The backbone of the college track and field season is the dual meet, but like most backbones it seldom shows. A contest between two teams, sometimes poorly balanced and ill-matched, the dual meet often has been an ungainly creature of the early spring, serving primarily as a test and a trial in preparation for the relay carnivals and the conference and national championships, that highlight the weeks ahead. But last Saturday, on the new crushed brick and clay track at the Los Angeles Coliseum, laid down since the Dodgers departed for Chavez Ravine, there took place a dual track meet that was an olympiad of its kind. Never before had two such track giants met each other face to face, and all alone. One was the University of Southern California, creator of the most remarkable dynasty the sport has known. The other was a powerful new challenger from the north, the University of Oregon. Before the day was over, there was enough drama and enough records for everyone.
At stake was a spectacular winning streak. USC has won 21 national collegiate track and field championships since 1926, annually producing half a dozen of the finest track athletes in the world. These men have figured in 49 world records through the years, and have won 13 Olympic gold medals. But beneath this frosting of superathletes, Southern Cal always has had something more: a ton of very good athletes. And it is these who have produced the balanced brilliance necessary to achieve a record even more astounding, in its way, than the one above. In the 13 years leading up to last Saturday, USC had won 78 consecutive dual meets. Beyond that point—a 1949 tie with Michigan State—there stretched another four years with no losses, a string of 104 dual meet victories without defeat. In fact, the last time that Southern Cal lost a peacetime dual meet was in 1933. This was the record that Oregon assaulted on Saturday.
Strangely enough, Oregon was favored. In the damp, cool climate at Eugene, 900 miles from the steaming cradle of track heroes that is southern California, a tall, red-faced coaching genius named Bill Bowerman had been at work constructing a dynasty of his own. Last year, led by the most notable collection of distance runners ever assembled on one college team, the Ducks finished second to USC in the national collegiate championships. Now they felt they were ready to take over. "If we lose this meet," said Bowerman when the team arrived in Los Angeles on Friday night, "it will be because we lose, not because USC beats us. If we perform up to our ability, we're better than they are."
"On paper," said Southern Cal's Jess Hill, "it looks like Oregon should win. But track meets like this one aren't decided on paper. There's a tradition here and I don't think any of these boys want to be on the USC team that finally gets beat. I believe we'll win."
Since it is rather difficult for two teams to win a dual track meet, there were those who sided with Bill Bowerman and those who agreed with Jess Hill. For weeks across southern California track fans had been adding up the figures: five points for first place, three points for second, one point for third, down through the 15 events on the program, except for the mile relay, where only the winning team receives five points. The total for a meet of this kind is 131 points, and the magic number of 66 appeared first on one side and then on the other. "The thing I like about a dual meet," said one man playing this numbers game, "is that this is the only time in track and field where the team is more important than the individual." He didn't realize that what he was adding up was the performance of individuals.
His little sister could have figured out some of the winners. Oregon, for example, had Dyrol Burleson, Harry Jerome and Jerry Tarr. Burleson, the slender American mile record holder (3:57.4), had been virtually forgotten during the winter indoor season while his old foe, Jim Beatty, and New Zealand's Peter Snell dominated the distance-running reports. But in recent weeks, Burleson had begun to stretch out. He had set a national collegiate record of 8:42.5 at two miles, and had run both the mile and 880 faster than anyone else around.
The 100 was surely the property of Jerome, a Canadian Olympian with several 9.3s to his credit, who was expected to hold off the threat of USC's Bruce Munn in the 220 as well. Tarr, the rugged Duck football end with the driving hurdle style, was not only defending NCAA champion in the 120 highs, but had already run faster this year (13.7) than last. Tarr figured on some competition from USC's Bob Pierce in this event, but his main worry was the 220-yard lows, for there he ran into Rex Cawley. Oregon counted on other winners, too, although perhaps none so spectacular as these. Jerry Close would take the broad jump, partly because he was consistently near 24 feet, partly because this was Southern Cal's weakest event. Archie San Romani Jr., Vic Reeve, Keith Forman and Sig Ohlemann were all sure to score in the longer events. Bowerman had left boys at home who would be distance stars at most schools, including USC.
But the Trojans had sure winners, too, and Dallas Long, Jan Sikorsky and Cawley seemed the best. Long, a blond mammoth who put the shot far enough two years ago to win a bronze medal at Rome, was there for little more than a workout. So, it seemed, was Sikorsky, the red-haired ex-Marine who had thrown the javelin over 250 feet. As for Cawley, until injuries stopped this outsize young man in midseason last year, he seemed capable of winning a dual meet all by himself. At the time of his injury he was the best quarter miler, the best 400-meter hurdler and the best 220-yard hurdler in America, if not the world. Now he seemed healthy again and the only question was whether his training had progressed far enough to allow him to beat Tarr in the low hurdles. Everyone gave Cawley the 440. They also gave Mel Hein Jr. the pole vault, and Southern Cal that five-point mile relay.
It all added up to a whale of a meet. The third places, said the experts, would decide it. As it turned out, however, all the third places lumped together wouldn't have made much difference. Bowerman's invaders won nine of the 15 events and tied for another. They swept the three distance races completely. They broke seven of the nine meet records that fell during the afternoon, and two Coliseum records to boot. They furnished the only double winners—three of them. And, most important of all, they scored 19 more points than USC, winning 75 to 56. The famous streak had come to an end.
Actually the meet began to turn on the second event. In the first, the shot-put, Long won as expected, pushing the big steel ball out 62 feet 3 inches, a casual toss for him, and when teammate Jim Wade finished third behind Oregon's Dave Steen, the Trojans led six points to three. But as the javelin throw progressed at the northeast corner of the field the trouble began for Southern Cal. It came in the person of a 6-foot 4-inch, 215-pound Oregon sophomore from Rainier named Les Tipton, who was not even supposed to be the best on the Webfoot squad.
He had come to Oregon, in fact, as a high hurdler, not a javelin man. Sikorsky, as expected, was leading the event comfortably at more than 230 feet. Tipton attempted a throw, felt a pain in his elbow, stopped—and the javelin went about 10 yards. "Nice going, you spastic," shouted a gallant USC fan. Enraged, Tipton galloped down the approach lane, drew back his arm and sent the javelin soaring in the direction of that well-remembered place where Walter O'Malley's left-field screen once stood along the stadium wall. When Tipton's javelin came down, it stuck, quivering, at more than 238 feet. Tipton had never thrown 220 feet in a meet before and his javelin seemed to have pierced Sikorsky's will. The last throws of the Southern Cal star were worse instead of better, and Oregon picked up first and third to tie the meet after two events.
Burleson, San Romani and little Clayton Steinke finished one-two-three in the mile, inches apart, in a crawling 4:14.2. Easter egg hunts have been clocked in faster time. "Why hurry?" said Burleson, who wasn't even huffing. "We've got a lot of races to run this afternoon and we shut out USC, didn't we?" He thus pointed out the first rule of a dual meet. Beat the opponent and forget the clock.
The Trojans then turned around and shut out Oregon in the 440, where Cawley ran down the stretch waving to his teammates, Kevin Hogan and Ted Doll, to hurry up and come on. His time was 47.7, which wasn't so bad for a man looking backward most of the way, and now the score was tied after four events, 18-18. Well, everyone said, this is going to be some meet, after all.
It was then that Oregon began to move. Close jumped 25 feet 1 inch in the broad jump, and Oregon Halfback Mel Renfro finished second. Jerome came out of the blocks in the 100 like a rabbit caught in a brush fire and ran away from USC's Munn, crossing the line against a six-mile-an-hour wind in 9.6.
Now, in the high hurdles, the ax really fell on USC. Tarr blistered down the straight, where the wind had died to a little less than three miles an hour, in 13.9—and USC's Pierce was not even close. In fact, Pierce—aggravating an ankle injury suffered in practice the week before—didn't get over the third hurdle. Suddenly Oregon led the meet by 11 points.
Oregon finished second and third behind USC's Jim Wade in the discus; the Trojans' George Fleckenstein tied for first in the high jump with Oregon's Terry Llewellyn at 6 feet 7¾ inches; Oregon's Burleson, San Romani and Ohlemann ran one, two, three in the 880, at 1:49.5—and now Oregon led by 18 points. When Jerome not only won the 220 but set a new Coliseum record of 20.8 for the distance around a curve, the Ducks had 60 points and needed only six more to wrap up the meet. It had suddenly turned into a rout.
"There's only one way we can win now," said a USC fan. "We've got to shoot Tarr and Oregon's two-milers. Then if we could sweep the pole vault and win the mile relay, we would be in."
Southern Cal won first and second in the pole vault and took the mile relay easily, but nobody shot Tarr and his friends. Tarr outran Cawley by a yard in the day's best race, a sizzling 220-yard low-hurdle effort around a curve in 23 seconds flat, which also set a Coliseum record. And mercilessly the Oregon distance runners swept their event. This time Bowerman had decided to give Burleson the rest of the day off and let Reeve, Forman and Mike Lehner handle the chores. They did, crossing the finish line in the two-mile some 30 yards ahead of USC's little Julio Marin.
Jess Hill accepted his defeat with grace and promised that Pierce and Cawley and Sikorsky and the rest of the Trojans might be a little tougher by the time of the national collegiate championships. Bowerman could make no such promise for Oregon. "They were all great today," he said, "every one of them. Right now I'm not going to worry about the NCAA."
As Bowerman walked off-the field, USC's Kevin Hogan came up to offer congratulations. "Thank you," said Bowerman, "but couldn't you figure out some way to transfer to Oregon? As you can see, we're really hurting for quarter milers."
Hogan grinned. "It doesn't look to me," he said, "like you guys are hurting for much of anything."