In the beginning at Tokyo there was a good deal of clatter about the New Emerging Forces—Indonesia and North Korea, for example—who emerged from the Olympic Village in a snit and went home. But when the Games hit full stride last week a different kind of new emerging force emerged—America's sensational distance runners. From an Olympic obscurity that with two exceptions (Horace Ashenfelter's steeplechase gold medal in 1952 and Johnny Hayes's marathon victory in 1908) had extended in length to everything beyond 1,500 meters and in time through every Olympic renewal since the first in Athens in 1896, the U.S. moved suddenly to center stage.
This is an article from the Oct. 26, 1964 issue
Last Sunday in a drizzling rain a tall, bony Ohioan named Bob Schul won the 5,000-meter run, a race the U.S. had never won before (though an American was a very close second 32 years ago). Schul, a 27-year-old asthmatic who bundles off to California in midsummer to escape the pollen fallout in his native state, was the favorite in the race, as unlikely as that might seem when counted against America's record in the 5,000 in the past. But Schul is a resolute, self-assured man, one who trained under the equally imperative Hungarian master, Mihaly Igloi, without allowing Igloi to dominate him. When Schul said before the race, "I am the man to beat," he said it only as a man who knows precisely where he stands—and more important, where he is going.
Schul could be the man to beat at almost any distance, he is that strong and that fast. There was a time when he appeared to be going nowhere, and he interrupted his education at Miami of Ohio to spend four years in the Air Force. But during the indoor track season last winter, under Igloi's direction, he began leading where before he had followed, and in June, when he beat the New Zealander Bill Baillie in 13:38 in a 5,000-meter run at the Compton Relays in California, he shattered Baillie with a last-quarter kick that could be felt all the way to Tokyo.
It was the fastest 5,000 of the year, and Schul immediately became an international figure, at least in track circles. Twice he ran sub-four-minute miles, and later he ran 8:26.4 to break Michel Jazy's world record in the two-mile run. His strength was evident, and it was conceded that he could outkick anybody at the end of 5,000 meters except, perhaps, the Frenchman Jazy—provided Jazy had a slow enough pace to come off of.
Jazy reached the finals in Tokyo, and so did Ron Clarke, the Australian with the driving pace and no kick. The race began shortly after 4 in the afternoon. There were great puddles on the track, and soon anybody behind the leaders was splattered with mud to his hairline. Schul was one of these, lagging back as is his custom, biding his time as Clarke set a hurry-up-and-slow-down pace, sprinting and coasting and then sprinting again on the chance he would tire the others. As it turned out, he tired himself the most.
Jazy stayed close to Clarke, running off his shoulder most of the time. The German, Harald Norpoth, was close, too, cursing the rain ("I began losing faith as soon as I heard the rain falling in the night, because I do not run well in the rain"). America's Bill Dellinger, the veteran who made an impressive comeback this year, ran last or next to last most of the way, which wasn't too bad since most of the field was packed in a tight little cluster. The pace discouraged nobody through the first 4,000 meters.
Schul ran comfortably along in the middle of the pack. When Clarke sprinted, and Jazy and Norpoth went with him, Schul let them go. Then, when Clarke slowed the pace, the gap that had opened slowly closed until Schul was right up there with the pacesetters again. This pattern continued until, with a lap and a half to go, Dellinger suddenly swept past everybody and took the lead. Jazy went after him, and Norpoth, Clarke and Schul followed. Jazy later said he began his kick too soon, but he began it nevertheless. "I thought," he said, "that here was my chance." He moved out past Dellinger. Clarke, with no sprint to offer, disappeared from contention, and Dellinger fell behind. Jazy opened up a huge lead on Norpoth and Schul down the back-stretch of the last lap. Into the long last turn he was a good 10 yards ahead, but now there began an ominous, rolling, throaty noise from the crowd as Schul launched his invincible kick. Jazy looked around as he went into the home stretch—"I remember him looking," said Schul, "and I thought he must be mighty worried"—and his shoulders tightened. Schul caught Jazy halfway down the stretch, roared past him and breezed home the winner by six yards, a big grin splitting his face as he split the tape. He had run the last 300 yards in 38.4 seconds, the final quarter in 54.4. The race was slow, 13:48.8, but on this rainy track Schul's time was not as important as his tactics. His sprint broke Jazy, who faded to fourth place. Norpoth finished second and Dellinger, putting on his own sprint down the stretch, just caught Jazy at the wire to finish third and win a bronze medal to add to Schul's gold.
Schul said afterward that he would like to go for the 5,000-meter world record and "maybe break the steeplechase record, too," but for the time being, "I must start treating my wife like a human being again. All this has been very rough on her."
Four days before Schul's victory, on the very first day of track-and-field competition, a 26-year-old marine lieutenant named Billy Mills, seven-sixteenths Sioux Indian and 100% unspoiled by publicity (he had never had any) won the 10,000-meter run, the first American ever to do so. Unlike Schul, Mills—an unimpressive second in the Los Angeles Olympic trials—was an almost totally unknown quantity, to Americans as much as anyone else. He had never before won a major race, yet his time, 28:24.4, set a new Olympic record; it was the fourth fastest 10,000 ever run; it broke the old American record set four years ago in Rome by Max Truex by almost half a minute; and it was 45 seconds faster than Mills had ever run the distance before. It was an utter and absolute surprise, and it left Clarke, the prerace favorite (and the world-record holder), floundering in third place and former Olympic gold-medal winners Murray Halberg and Pyotr Bolotnikov far, far in the ruck.
Two days before the race 18-year-old Gerry Lindgren—who, everyone agreed, really had no chance running against grown men but who was nonetheless everybody's secret dark horse—twisted his ankle on a tree stump near the Meiji Shrine as he took a practice run cross-country. Blithely, Lindgren ignored advice to pack the ankle in ice at once, and it was three hours before it was treated. By then the ankle was stiff, and whatever chance America might have had in the 10,000 seemed to have vanished. Lindgren ran in the race anyway, and though he finished a creditable ninth he was never a factor.
But the mysterious Mills, shaking his hands at his sides as if to coax out all the tension that was building, clung to the leaders, lap after tiring lap, until he was one of only three of the 36 starters still in touch with Clarke, who had set or forced the pace the entire way. Four times Mills seemed to drop from contention, falling as much as 15 yards behind, but each time he came on again to rejoin the leaders. Five times he actually took the lead, but more often the pacesetter was Clarke or the Ethiopian, Mamo Walde, or the Tunisian army sergeant, Mohamed Gammoudi.
With 2½ laps to go, Walde began to fade, and now there were three, winding their way in and out of a tangled mass of stragglers who had been lapped by the leaders. It was a terrible traffic jam and when, with one lap to go, Clarke decided to make his move he found himself boxed in by Mills on his right and a straggler in front. To get around he moved out and pushed against Mills. At almost the same moment Gammoudi, running third, had started his kick and found Clarke and Mills in his way. The Tunisian put his hands together as if to begin a comic dive and shoved between them, getting the lead as Mills broke stride and stumbled out across the track. ("It was a break," he said later. "Out there I found harder ground, better traction, and I was able to pick up immediately.") Clarke, who had turned to Mills as though to apologize, immediately went after Gammoudi, but Mills, who lost several yards recovering from the stumble, seemed out of it. At the turn into the stretch, however, he lengthened his stride and picked up speed, and as he came down the stretch, well out in the middle of the track, he suddenly loomed large on Clarke's right shoulder. Mills lammed past the Australian, caught Gammoudi 20 yards from the tape and crossed the finish line three yards ahead.
Mills then had to endure his first press conference. He told of being orphaned at 13, of attending high school on an Indian reservation, of starting to run because he wanted to train to be a boxer (the 16-ounce gloves eventually proved too heavy), of moving to the University of Kansas for an undistinguished career as a collegiate runner ("I didn't get along with the coach,") and finally of becoming a Marine platoon leader at Camp Pendleton in California. His wife Patsy, who was with him through the long interview, had to correct him when he reported their daughter's age as 16 months instead of 17. Afterward, as Billy and Patsy strolled out of the stadium gate with teammate Don Jeisy and his wife, Mrs. Jeisy fashioned an imaginary banner in the sky: "I can see it now—BILLY MILLS DAY AT CAMP PENDLETON." Mills said, "Yeah. Then maybe I can get some of those guys to obey orders."
If obeying orders is not an American characteristic, it is a Soviet one, and when Nikita Khrushchev finished out of the money in a private Kremlin popularity poll there was consternation in Russian quarters in Tokyo. "There is utter panic," said one Russian. The word in Russian is panika, and he used it again, "panika" and still again, "panika." He paused, a man acquainted with uncertainties. "It makes you have second thoughts about going back."
Eight of the 14 days of Olympic competition had passed, and for the Russians it had been eight days that must have seemed like eight Five-Year Plans fully carried out. A strong person could develop vertigo just following the spirals of their ups and downs. On the first Sunday, Alexy Vakhonin, a bantamweight weight lifter from the Ukraine, won the first gold medal of the Games and acclaimed it "the best present for the motherland." That afternoon propaganda booklets telling of the sweet life in Russia were placed at the Olympic Village cafeteria entrance for American athletes to trip over. That night in the Russian quarters there was cutting of pirog (Russian cake) to celebrate Vakhonin's victory, and the Russians agreed that as the days wore on and their superiority was established they would have their pirog and eat it, too, after each new victory. On Monday, a Russian seaman jumped the Olympic ship S.S. Uritsky in Yokohama harbor and begged political refuge. (At the Olympic Village, American Shotputter Parry O'Brien predicted that "at least three" Soviet athletes would do the same before the Games were over, but he was merely parroting a rumor that had been whispered around the Village indiscriminately since opening day.) On Tuesday three Russian cosmonauts who had been cast into space were reeled in again safely, right on the eve of the track-and-field competition. On Wednesday, however, Billy Mills won the 10,000, which the Russians consider their special cup of borsch. Russian Pyotr Bolotnikov, winner in Rome in 1960, did not even place. A Russian official charged the Americans half seriously with harboring a secret weapon in Mills.
By Thursday, American swimmers were firmly enshrined as the alltime heads of the class (page 30), American track-and-field athletes were more than holding their own, an American divinity student, Gary Anderson, had won the gold medal in free-rifle competition, the Vesper Boat Club had reestablished American supremacy in eight-oared rowing, and anyone at the Olympics who by now could not hum The Star-Spangled Banner had to have ear trouble.
In the Russian barracks there was fear that the pirog might go stale, so new ground rules for celebrating were set up. "The golden era is passed," said one Soviet athlete, dramatically raising an imaginary glass, "begins the bronze era." The cake-cutting resumed.
Then, on Thursday midnight, there went Khrushchev and the next day, Friday, the Red Chinese fired off a nuclear bomb. Finally, on Sunday morning, the eighth day, there began a rain that was to last until nightfall, and Tokyo papers advised their readers that a little radioactive fallout from the Chinese bomb test might be included with the morning edition. But in the rain (and the fallout) Schul won the 5,000. After eight days, the Americans had won 29 gold medals to Russia's 13, and in total medals (gold, silver, bronze), led 68 to 40. Russian victories were sure to come in gymnastics, boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, cycling, shooting and fencing, but would they now be enough? Possibly. But the Soviets would be hard pressed to repeat their "unofficial" team victories at Rome and Melbourne, and they definitely had lost ground in track and field.
On the other hand, the Americans had made up ground lost in Rome by winning both sprints—Bob Hayes at 100 meters and Henry Carr at 200—and, though there was international improvement and increased representation in almost every event, the Americans held fast. Al Oerter, the two-time Olympic discus champion, tore muscles and cartilage in his back overextending a throw and was unable to work effectively. He talked of withdrawing ("I do not like to be mediocre") but then thought better of it. His first practice throw in the competition doubled him up, but he continued. To stop internal bleeding, he had frozen his side with ice packs, but the pain persisted. In the discus finals he consistently threw low for the first four of his allotted six throws and trailed Ludvik Danek, the world-record holder from Czechoslovakia. On his fifth throw, however, he came up nicely and put 61 meters (200 feet 1½ inches) between himself and the discus to win his third straight gold. Later, a foreign newsman told him that Danek had trained in a private camp, with his wife, for six months prior to the Games. "How do you get a deal like that?" Oerter asked. "Well," said the writer, "you have to live in Czechoslovakia."
Pole Vaulter John Pennell, the first man to clear 17 feet, reinjured his back and was unable to vault almost from the time he got to Tokyo. He tried for the finals but had to quit after two jumps. He watched as teammate Fred Hansen, whipping into the black Tokyo night after nearly 9½ hours of poke-along competition, won at 16 feet 8¾ inches, also an Olympic record. Hayes Jones and Blaine Lindgren ran one-two in the 110-meter high hurdles. Lindgren stumbled from the lead with less than five meters to go, on a track made slippery by the rain. Jones said he was retiring as of that moment. Rex Cawley, forced to take mincing steps when the wind forced him close to the barrier on the backstretch, came on strong to win the 400-meter hurdles. And Mike Larrabee won the 400 meters over Trinidad's (and Yale's) favored Wendell Mottley.
There were failures. Harold Connolly was disappointing in the hammer throw and Peter Snell obliterated the U.S. half miters. Ralph Boston, the 1960 gold-medal winner, resumed his battle with Russia's Igor Ter-Ovanesyan and beat him again, but this time England's Lynn Davies bested both of them with a jump of 26 feet 5½ inches. Boston's last jump was his best, but as he went into the air he was struck with a wind that had pestered the jumpers all day. He came down 1½ inches short of Davies' mark. "Good heavens," said a British newsman when he learned of Davies' victory, "it must have been the English weather."
Apart from swimming and diving, the Americans did not score heavily in other sports, though there were some improvements to offset the reversals. The wrestlers won only one medal (they had three in 1960), and the weight lifters had but one bronze compared to one gold, four silvers and one bronze in 1960. But the rifle and pistol shooters won five medals and the rowing team four, and these were huge advances. In rowing America won the pairs-with-coxswain gold medal and then—when the Vesper Boat Club won the eight-oared event—regained a large measure of the prestige it lost in 1960. The U.S. had taken the eight-oared gold medal in eight straight Olympics before the Ratzeburg Rowing Club of Germany won in Rome. The day of the finals in Tokyo was blustery, and the races were postponed twice. Vesper hoped its race would not be put off—heavier than most other crews, Vesper figured it had the power to overcome the headwind whipping across the water. When the race finally got underway the wind was still blowing, and it was almost dark. The Germans and the Russians got off to good starts, but just past the halfway mark Vesper pulled ahead, kept widening its lead and crossed the finish line a surprising length and a half in front of the Germans.
Karl Adam, coach of the German crew, crushed by Vesper's convincing win, stood on the balcony above the boathouse. "I want to go home right away," he said.