously running only for points.
After he won the 1,500 on the first day, a small group of some 1,000 courageous Swedes dared death or dismemberment by giving an organized cheer led by an umbrella-waving cheerleader. The cheer translated into something like, "Our accumulation of points will make you blush." The Finns fortunately took this Swedish enthusiasm good-naturedly.
Their good nature was strained a little later when, in the 800 meters, Finland's new hope, American-trained Bert Ohlander, tripped on the back-stretch and fell. He was beginning his kick and the "aaaahhhh" was starting as he moved up on Waern. Since it is almost a tradition for a fight to start over this race, tension was high and the Swedes very nervous until Ohlander indicated that he had, somehow, managed to trip himself. It is doubtful that Ohlander could have caught Waern in any case.
Elsewhere in Europe, where the track season is roughly at the same stage now as the U.S. season was in mid-May, the performances have been better, particularly in the sprints (SI, July 25). Germany's Armin Hary has run the 100 meters in 10 flat and Manfred Germar has done 10.2 along with Abdou Seye of France and Russia's Leonid Bartenyev. All of them, plus Peter Radford of England, Livio Berruti of Italy and Jocelyn Delecour of France, have times well under 21 flat in the 200 meters.
Europe's best quarter-miler is Carl Kaufmann of Germany, who ran 45.4 on July 23 for 400 meters. His countryman, Manfred Kinder, has run 45.8. Milka Singh, an Indian running in Europe in preparation for the Olympics, has run 46 flat. Jack Yerman's winning time in the U.S. Olympic trials was 46.3, although he ran 46 flat in a heat. Aside from Moens in the 800, there are Waern, when he concentrates on the race, and Paul Schmidt, a small, slight German who is very fast but apparently lacks the stamina for the heats which will be run in Rome. He has done 1:46.5 this year, second fastest in the world.
The 1,500-meter field is the best it has ever been. In May and June more than 20 runners broke 3:45 in this race and the fastest time so far has been Istvan Rozsavolgyi's 3:38.8 at Budapest last Saturday. Five days earlier he had run 3:40.4.
At the middle and longer distances where they have always been good, the Europeans continue to show remarkable speed. There are too many contenders for them to be usefully listed here. You will know the very best when they win at Rome.
Only Germany's Martin Lauer is a threat in the 110-meter hurdles. He has recovered from a foot injury and is running well enough to be within a stride or two of his world record 13.2 by Olympic time. In all but two field events, the U.S. should have little trouble. Edmund Piatkowski, Poland's world record holder in the discus (196-6½), has lost twice this year to Jozsei Szecsenyi of Hungary; Szecsenyi hit 193 feet 4½ inches in one meet. And Germany has Manfred Steinbach (26 feet¼ inch) in the broad jump. All in all, and despite the fact that the U.S. has the strongest track team in its history, we may very well win fewer gold medals at Rome than in any Olympic Games since World War II.