The best U.S. track team in history was selected in St. Louis last week in an AAU championship meet marked by a remarkable series of hairbreadth finishes, considerable psychological warfare and the first hint that track and field may soon be facing a kind of moral crisis of its own. The team, crisis or no, definitely will face Russia's finest in Moscow at the end of July.
Bob Hayes, the burly Florida A&M sprinter who runs as if he should have a football tucked under his arm, broke a world record by running a semifinal heat of the 100-yard dash over the rubberized macadam track in 9.1 seconds. This was one of the few races in which no thought was given to strategy and tactics. Hayes simply burst out of the starting blocks with his usual enormous explosion of awkward energy, flailing his arms and moving along faster and faster until he had left the field behind. Hayes, who happens to be a good football player, is a senior at Florida A&M. Before Saturday's 100 he and Ray Saddler, a junior quarter-miler at Texas Southern University, had been approached by officials of the Southern California Striders, a track club in Los Angeles coached by Chuck Coker, who wanted both to transfer to Los Angeles State College and, in the off season, run for the Striders. Dick Hill, the new track coach at Florida A&M, and Stanley Wright, the old coach at Texas Southern, protested vehemently and justifiably. Hayes decided to finish out his eligibility at Florida A&M, while Saddler, younger and more impressionable, is still vacillating. He will talk to his mother before he decides what to do. He should, of course, stay at Texas Southern and put an abrupt end to the first case of proselytizing by a track club in this country.
Saddler, possibly confused by the ethical problems, finished fourth in the 440, a race won by bespectacled Ulis Williams, not so much because of his speed (which is formidable) but because of a psychological lift he had gotten from beating Adolph Plummer, the world record holder, in Compton, Calif, three weeks ago. Earlier Williams had run second to Plummer when the New Mexico University senior set the pending record in 44.9 seconds.
"We came off the last turn in that race, and I saw him so far in front I practically stopped and threw up my hands in surprise," Williams said last week in St. Louis. "Then at Compton, the same thing. I came off the last turn, there he was way out, but I just kicked as hard as I could and I said to myself, 'He's got to be tired.' And he came back to me. So this time when I came off the turn and saw him out there, running very smooth, I said, 'I know he's tired. He'll come back.' And he did."
Plummer ran his first 220 in 21 plus, but Williams, with his newfound confidence, did not try to stay with him, trusting in his own superior finish to win the race. His time (45.8) tied the national AAU record.
Tom O'Hara, a wispy, bone-thin 20-year-old junior from Loyola University in Chicago (SI, March 18), seems a year behind Williams in experience. Until the AAU championships O'Hara had never tested himself against a field of world-class milers, and he entertained a rather reasonable doubt of his ability to match the big runners' rush for the tape. He should suffer no such doubt any longer.
Actually, Jim Beatty, the favorite, was almost eliminated in the trial heats on Friday. He qualified easily enough, but he had been suffering from a sore right leg. In favoring the leg on Friday, he made the left leg sore, too, so that on Saturday, when the big field swirled into the final desperate sprint for the tape, the acceleration Beatty has always enjoyed was lacking and he finished a tired and limping fourth.
The race was won by Dyrol Burleson, the 23-year-old ex-Oregon University miler who is now an insurance salesman and who will not make the trip to Moscow with the American team because of business commitments. Burleson ran an intelligent, strong race that reflected the wide experience he has gained in world competition. He stayed behind the fast tempo through three laps, content to keep in contact with the leaders while running on the pole and out of the heavy traffic.
It was Beatty who led through the first three laps. As the fourth lap began, the Marine Corps' Cary Weisiger moved into the lead. Entering the backstretch, Burleson began his bid. O'Hara was running on the pole, directly disobeying the good advice of his coach.
"We noticed how Snell always runs a little on the outside," O'Hara said later. "You have running room, and then you never get boxed out there. But I got in on the pole, and when Burleson started to move I couldn't go with him at first. Then I got out and came up to him as we came out of the turn, but he forced me outside all the way around. He's a very smart runner."
Burleson's experience gave him a good five-yard lead over O'Hara as the two ran down the last 60 yards. He needed nearly all of it. O'Hara closed four and a half of the five yards down the home straight, but Burleson was still ahead at the tape.
"See?" Jerry Weiland, O'Hara's coach, said gleefully after the race. "Now you don't have to be afraid of anyone. You can run with the best of them. And beat them."
Weiland may be right, although Burleson and Beatty are not easy to beat. "I'm very lucky in national competition," Burleson said. "If I get ready and really want to, I can always win." Since Burleson will not compete in Moscow, the American representatives in the 1,500 meters (which will be run instead of the mile) will be O'Hara and Weisiger, who slipped by Beatty for third place. The two should insure the U.S. an easy sweep.
Henry Carr, the Arizona State sprinter who may be as good a quarter-miler as either his teammate, Ulis Williams, or the world record holder, Adolph Plummer, confined himself to the 220-yard dash and contributed to a unique finish. Carr and Paul Drayton finished the 220 in a dead heat, the first in the 75-year history of the AAU. They were timed in 20.4 seconds, under the listed world record but a tenth of a second slower than the record Carr has pending. Carr's performance was remarkable, since he ran with both legs heavily taped to support knees that have become tender under the long pounding of a very hard spring season.
Even discounting the possible effect of the track at St. Louis—the new composition of macadam and rubber seemed as quick as the very fastest California tracks—the performances at this AAU meet lead to the conclusion that the socialist planners in Russia who are trying to select a team to beat the Americans now have an impossible, unsociable task on their hands.
The American team should sweep running events from the 100 meters to the 5,000 meters. At the latter distance Jim Beatty, whose legs probably will have recovered by then, is the best in the world. Although he did not win in St. Louis, Beatty was added to the U.S. team as distance security.
Peter McArdle, the bald Irishman who does his training on the sidewalks of Manhattan, set an American record for the six-mile run; he could possibly place high in the 10,000 meters in Moscow. Indeed, the Russians hold clear-cut superiority in only a few events—the high jump, dominated by Valery Brumel, the triple jump and probably the steeplechase, although the steeplechase is by no means a certainty, with Vic Zwolak and Pat Traynor, both products of Jim Elliott at Villanova, improving steadily.
The Russians should win in the javelin and are counting on first place in the broad jump with Igor Ter-Ovanesyan. But they could be wrong there, too. Ralph Boston has been jumping extraordinarily well of late; he was over 27 feet twice in Modesto, and he won in St. Louis with 26 feet 10½. The near future for the Russians is predictably dark, then. So is the distant future, as long as determined young Americans like Tom O'Hara keep coming along.