The collegiate track strength of the U.S. was concentrated in the southern tip of the long, green Willamette Valley in Oregon last week as 90 colleges came to the small town of Eugene to determine which had the best team in the nation. A block from the stadium in which they competed, trailer trucks hauled long, fat Douglas fir logs to be cut into timber; until this weekend, lumber had been the principal industry of this small, relaxed town.
But by the time the National Collegiate Track and Field championships were over it seemed that the principal industry of Eugene must be the production of runners. The home team, the University of Oregon, won, you might say, in a walk. It scored 85 points, more than the two other track powers, the University of Southern California and Villanova, put together.
Much of the credit for the overwhelming Oregon victory must go to acerbic, dedicated Bill Bowerman, who coaches the Oregon track team. He has developed a track dynasty at the University of Oregon, which will very likely dominate U.S. collegiate track-and-field competition for the next decade. Evidence of the continuing strength of this Oregon team is that only 30 of the points it scored were made by seniors—it could have won the intercollegiate championship with sophomores and juniors. The only point winners who will leave the Oregon campus are Dyrol Burleson, the superb miler who won 10 points with a rather torturous victory in the mile run, and Jerry Tarr, the best hurdler in the world today, who won 20 points with violent, irresistible efforts in the 120-yard high hurdles and the 440-yard hurdles.
Tarr is one of the few members of the Oregon team who is not a native Oregonian; he comes from Bakersfield, Calif. He played football for Bakersfield Junior College and came to Oregon on his coach's recommendation that Oregon was the best college for a combination end and runner. He is a big man for a hurdler, a small man for an offensive end and a tough man at both. His teammates call him Tiger, and rightfully. He had, for instance, run the 440-yard hurdles only once in his life before this meet, and worked on the event only because he thought he might be able to add a few precious points for Oregon in what was supposed to be a death struggle with perennially powerful USC.
So, in the finals Saturday, Tarr came within six-tenths of a second of equaling the world record, and won by a comfortable 15 yards. "The first time I ran that distance, I didn't know what I was doing," he said later. "I had my steps all wrong. I was taking 17 steps between the hurdles. Bill said that was too many. Today I counted the steps between the hurdles and cut them to 15, and I had no trouble." Nor did he have any trouble winning his specialty, the high hurdles, in 13.5 seconds.
Tarr's double victory (the first at these distances in the history of the collegiate track championships) overshadowed the performances of two more fine Oregon athletes—Burleson, running his last mile as a collegian, and the young Canadian sprinter, Harry Jerome, who won the 220 and finished second to Villanova's Frank Budd in the 100.
Burleson, thinking he might have to come back to compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, ran an odd, whimsical mile. He spurted from the gun, dropped back, spurted again, lagged behind, kicked briefly, fell back again and finally kicked down the last straight to outrun Southern Illinois' English import—William Cornell—to the wire. Burleson won in 3:59.8, a meet record, but 2.2 seconds off his own best time.
Burleson, recently married, said after the race that he may not compete in the AAU championships next week at Walnut, Calif. "I've got to work and make some money this summer," he said. If Burley decides to skip the AAU championships in Walnut, he will disappoint most of America's track followers, who have been looking forward for a year to his next meeting with Jim Beatty.
But all the rest of the winners in Eugene will go to the AAU championships. The first two place winners at Walnut will represent the U.S. in the coming dual meets with the U.S.S.R. and Poland—and many of the third-and fourth-place winners will make trips to Europe on the various touring U.S. teams scheduled for overseas appearances.
But, the summer behind them, the collegians will have to redirect their attentions to Eugene, not only next year but probably for some time to come. "Men of Oregon," said Bowerman, rather grandly addressing his team after it had won the NCAA championship, "five hundred colleges began this year hoping to do what you have accomplished this afternoon. We may not be able to do it next year—but we may, too, if we work hard. The best is yet to come."