There are two ways to win a track meet. The first—and up until now the most popular—is to acquire a large number of slightly better than adequate athletes who will accumulate enough inglorious honors from fourth to sixth place to add up to victory. The other is to discover between three and five truly superb performers who will finish first in enough events to offset the efforts of the also-rans.
After the 42nd running of the national collegiate track and field championships in Albuquerque last week it seems likely that the exponents of the large number of almost-winners will have to bow to the advocates of the few. The University of Southern California, long a believer in quantity before quality, won the meet—strictly on quality.
Rarely is track and field a team effort. It is an endeavor by an individual to surpass other individuals and the best performance of his own past. No one can help a miler when he begins to run the last 440 yards of his individual torment. No matter how many runners share the track with him, what he accomplishes is entirely subject to how much he is prepared to sacrifice himself and how much of himself there is to sacrifice. At Albuquerque there were any number of athletes—from big and small colleges—who were prepared to sacrifice themselves. Still the meet derived most of its interest from the competition among the teams involved. Four were considered possible winners: USC; the University of Oregon, with a large complement of reasonably good runners, jumpers and throwers; and Villanova and Arizona State, with a smaller number of good athletes. Stanford, with a young team, was conceded an honorable spot in the middle of the pack.
Jumbo Jim Elliott, the coach of Villa-nova, looked over the situation shrewdly before the meet began and plumped for USC. "We could win," he said, with an enthusiasm born of slight hopes. "We've got enough really good athletes. But I don't think we have enough superathletes. I'd rather come to this meet with four or five superathletes than come with 15 good ones. You need the winners. Not many. And if a boy can win more than once, you've got a real good chance. If you have three or four big winners, you'll win the meet."
As it turned out, USC could have won this meet with only three men. There was Julio Marin, a small, coffee-colored distance runner from Costa Rica who almost scored a triple when he won the six-and three-mile runs in the first two days and finally placed fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, an event he had never run before. And there was Rex Cawley, who finished second in the 440-yard dash and first in the 440-yard hurdles—an accomplishment second in degree of difficulty only to Marin's Herculean feat. A sophomore high jumper, ignoring the suffocating pressure of national competition, won the high jump for USC. His name is Lew Hoyt. Hoyt, Cawley and Marin, among them, scored 52 points, 10 more than the second-place team, surprising Stanford. Marin and Cawley alone scored 42.
Marin won the two distance races in rather undistinguished times, and he did not have to run the steeplechase, which was the last event on the three-day schedule. By the time the race started it was clear to him, however, and to everyone else that USC had won the meet. But Marin did run it, climbing awkwardly over the hurdles, landing plump in the middle of the water jump every time he jumped, and, at last, fighting off a challenger for fourth place with a wonderful sprint over the final 200 yards. This last sprint for fourth place was enormously exciting—even the lackadaisical fans of Albuquerque cheered as Marin almost stumbled over the last hurdle, recovered and battled grimly down the stretch.
Marin is a senior pre-medical student who really wanted to be a professional hockey player and who never dreamed he would run a steeplechase. Until the final night of this meet he had jumped over only one hurdle in practice. That was a test to see if he was tall enough to clear a hurdle—he is only 5 feet 7 inches. The night before the steeplechase, Cawley, who had run four races already, counting heats and semifinals, stayed up until 1:30 in the morning trying to inculcate the principles of hurdling in Marin.
"Look, Bean [short and fond for Coffee Bean]," he said, demonstrating on the lawn in front of the University of New Mexico dormitory where the athletes slept, "you glide over. Don't work—let the momentum carry you." For a hurdle Cawley used a small embankment, leaping to the top of it, taking a couple of steps, then dropping on the other side to show Marin how to land. Coffee Bean worked hard, but you do not learn the steeplechase in the middle of the night on a dormitory lawn. Marin almost disappeared in the water every time he went over a jump.
Cawley, apparently no worse for the long night's wear, ran the second fastest 440 hurdle ever and set an American record.
"This is the first time since he was a sophomore that he has ever run as hard as he can," said Vern Wolfe, who has been track coach at USC only since July of last year, after quitting Foothill College. He was an assistant at San Jose the year before that and the coach at North Phoenix High School, where he developed Shotputter Dallas Long. He is a small, quiet, gentle man who knows as much about the whole complex of teaching young men to run fast, throw far and jump high as anyone does.
"Cawley pulled a hamstring muscle in his sophomore year," Wolfe said. "He has been afraid to go all-out since. He was afraid of hurting it again. Tonight he went all-out."
Neither Marin nor Cawley had shown much before this meet. Some of Marin's success, according to Wolfe, is due to the USC trainer and much is due to the USC long-distance coach, Willie Wilson.
"Julio had confidence in Wilson," Wolfe said. "He did whatever Willie told him. He worked hard. He ran maybe 100 miles a week for a while. And the trainer came up with a pill that lets you utilize oxygen more efficiently. That helped, too. That and the workouts for a week at Lake Arrowhead [where Wolfe took his team to adjust to Albuquerque's altitude]."
By their fine performances Marin and Cawley demonstrated conclusively that the day of the big, versatile squad is over. "No one can get all the athletes anymore," a losing coach said. "You get—or try to get—three or four national class athletes. They win for you. Look at this meet."
Results bore him out. USC matched second-place Stanford's total score with the point production of Marin and Cawley alone. Stanford scored 28 of its 42 points on the efforts of two men: Sprinter Larry Questad, first in the 100 and second in the 220, and Discus Thrower Dave Weill, who won his event. And all but one of Arizona's 39 points, good for fourth place, came from three men: Henry Carr, winner of the 220 and second in the 100, Ulis Williams, winner in the 440, and Frank Covelli, winner in the javelin throw.
Oregon, the winner in the same NCAA meet last year, might have come, close to keeping its championship if it had not lost a superathlete in Mel Renfro, who conceivably could have scored 18 points with a first in the high hurdles and a second in the broad jump. Renfro pulled a leg muscle in one of his broad-jump attempts and did not qualify for the finals in either one of his specialties.
Until late in the third night of competition, this NCAA meet was an absorbing team competition. But it was, finally, decided upon the courage and capability of individuals.