Never before had so many Americans run, jumped, thrown and vaulted. In the state of California alone, more than 30,000 track and field athletes were entered in high school and college meets. Across the country that number was multiplied at least 10 times over. Many of the best, some 10,900 trackmen in all, competed in the giant relay carnivals that have become the be-all of spring track in the U.S.—the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the Drake Relays in Des Moines, the Colorado Relays in Boulder and, the fastest-growing of the lot, the Mount San Antonio Relays in Walnut Valley, outside Los Angeles. Three world records were set outright, but a fourth was easily the most impressive, since it came in the decathlon, an event that tests an athlete in not one but 10 different skills. The decathlon record fell on Sunday afternoon and in view of only 600 spectators. Seldom has so dramatic an event been watched by so few.
With two tests still to go, C. K. Yang, the remarkable athlete from Nationalist China who is a senior at UCLA, needed a javelin throw of 212 feet 10½ inches to better the world mark set three years earlier by another UCLA champion, Rafer Johnson. On his first try Yang threw the javelin 224 feet 3 inches. He gave a little leap, then settled down busily to his second throw. It was 228 feet 4 inches, his third 235 feet 5 inches. The last pushed his point total to 8,876. (The decathlon is scored by a complicated point system which assigns an arbitrary point value to a specific performance in each of the 10 running, jumping and throwing events.) Yang added 245 points in the 1,500 meters, and ended the day at Mount San Antonio with 9,121 points, 438 points better an athlete than his friend and tutor, Johnson. "He is," said Coach Ducky Drake, more in awe than as a point of information, "the finest athlete in the world."
Drake and the 29-year-old Yang, who is married and has a boy aged 2, had come to the relays early. Even though Yang had not trained specifically for the decathlon, both knew he was in the best condition of his life. They were confident that the record could be Yang's as long as nothing went wrong.
But at the beginning almost nothing went right. Three inches of rain fell in the early morning on Friday and it was decided to delay the decathlon a day. Although he is not a temperamental athlete, the wait took the edge off Yang's determination. And the third event on Saturday almost demoralized him.
May 5, 1963
He had started well enough, with a 10.7 clocking in the 100 meters, about as fast as he ever runs the race. In the broad jump, which has troubled him all year, he feared he would not be at his best—and he wasn't. But his longest leap, 23 feet 6¼ inches, was good for 842 points and he was still reasonably close to the schedule of achievement he and Drake had worked out.
Then came the shot put. Yang's first attempt was good for him—45 feet 5½ inches—and his face, more often than not expressionless, lighted when he heard the measurement. But an official had neglected to weigh the shot before Yang used it, and now one of them asked that it be weighed. It proved to be an ounce light. Yang's fine effort was erased and he had to start over with an approved shot. The best he could do was 43 feet 4½ inches; the mistake had cost him over 60 points and it almost cost Drake a foot. During the weighing the shot slipped and landed on his toe. Sunday he was still limping.
Yang picked up some of the lost points in the high jump, where he cleared 6 feet 3½ inches, equal to his best ever. He picked up more in the 400-meter run, clocking the best time of his career, 47.7 seconds. At the end of the long, hard day, he lay on a rubbing table, grimacing with pain as a trainer massaged his aching muscles. "My hips hurt," he said once. He sat up finally and drank a Coke and moved gingerly.
"We're 51 points ahead of schedule," Drake told him. The news did not seem to penetrate Yang's fog of exhaustion.
A revived and almost buoyant Yang arrived early at Memorial Field Sunday morning for the final five events. In each of his first three tests he set personal records for decathlon performances—14 flat in the 110-meter hurdles, 134 feet 6 inches in the discus and 15 feet 10½ inches in the pole vault. Yang actually tried to clear 16 feet 6¼ inches, which, had he made it, would have been a new world record,-but on his second attempt he scraped the bar—just barely—coming down. Even if he had cleared the height, it is not certain that he would have been awarded more points. The decathlon performance tables stop at 15 feet 9¾ inches, which is worth 1,515 points. That, pending a review, is all that Yang has been credited with. Should the judges change their minds, he will be entitled to 60 points more.
After the javelin came the final event, the 1,500 meters, but in the decathlon the thoroughly detested 1,500 is never an anticlimax. Under the rules, an athlete must compete in all 10 events or receive no credit at all. An edgy Ducky Drake announced to the slender crowd that in order to break 9,000 points, Yang would have to run the distance in 5 minutes 5 seconds. Wearied and now edgy himself, Yang told Drake he could run slower and still better 9,000. "I will run 5:10," Yang said. As it happened, he was right—Drake either had miscalculated or was fearful that Yang's determination might flag.
It was a groundless fear. Yang is tall, both in body and spirit. His upper body is not heavily muscled but his slightly bowed legs are thick and powerful-looking and he runs with a rather graceless efficiency. Sunday there was something more, a relentlessness that seemed impressive even for a man of such single-minded purpose as Yang. He crossed the finish line in 5 minutes 2 and 4/10 seconds. He was the new world record holder—the first truly great Chinese athlete of modern times. Suddenly, there by his side, was his wife, Daisy. From Ventura, Calif., she had met the world's best athlete at a tea in the Nationalist Chinese consulate in Los Angeles.
The weekend's other records fell earlier, the first at Penn, the oldest and, in number of contestants and spectators, the biggest of the relays. Among a total of 5,220 athletes, performing before 37,432 people in Philadelphia, was a sophomore from the University of Washington named Brian Sternberg. When he took his turn at assailing the often-broken world mark in the pole vault, Sternberg cleared 16 feet 5 inches, to top by an inch the previous outdoor high set by John Pennel of Northeast Louisiana on April 10.
The other two records came at the Mount San Antonio Relays. This meet, only in its fifth year, attracted 2,180 athletes of various ages and presented an almost wearisome total of 148 events, 59 of them relays. Walnut is about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles and there are fewer permanent inhabitants in the town than there were athletes last Friday and Saturday. The track at Mount San Antonio College is, however, something special. Carefully built in layers, it is based on a foot of compacted gravel and rock. On top of that is two inches of sand and on top of the sand three inches of decomposed granite. The last two layers are made of diatomaceous earth, sand clay, plastic clay and volcanic ash. The whole thing is carefully laid out and fitted with drains that can absorb and dispose of a heavy rainfall in a matter of a few hours, not fast enough to guarantee a long day's activity in the decathlon, but sufficient for lesser men.
The records came on Saturday, making a total (including Yang's) of 11 world records set or tied in this meet since it began in 1959. The first was set by Al Oerter, who threw the discus 205 feet 5½ inches to break his own world record of 204 feet 10½ inches set in Chicago last July at the U.S.-Poland dual meet. This was Oerter's first competition of the year; he had a remarkable series of throws, five of them over 200 feet. The record throw came on his second attempt.
"I have a fascinating job," Oerter said after he had broken the record. "I'm a programmer for computer machines for Grumman Aircraft. I sit at a desk all day translating data into language computers can understand. The job gets me so wrapped up that sometimes I stay on until late at night working on a problem. That makes it hard to keep up with all of this." Here he included the whole complex of the track meet going on around him with a sweeping gesture.
"So I'm not in very good shape," he said. "I weigh about 265. I'll have to take some of that off. I'll be better later in the season."
The second world record was set by the altogether amazing Arizona State mile-relay team. This combination ran the mile relay in 3 minutes 4 5/10 seconds. By more than a second it broke a record that had been set on the same track in 1960 by a United States national team composed of the four best quarter-milers in the country at that time—Eddie Southern, Earl Young, Otis Davis and Jack Yerman.
State's coach is a quiet, low-pressure man named Senon Castillo, who has a luxuriant growth of bushy black hair on his head and whose nickname is Baldy. Before the mile relay Castillo considered the track, the weather and the condition of his runners and decided that they could very likely run close to 3:04.
"Mike Barrick can lead off with a 48-second quarter," he said. "Carr can do 45.1 or 45.2, and Freeman is around 46 seconds. Then Ulis Williams can be around 45 seconds, too. But when you're going that fast, everything has to go right. All the passes have to be good."
All the passes were good. Barrick, a 23-year-old senior, ran his opening leg in 48 seconds flat. Henry Carr, a 19-year-old sophomore, did a whistling 45.1. Ron Freeman, a 22-year-old senior who had never run under 46.5 before, ran his lap in 45.6, and Ulis Williams, a lean, bespectacled sophomore, finished the relay with a 45.8 anchor lap. It all added up to the fastest mile relay in the history of the world—and the second most impressive performance of the weekend. The first, of course, belonged to Chuan-Kwang Yang. Runner-up to Rafer Johnson in the Rome Olympics, he should give the Republic of China its first gold Olympic medal when he competes in Tokyo.