For the first time in the history of the National AAU Women's Track and Field Championships, the once-fragile flowers of U.S. femininity were being allowed to run 1,500 meters, the metric mile. The 1,500 is not yet an official international event for women, but some sly committee decided it would be well to get a head start on the other countries, just in case. Besides, so many delicate young things were running cross-country in the fall it seemed a shame to let them waste away in the summer.
In the Inaugural 1,500, Marie Mulder (SI, May 10), who had won a punishing 880 just an hour and a half earlier, stayed back in third place most of the race and then shot into the lead at the start of the final lap. When Sandra Knott of Cleveland came up on her heels at the last curve, Marie again opened up a gap, but Sandra hung on and drew almost even. Finally, in the last few yards, Marie found a still higher gear to shift into and won by a stride in 4:36.5. After the race, the 27-year-old Sandra shook her head and said, "That girl's got more speeds than a racing car."
Marie Mulder is the finest woman distance runner in America at the normally gawky, neophyte, silly-giggle age of 15. A few minutes after completing her difficult double, she was breathing normally and planning a postmeet nocturnal horseback ride with one of her teammates from Will's Spikettes of Sacramento, Calif. Her easy recovery seemed to smash forever the notion that females should not and could not gasp their way more than twice around a quarter-mile track.
"A lot of people may think I'm burning her up, but I'm not," said her coach, Will Stephens. "She's like a machine. She has the knack of working hard and making it pay off. She has a tremendous background of work in track and a lot of self-discipline. She's a straight-A student, except for once when she had to fly to Europe. And she's so relaxed that 30 minutes before a race she's apt to fall asleep—and that's happened."
Marie and 21 other standouts from the AAU championships will compete July 31 and August 1 in the U.S.-Russia meet in Kiev, to be televised in the Soviet Union, flashed to western Europe, beamed into outer space, caromed off the Early Bird satellite into the Western Hemisphere and brought live to TV screens in thousands of U.S. homes. From Kiev the ladies move on to Warsaw, Poland and Munich, West Germany. But getting there was half the fun, and the AAU testing ground last Thursday, Friday and Saturday was the Worthington High School Athletic Field outside Columbus, Ohio.
While Miss Mulder helped expand the horizons of women's athletics, Coach Ed Temple and his troupe from the Tennessee State University Club—former stable of retired sprint champion Wilma Rudolph—won the team title and placed four women on the American team. The Tigerbelles' B and A teams finished one-two in the 440-yard relay and their Olympic gold medal twins, Edith McGuire and Wyomia Tyus, easily won the 220 and 100 respectively.
"This Tyus is not something to sneeze at," said Temple. "If I had her and Rudolph I'd have to flip a coin. And she's still young, just 19. Wilma was 20 when she won her three gold medals. For Tyus, her year will be 1968."
The championships were frustrating for Fred Jones, the dove-voiced coach, trainer and equipment manager for the Los Angeles Mercurettes. Although publicly he says he has "no anxieties," he is bitter about the way the AAU always bypasses him in selecting coaches for international events. He hoped his powerful team would beat Tennessee State, place five or six girls on the U.S. team and show up the AAU. But as the women take on more and more of the men's events, they also take on more and more injuries.
The Mercurettes had Chi Cheng of Taiwan, a favorite in the 100-meter hurdles and a contender in the long jump. An injured hamstring muscle forced her to scratch. Terrezene Brown, 17, co-favorite in the high jump, also had to drop out because of an injured hamstring. Sprinter Marilyn White, a 20-year-old junior at UCLA, ran with her right thigh wrapped up mummy-style, and Sprinter Barbara Ferrell competed despite a hairline fracture of her right ankle.
One of the few healthy Mercurettes was 195-pound Lynn Graham, 17, whose shotput and discus victories led Jones's girls' division team (17 and under) to the championship Friday night. Lynn has taken over as the Randy Matson of U.S. women, now that Earlene Brown of Compton, Calif. has thrown her considerable bulk and good humor into professional roller skating. Lynn also won the women's division shot and discus for a total of 40 points in three days. She puts the shot right-handed, eats with her left hand, throws the discus with her right, plays tennis ambidextrously, writes with her left and pitches Softball with her right.
"For her age she's better than Tamara Press of Russia," said her mother, Mrs. Cornella Graham. "It was a long time before Press got up to what Lynn has done, 51 feet 5 inches. I think she'll definitely leave quite a few records in her wake."
While many winners were familiar names—Janell Smith in the 440, Willye White in the long jump and RaNae Bair in the javelin—a big part of the track show was stolen by a heartening wave of new stars, Little Annie Rooneys who looked as if they belonged on some sidewalk playing hopscotch. For instance, there was Maren Seidler, an Atlanta girl of 14. With the same four-kilo shot her mother used at Brooklyn College in the late 1940s, Maren finished fifth in the women's division with a put of 41 feet ¾ inches, a phenomenal distance for her age. Denise Paschal, 16, of the Laurel Track Club in San Francisco, scored 24 points for a first, a second and a third in girls' events and nine more points in three women's events.
The meet also produced one moment of nostalgia. Stanislawa Walasiewiczowna, 53, who gained the everlasting gratitude of track-meet announcers many years ago by changing her name to Stella Walsh, walked happily through the swirl of stopwatch-toting officials and sweat-suited ingenues to the discus circle. Entered as Mrs. Stella Walsh-Olson of Cleveland, 1932 U.S. Olympic champion, holder of 65 world and national records, she was going to compete against the kids. Although she looked broad-shouldered and powerful enough to put on a juggling act with 16-pound shots, she knew she had no chance to win her 42nd National AAU title. She did not place, but she will be going to Europe anyhow. She flies to her native Poland later this month for the dedication of an athletic center named in her honor. Since it is in Warsaw and not Cleveland, the name chipped in stone will be Walasiewiczowna.
"When I see all these wonderful facilities available to the girls, and the understanding, I wish they had it in our day," she said. "I guess I was just born 30 years too soon."