Eighteen-year-old Gerry Lindgren and a covey of teen-age girls were all the inspiration needed as the U.S. crushed a game but aging Russian track and field team in the sixth annual dual meet
August 02, 1964

For 14 laps the schoolboy with the ears that stick straight out had been straight-out persistent. He snugged close behind the two fleeing Russians, apparently carried along by the vacuum created in their wake. He could not see over the shoulders of the bigger men—he is a little kid who could not see over the shoulders of a German Shepherd unless it were lying down—and he seemed to sniff his way along, his head tilted up and to the right so that his nose caught the light breeze. His skinny arms snapped off tight, childlike uppercuts as he ran. Those nearest the track could see his face was flushed. He presented an altogether unpromising picture. Any moment he must, he surely will, weaken and fall back. The 10,000-meter run is for Russians, like collective farms and Politburo grabs, and no respectable Russian man is going to lose to an 18-year-old-kid American.

But on the 15th lap—and with another 10 to go—Sam Bell, the American coach, warned the kid from the edge of the track that the No. 1 Russian, Leonid Ivanov, had moved 20 yards ahead of the No. 2 Russian, Nikolai Dutov. "If you can do it, Gerry, do it now," shouted Bell.

At that urging, the mysterious ingredient that allows Gerry Lindgren to run long distances with a tenacity most boys his age reserve for securing the car keys moved inside him. "Heart," said Mike Larrabee, who had won the previous event, the 400 meters, and was watching. "That kid has more heart than any two athletes I know." Quickly Lindgren was past Dutov and on his way to catch Ivanov. On the stretch side of the Los Angeles Coliseum he passed Ivanov at such speed as to startle the Russian. The 50,000 people in the huge stadium were up now, lending voice to the possibility of the most upsetting upset—for the Russians—since the track and field meets between the nations began six years ago.

Abruptly, Lindgren tired. You could not see it in his stride, which is a deceitful mechanism anyway, but he could feel it. He had sprinted the take-over lap in 63 seconds; the sprint exhausted him. The next lap, he said, was the most trying of the race. "I even looked back once to see if I was losing it, and I've never done that before. I didn't think I would make it. I felt bad because the crowd was wonderful, and I was afraid I was going to disappoint everybody."

But now it was the crowd that persisted. Cheers poured over him like sustaining fluid, and he sailed through the finishing laps: nine, eight, seven—his lead was up to 30 yards, then 40, and it was becoming clear that it was no longer Ivanov, the terrible Russian, but Ivanov, the beaten one. Lindgren, 118 pounds of self-effacement, whose only apparent illusion is that he thinks he is getting bigger, said he never dreamed of such a victory, that he had hoped for third and thought second would be a splendid bonus, that he really belonged in the 5,000-meter race anyway and that with three laps to go he was still scared to death he might lose it. By then he was 60 yards ahead of Ivanov and 100 yards ahead of Dutov, who early in the race had been struck in the thigh by an errant discus. Lindgren lapped his teammate, John Gutknecht, and beat Ivanov by the length of the Coliseum football field, the first American to win the 10,000 meters since the series began. "I thought he might," said Coach Bell smugly.

Lindgren's victory was not meaningful in minutes and seconds. His time (29:17.6) was good but, like many another performance during the two-day meet, would not win an Olympic medal in Tokyo against the formidable opposition expected from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Great Britain and other track-rich nations. On another day it would probably not beat Ivanov. It was not the statistical monument, on that first day of U.S.-U.S.S.R. competition last weekend, that Shot-putter Dallas Long's 67-foot 10-inch world record was. Nor was it as impressive, perhaps, as Fred Hansen's 17-foot 4-inch world record pole vault at the end of the afternoon.

The significance of Lindgren's victory was that it represented the first major breakthrough in events that have come to be considered the special province of one country or the other, an inexorable share-the-spoils system that has made these dual meets, like Shakespeare, dramatic but predictable. Historically, Americans sweep the sprints through 1,500 meters, win the relays, the discus, broad jump, shotput and one of the hurdles. Russians win the long runs, the walks, the steeplechase, triple jump and high jump. Prior to this year's meet, 16 of the 22 men's events were won by the same country every year.

There was also an almost immediate U.S. breakthrough in women's competition—and again by teen-agers. The American women, humiliated in Moscow last year when they were accused of doing more running around than running, accumulated their highest point total in the six losing years, 48 to Russia's 59, and it began when Eleanor Montgomery, 18, of Cleveland and Terrezene Brown, 17, of Los Angeles, finished one-two in the high jump. At the end of the first day, the U.S. women-girls—lead 27-25 and practically assured the U.S. an overall point total that the Russians can appreciate but we cannot, because we have always held that the meets are scored separately, "by original agreement." Naturally, when Russian officials totaled up both men's and women's scores in the past, they compensated for their annual failure in the men's competition by not recognizing original agreements.

Older and slower

So, then, have the Russians slipped? Not necessarily, but they have certainly aged. While the U.S. team was a mixture, as always, of old and new, the Russian team was made up basically of the same people who have competed against us five times before. Russian men at Los Angeles were older by 1.6 years per man than their American counterparts. The Russian women will be mortified: they were 6.5 years senior to each American competitor. There were 11 teen-agers on the American teams—strength for tomorrow. The Russians entered no teenagers. There were 17 Russians age 30 or more—only five Americans. An obvious explanation, of course, is that Russian amateur athletes last longer, because in the Soviet Union it is profitable to stay in the game, whatever the game might be. Nevertheless, the old hands are not as steady and feet not as swift as they used to be. "I would rather be fastest than cutest," Galina Popova answered a newspaperman's appraisal of her pigtailed good looks before the meet. She then went out and finished third to America's Edith McGuire, 20 (who next day won the 200 meters), and Wyomia Tyus, 19, in the 100-meter dash, which she had won in Moscow. When you are 32, as is Galina, you must sometimes settle for cutest.

"Maybe we are getting old," said Russian Coach Gabriel (Gabe) Korobkov after the first day. Korobkov, a blond bear of a man who began the Soviet sports revolution with his staff of 20 national coaches and a free hand in 1953, was going to retire to a job with the Scientific Institute of (sports) Research after the Olympics, but now he is not so sure. "They may ask me to stay on for one more year," he said, "and if they ask me I must."

It is a continuing burden on the Soviets that they have not developed a winning sprinter. "It takes time," says Korobkov, and it was evident at the Coliseum that the time it takes is more time. With both Bob Hayes and Bernie Rivers scratched because of injury, the U.S. substituted Henry Carr and John Moon and still finished one-two in the 100 meters. The sweet-striding Carr returned the next day to win the 200 meters and broke up the 1,600-meter relay race with a stinging 45.8 second leg.

"Tomorrow," said Korobkov on Saturday, cutting short a public interview, "will be our day." The Sunday schedule was tailored for a Russian dressing: 5,000 meters, triple jump, steeplechase, javelin—Soviet victories almost without exception in the past. Privately, Korobkov seemed just as confident. "Watch the 5,000 meters," he said. "It will be most interesting."

The 5,000 meters was indeed most interesting, and so was the steeplechase and the triple jump, and when Russia's day was over Russia's downfall was complete. The breakthrough had been made: where the youthful Lindgren had led, George Young, Ira Davis and Bob Schul surely followed.

"There are no upsets in distance running, just hard work," said George Young after leading Jeff Fishback in a one-two sweep of the 3,000-meter steeplechase that would have been considered unbelievable only a short time ago. Young is a slight 145-pound school-teacher from Silver City, N.Mex. who has been running for years. Sunday he showed he knew how to hold his poise as Fishback forced the pace and the Russians crashed over the water hazards like performing seals who were not performing very well.

The times, typically for the meet, were not exciting, but neither was Russia's Eduard Osipov. He was an unspectacular third. "We are two months ahead of the Russians now," said Young. "We will be two months ahead in October."

Davis, the happy-faced 27-year-old Philadelphia insurance man who has been trying to master the triple jump for 10 years ("It is very tough to master"), had not beaten the Russians in two previous meets. He did it this time with an American record of 53 feet 11 inches, almost a foot better than the Russian, Vitold Kreer.

The Russian pair ran the 5,000 meters as if they had not heard of Bob Schul or else did not believe in him. They ran the race slowly, deliberately, in fact, and that is a practical insult to Schul, who covets his ability to outstrip anything nonautomotive in the final 400 meters. When he began his sprint, teammate Bill Dellinger tagged along, but the Russians, straining, were unable to keep up. The two Americans could have played a hand of poker waiting for the Russians at the finish line.

With that race the American men accomplished a piece of capital gain to pop the eye of any Socialist west of Petrograd: they had won every running event in the meet and had swept 10 events. The 139 total points represented 12 more than the previous high and 20 more than they had scored in Moscow last year. And in the combined totals, which the Americans are now only too pleased to recognize, the U.S. had won by a thumping 31 points, 187 to 156.

The nice Red things

There were certain pleasurable moments for the Russians: Ralph Boston finally lost in the broad jump, not to old rival Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, who was home in Moscow with a sore ankle, but to Leonid Barkovski. In his eagerness to set a record—and perhaps because of his lack of serious concern for Barkovski—Boston twice fouled by an inch in jumps of 27 feet. Barkovski won by a quarter of an inch at 26 feet 4¼.

There was also a one-two Russian sweep in the hammer when 1956 Olympic Champion Harold Connolly showed up slightly off form. And the 19-year-old Texas giant, Randy Matson, allowed Russian Viktor Lipsnis to slip past him for second place behind Dallas Long in the shotput.

But it had not been a good Russian showing. "They looked flat," said American Coach Bell. "Maybe they're...," he let it hang. Korobkov said he had his own Russian championships to worry about, and there were the Olympics, and he just was not getting much sleep. The team had not, either, in its whirlwind week of Los Angeles enjoyments.

There were Disneyland, Marineland, the M-G-M studios to see; the expressways to travel ("faster," the Russians yelled at 65 mph). At Birnkrant Hall on the USC campus, where the teams were housed, there was button swapping, record swapping (Twistin' the World Around was a Muscovite favorite), storytelling (the Russians spoke English with the athletes and played dumb with the press), and great gobs of strawberry rainbow parfait.

The camaraderie was intense. Team Captain Boston twisted television dials to keep the Russians abreast of the latest installments of Mighty Mouse and Little Alvin. Bob Hayes, the sidelined sprinter, was entertained by a Russian friend who "kept climbing into the trees, swinging like a monkey. Funny, man." It was hard for a fellow to pick his enemies. "I can't get any butterflies for this meet," complained Hurdler Hayes Jones. "It just don't mean nothing to me. I get more excited against our own guys." (One of his own guys, Blaine Lindgren, got excited enough to beat Jones that afternoon.)

Nevertheless, there were 106,440 in the Coliseum for the two days (Meet Director Glenn Davis expected 175,000) and, lest the fans fall into the same trap as the athletes, there were political pamphleteers at every gate. There was, however, a subtler, more insidious trap lying in wait for any American who exulted too raucously over the weekend triumph: complacency. If the victory was complete, it was won at the expense of only one country, a country moreover that may itself have become too complacent in matters of track and field. The competition this October in the Olympics will be far stiffer than it was in Los Angeles, and U.S. performances in many events will have to improve dramatically if American athletes are to stuff baskets full of gold, silver and bronze medals in the manner of the earlier, less contentious Olympic Games.

As he left the Coliseum, Korobkov was heard to say the beating "has been good for us." It was better for us, but only Tokyo can tell how much better.

PHOTOSpurred by ecstatic Los Angeles crowd, wisplike Lindgren runs through tape to become first American ever to beat a Russian at 10,000 meters. TWO PHOTOSStalked by Osipov and U.S.'s Fishback, George Young splashes to stunning steeplechase win.