In eight days the U.S. track and field team competed in three international dual meets. Say it fast enough and it doesn't sound difficult at all. A fascinating trip to Moscow, a brief stop in Stuttgart and then on to jolly England. But to the athletes concerned the 6,000-mile tour was comparable to running a relay race up a sand dune—not exactly impossible, but hardly a lot of fun.
On six of the eight days the Americans were in competition, and on the other two they traveled. They ate unfamiliar food and slept too little in too many different beds. They spent interminable hours in airports or coiled like pretzels on buses, where their long legs did not fit. They walked too many miles down the streets of strange towns. Their laundry remained dirty, their stomachs stayed queasy and their wants went unanswered in three foreign languages, not the least puzzling of which was the English they found in London. They signed autographs by the hundreds and shook a thousand outstretched hands. They ran on hard tracks and soft tracks, in sun and rain, and the real wonder was that three times they forced themselves to the thin, sharp edge of competitive readiness, and three times they won.
As a show of athletic excellence under constant pressure and amidst trying conditions, the trip was an unqualified success. As a formal part of the cultural exchange program among nations, its worth was evident too, if more difficult to assess because each stop along the way presented a different set of circumstances and required different measuring standards.
The Russians were fascinated by the Americans, curious about them and perhaps a little astonished. Where touring Russian athletes are closely supervised and remain much within their own group, the Americans spread out. They behaved in a pleasantly undisciplined way that must have been difficult for Russians to understand. No Russian team would ever make so much noise, argue so violently over card games or demand so much service in restaurants and stores. There was nothing improper, you understand. It was just that the ebullient Americans acted as if they owned the joint—behavior likely to disturb a regimented Muscovite.
July 30, 1961
Ice cream at the Metropole
Even more surprising must have been the sight of Cliff Cushman and Wilma Rudolph sightseeing together in Red Square or John Thomas and Pat Daniels eating ice cream in front of the Metropole Hotel. The Communist party line had been trumpeting that Negro athletes were a new kind of slave, competing unpaid for the prestige of the United States while fat whites sat back to reap the benefits. The only visible benefits to white members of the U.S. team were friendship and ice cream cones.
In Germany the Americans ran into a tumultuous welcome. Hordes of autograph seekers surrounded the buses and hotels. The athletes were hounded on the streets and bothered at their meals—and they loved it. "I feel like Mickey Mantle," said Jim Beatty. The interest of the Germans was due to several factors. First, they admire Americans greatly. They do not always like them, perhaps, but they admire them. Second, track and field is the biggest sport in Germany next to soccer, and German track stars are national heroes. So, too, are world record holders and Olympic champions from other countries, and the American team was loaded with these. So they signed autographs and answered questions and shook hands.
By contrast, the American arrival in England had the impact of a damp sponge. Hardly anyone knew they were there. This is partly because London is already full of Americans at this time of year, and a few more, whether athletes, tourists or Campfire Girls, make little difference. Also, track and field ranks just a bit above bullbaiting in the British sporting spectrum these days. The English haven't had many Roger Bannisters to get excited about of late. Yet 15,000 did come to White City stadium on Friday and 21,000 on Saturday. Whether, finally, the tour's achievements were worth the effort only the athletes themselves can answer. But theirs was a performance to be proud of.
In the one meet they had to win, the Americans were tigers. They clawed and snarled and fought their way to victory over the Russians with a vicious intensity that must have stunned the 60,000 Pravda subscribers in the stands each day and caused not a few to consider switching to The New York Times. Where were the soft and sedentary products of the luxurious life of which they had read? Perhaps the Soviet citizens learned something.
It is unlikely that either the Germans or British learned anything new, for they have known us well for a long time, and although the American team eased up visibly once out of Russia, it showed that even a tame old tiger is hardly a docile beast. Last week the U.S. team won in Stuttgart 120-91 and in London 122-88. In each case the result was one-sided, and perhaps it was easy, but the U.S. athletes will never believe that, for by then the trip was getting tough.
They continued to produce some smashing performances, however. Hayes Jones fled over the high hurdles to add two more victories to the one he had achieved in Moscow. He ran on two more winning sprint-relay teams, contributing a particularly fast opening leg to the Stuttgart victory, and that same evening he also ran the 100-meter dash, pushing Frank Budd all the way and beating Manfred Germar, Deutschland's fair-haired boy.
Budd won all his 100s, whether at meters or yards, in convincing fashion, although Germar beat him in a photo finish at 200 meters. Jay Silvester swept the discus competition, throwing 193 feet 9½ inches in London. Cushman hurled himself across the finish line to defeat Germany's strong Helmut Janz at the end of a spectacular 400-meter hurdle race, the heroics made necessary by a leg cramp that seized the blond North Dakota boy as he went over the eighth jump.
On a wet track Ulis Williams ran a 46.3 quarter mile, the fastest ever seen in Great Britain, to defeat Adrian Metcalfe in a stretch duel of fine 19-year-olds. Henry Wadsworth and John Uelses swept the pole vault everywhere. And although the women's team lost to Germany 66-38 and to Great Britain 56-50, Wilma Rudolph and her amazing little red-haired teammate, Willye White, continued to wow them at every stop along the way. Wilma set a world record of 11.2 for 100 meters, pushed hard by Willye for more than half the distance, and Willye extended her American broad-jump record every time she went out. "Ralph Boston has been coaching me," she said.
Jim Beatty ran a 3:59.7 mile, notable for three reasons. He did it without the threat of Dyrol Burleson, who had injured a leg winning the half mile the night before; Beatty set the pace most of the way himself; and it was the first sub-four-minute mile this year in Great Britain, where they invented the thing.
At the longer distances, where America has been notoriously weak, the U.S. team surprised even itself. George Young and Deacon Jones each won a steeplechase, John Gutknecht raced off with the 10,000 meters in Stuttgart, and Max Truex, in finishing third to England's Gordon Pirie, took seven seconds off Beatty's American three-mile record of 13:28. Pirie finished two yards ahead of that barefooted British record holder, Bruce Tulloh, and set a new United Kingdom mark of 13:16.4. Truex, who had the effrontery to try and steal the race by bolting ahead with three laps left, forced the record pace.
A pooped Budd
But America's depth in her favorite events and her unplumbed potential in the rest are well known. What the U.S. team demonstrated so forcefully in the last half of that hectic week was that its athletes have considerable courage, too.
By the time the team reached London it was very tired. Budd ran his slowest 100 in years, a 9.7, and the White City track, which has been called the sprinters' graveyard, was not entirely to blame. "I'm flat pooped out," he said. Ralph Boston and John Thomas continued to win, but Boston finished the week almost two feet behind where he had begun and Thomas dropped more than four inches to 6 feet 10. Still, they won.
It was the injuries and illnesses that hurt. Coach Jim Elliott found himself switching men around like a harassed Casey Stengel. Because John Fromm, his best javelin thrower, had a pulled muscle in his side, Elliott entered Dave Edstrom, a decathlon man, in the javelin in Stuttgart. He ran the other decathlon man, Paul Herman, in the 1,500 meters because Jim Grelle had a bad cold. Jim Beatty ended up in the 800 meters because Jerry Siebert had to run a 1,600-meter-relay leg because Paul Drayton had a pulled muscle.
Earl Young, the No. 3 quarter-miler, actually became a utility-man hero during the week. Originally scheduled to run only on the 1,600-meter or mile relay team, Young ran 400 meters once (winning in 46.5 over Germany's Manfred Kinder), 220 yards once (finishing a tenth of a second back of two of the world's fastest sprinters), on the sprint-relay team twice (anchoring two winners) and, of course, on the winning 1,600-meter-relay teams in Moscow and Stuttgart. But after running two races in London with a strep throat and a fever of 102°, Young finally quit.
A second-string steeplechaser ran the 5,000 meters, and a 5,000-meter man was pressed into running the 10,000 meters. Bob Avant high-jumped with a twisted ankle. With Bill Sharpe injured, Cliff Cushman competed in the hop, step and jump, which is a long way from the 440 hurdles. Then Cushman became ill, too, and ran his last hurdle race so weakened that he could only push Dixon Farmer to a photofinish victory. Uelses won the pole vault in Moscow despite a swollen gland resulting from a black-fly bite. He was worse in Stuttgart, where he finished second. Finally, the infection had to be opened and Uelses was shot full of antibiotics. So in London he vaulted again, just once, hitting 13 feet 9 inches, for a second place. That is the way the U.S. swept the pole vault in the three meets.
Magnificent as the week's performance was, no U.S. team should be subjected to such demands again. When Americans go abroad in the years ahead they should be furnished faster transportation and a less frantic schedule. One meet a week is maximum. Even the AAU must realize this now.
The London meet ended the week but not the tour. Next comes Warsaw, where the competition will be fierce, and then fragments of the squad will go to Sweden and Norway. But they will be all right now. They will have a week's rest before the Polish competition, the team doctor has a fresh stock of medical supplies and Cliff Cushman is working on the hammer throw, just in case. It would be nice, when the boys and girls return to New York on August 2, if a few people were at Idlewild to cheer them. They have earned it.