A storm of bright promises

Wind, rain and the natural reluctance of established stars to challenge each other marred a big weekend, but a few expectations were fulfilled
May 08, 1966

In the ever-widening world of relay carnivals, last week was to be the one that was. It might have been, too, had the weather in Philadelphia and Des Moines and the runners in Walnut, Calif. been more cooperative. The earlier Texas and Kansas relays, to name only two of the proliferating 12-ring circuses that are making Barnums of most of this country's track coaches, had promised as much. But, like Barnum, many of the coaches were not able to fulfill the promises.

Take the scene at the Penn Relays. It was raining and a chill 47° on Franklin Field in Philadelphia, where no less than 6,000 pairs of spikes churned up the track until it looked more like a place to dig clams than set records. Practically the only man the mud did not handicap was a Villanova sophomore named Dave Patrick, and that may be because he is a lot better than even his coach. Jumbo Elliott, realizes. On Friday, Patrick chugged his way through a 4:04.6 mile to carry Villanova to victory in the distance medley relay, and the next day, spattered with mud, he hit the tape first as anchorman in the two-mile relay. For his weekend's work Patrick was voted the meet's outstanding performer and Villanova picked up its 27th relay title in the last 16 years. Villanova was all promise before the meet, but now it is something more: its team is made up almost entirely of sophomores, and they are likely to get better and better, come rain or come shine.

The weather was no less brisk for the Drake Relays—a gusty, 15-mile-an-hour wind was the trouble there—but the track stayed fast and Southern University of Baton Rouge more than made up for a sluggish performance by Kansas Miler Jim Ryun and a disallowed, wind-aided 9.3 in the 100 by Charlie Greene. With senior Theron Lewis reeling off fast stints in three, Southern won four college relay titles—the sprint medley (3:19.2), the two-mile (7:31.3), the one-mile (3:07.4) and the 880 (1:22.7). In these events Southern may have the fastest teams in the country but the real test will come when it matches baton passes in California later this month with Texas Southern, New Mexico and San Jose State.

What makes San Jose a challenge even in the fastest company is Tommy Smith, a slender, 6-foot 2-inch sprinter. Smith ran only twice at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in Walnut, anchoring his school to a first and a second, but he looked so impressive doing both that he was voted the meet's outstanding runner. Smith has long, powerful legs and brings his knees up so high as he flies over the track that they appear to be out in front of his chin. Last year he tied the world record for the 200-meter dash—20.0—and this year in a dual meet with Stanford he ran the 440 in 45.7, making him the third fastest 440-yard runner in history.

"He may be the best sprinter I've ever had," says San Jose Coach Bud Winter, who produced 1960 Olympian Ray Norton. Last year Smith had trouble starting and running turns, but nothing bothers him now, though he expresses a preference for the 220. "The quarter takes a lot of stamina and the 100 is a little too short for me," he says, "but in the 220 I have time enough to build up speed and really blast out."

In the 880-yard relay Smith demonstrated exactly what he meant. San Jose was trailing by a few yards when he grabbed the baton and then loped off slowly as if trying to give the other frantically digging runners a sporting chance. Suddenly Smith switched on a burst of speed that carried him to the tape in a clocking of 20 seconds flat for his leg.

At Walnut, too, New York's Tommy Farrell (SI, Jan. 24) threw a blast of his own at a couple of California hotshots, Dennis Carr of USC and Ted Nelson, the national indoor 1,000-yard champion, in the half mile. He hung back for most of the race, but moved up behind Nelson as the latter raced to the front going through the last turn. Nelson was not in front long. Farrell shot by him on the outside as they came out of the curve and kept right on rolling to win by six yards in 1:47.9, tying Carr for the fastest time in the world this year.

"I was really amazed," said Farrell after the race. "I figured on finishing about second or third when I came out here. It was only my second race outdoors. The first was a 48.8 quarter mile and I was working hard all the way."

If Farrell and Canada's Bill Crothers can get together this spring there is the distinct possibility that one of them can beat Peter Snell's world record of 1:45.1. But getting together is one of the problems of big-time track these days. It is far easier for a runner to run himself into shape than it is for him to find a race with his peers. Too often someone ducks out at the last minute and a major confrontation falls through. That is what happened at Mt. SAC last week and took the edge off an otherwise interesting meet. A month ago Dyrol Burleson, making a comeback of sorts, ran a 3:57.5 mile at a minor meet in Salem, Ore. At Mt. San Antonio he was looking forward to a fast race with former Oregon teammate Jim Grelle.

"What I do here may determine my plans for this season," said Burleson, who is studying for a master's degree at Oregon while working part time for the OEO's Upward Bound program. "My 3:57.5 was O.K., but a miler who can't do better than that these days might as well pick up and go home."

Well, Burleson is now a week older but no nearer to finding out what he can do. Half an hour before the mile was to begin Grelle announced that he was switching to the 5,000-meter run. Burlie, unchallenged, followed a slow pace for three quarters and then sprinted ahead to win in 4:01.4. He was surprisingly generous about Grelle's disappointing switch in plans. "Jim's got a good 5,000 in him," he said. "I think it's wonderful that he has the opportunity to try it."

If Grelle has only one good 5,000-meter run in his system, it is still there. His win over Olympic Steeplechaser George Young assuredly was not it. They dawdled along behind an easy early pace set by Ron Larrieu, then sprinted through the last 300 yards to a close decision that went to Grelle, though both were timed in a slow 14:10.8. Grelle has not made up his mind whether to stick with the long distances or go back to the mile, so Burleson is still looking for a fast race, hopefully soon and against Ryun of Kansas. The chief difficulty here is that though both Ryun and Burleson want a match race, each seems to be waiting for the other to name the time and the place. Unless some enterprising meet promoter sets up a three-way telephone hookup, this sort of thing could go on into winter.