If you will remember the last exciting episode, Gerry Lindgren, miniature long-distance runner, was thrashing his way through fields of Russians on his way to Tokyo for the 1964 Olympic Games. Describing childlike uppercuts with his skinny arms, gritting his teeth and getting the maximum from his pink little body, Gerry was awakening America to distances it had never been interested in before because nobody thought American runners could run that far without rest stops. His surging style—run awhile, then really run awhile—was defined by his coach as "eclectic," a mini-mixture of Z√†topek, Elliott, Snell and a pinch of salt.
Lindgren, then 18 years old, beat the favored Russians at 10,000 meters in Los Angeles that year, and Bob Schul did it at 5,000, and, though Lindgren injured his ankle and did not win at Tokyo, Schul did and so did Billy Mills for a U.S. sweep of the Olympic 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. Since then, America has gone from hopelessness to being pretty blasé about its excellent distance runners, so much so that it has begun to turn its attention back to the sprinters, who do not work as hard but who make considerably more noise.
Now it is the Olympic year 1968, and Lindgren, the pink little boy runner, has grown up. He has become a pink little man runner, with an ulcer. His tireless training (he has covered 44 miles in a single day) and eclectically engineered footraces make him an international favorite who is again worthy of attention. Last weekend in Berkeley he won the 10,000 meters as he pleased in the NCAA championships and then paused to lecture the republic on the stupidity of the NCAA-AAU feud—"I've been waiting for a chance to get this off my chest," he said. On the third day, though dog tired and hurting, he won the 5,000 meters with a blazing finish to complete a three-year sweep of the distance events. No runner has ever so dominated NCAA competition.
Lindgren's achievements did not quite prevent the insatiable University of Southern California team from winning the meet for the second year in a row, and the 25th time in 47 years. USC won by one point over Lindgren's Washington State team, 58 to 57, and Villanova finished third with 41. Some of the USC boys stimulated the evenings around the Durant Hotel in downtown Berkeley with firecrackers, but a firecracker is a minor annoyance in a place like Berkeley; in the daytime, Earl (The Pearl) McCullouch, Lennox Miller, O. J. Simpson and the other USC jet streams got more attention piling up points. McCullouch won the high hurdles by a hair from Villanova's surprising Irv Hall, Miller took the 100 meters and just missed the 200, and they all ganged up—Lennox, Earl, O.J. and Fred Kuller—to win the 400-meter relay.
June 23, 1968
USC's team victory was set against a background of impressive individual performances. Lee Evans, San Jose State's powerful quarter-miler, again demonstrated his superiority by defeating Villanova's Larry James at 400 meters in 45 seconds fiat, only .5 second off the world record. James, who had been ill all week, in turn proved his worth in the 1,600-meter relay when, set off 12 yards behind, he made up all that on the anchor leg and carried Villanova to a two-yard victory. Villanova's other star, Dave Patrick, beat a first-rate field in the 1,500 in 3:39.9. Dave Hemery, an Englishman discovered at Boston University, moved into Olympic gold-medal contention in the 400-meter hurdles with a 49.8 victory. Dick Fosbury of Oregon State, who starts his high-jumps frontward and ends up backward, back-flipped to a meet-record 7'2¼". Byron Dyce of NYU won the 800 meters by four yards in 1:47.3 as the seven men who followed him to the tape all finished within .8 second of each other. Kerry Pearce, the blond Australian from the University of Texas at El Paso, scored an easy win in the steeplechase.
Tennessee's Richmond Flowers had been obliged to withdraw earlier from the meet because of a badly pulled muscle. Kansas' Jim Ryun could not make the meet, either, though he seems to be winning his bout with mononucleosis and has resumed high-altitude training at Flagstaff, Ariz. By not being there, Ryun missed Lindgren's passionate address on his (Ryun's) behalf. Barely off the track and still in a sweat after winning the 10,000 meters. Lindgren declared that he would not run in this week's Amateur Athletic Union meet in Sacramento. He said the AAU had deprived Ryun of a world record in the half mile two years ago, and he would henceforth do whatever he could to dramatize injustices done track athletes by their rulers. Lindgren admitted his was a practical decision. Had he not qualified in the NCAA meet—the first six U.S. finishers automatically advanced to the Olympic trials June 29—he would have been obliged to try again in the AAU meet. He said, too, that it was not the AAU he minded so much but the people who run the organization. Likewise, the NCAA. "Their pride and hate for one another is hurting the athletes," he said.
Lindgren's convictions are strong ones. He once gambled his college career by defying an NCAA edict that would have made ineligible any college athlete who competed in the 1965 AAU meet at San Diego. He considered the threat high-handed and shameful, and he went to San Diego anyway. So did a few others. The NCAA quietly did nothing.
Ryun ran the celebrated non-world record—880 yards in 1:44.9—at the U.S. Track and Field Federation Championships in 1966. The record was not recognized because no AAU sanction for the meet had been applied for or given. As a crusader of 22, Lindgren does not look much different from the wunderkind of 18. A concerted effort to put on weight—plenty of ice cream and beef stroganoff—has enlarged him in four years from 118 pounds to 120. His principal addition is an ulcer. Between meals he now munches vanilla wafers and sips from a container of half cream, half milk. He eats cottage cheese and peaches by the peck, and when he goes off into the sunrise for one of his all-day runs he carries a blue plastic bottle of Mylantal to serve as first line of defense in case of stomach rebellion.
Lindgren, far from being the silent ulcer type, has developed a curious language all his own. Something that bothers him—-a blister on the toe, a fouled-up dinner date—is "bad berries." "Out of my tree" is a catchall phrase for things like fright ("Clarke scared me out of my tree") or body condition ("I had the flu right out of my tree"). He lapses into Cockney accents for days at a time and answers the phone in the Japanese manner, "Moshi-moshi."
Lindgren says he probably got his ulcer trying to learn Russian at Washington State. He is one of only 11 Russian-language students of the 10,000 people on campus, and he practices his Russian on whoever is available. Take the time he was visiting Marie Mulder, the dark-eyed girl distance runner who has become, with blossoming good looks, an avid collector of the hearts of track-and-field boys. She and Gerry held hands from New York to Kiev and back in 1965. They remain close friends. One afternoon they were sitting by a lake when a boatload of vacationers passed. Lindgren leaped up and began shouting at them in Russian. When the boat had gone, Marie asked Gerry what he had said. "I said, 'Hello. How are you? The weather is fine. I am fine. Edward lost his toothbrush.' "
Lindgren is the third son of a God-fearing, hardworking Washington family—his father drives a truck, his mother works in a hospital—who taught him to respect his elders and to be on the lookout for evil. His reaction to the Berkeley scene was revulsion. "I couldn't take Berkeley for a minute," he said. "Copouts remind me of guys who slink out of a race when they're losing. We've got about 12 hippies at Washington State. Nobody pays attention to them."
At an early age Lindgren began following his brother's fleeting footsteps on cross-country runs, and he came upon a great discovery: he liked to run. Loved it. Ate it up. He ran up Mt. Spokane and ran back down. He got SO he would run 250 miles a week. Before he realized it he was 18 and famous for doing what comes naturally, and he was on his way to Tokyo.
Last summer he spent two weeks on top of Mt. Baldy in California trying to get an idea of how Mexico City's altitude would affect him should he make the Olympic team this year. Where he ran at Mt. Baldy is 400 feet higher than Mexico City. He met a couple of good-looking girls, but his runs up and down the canyon were so exhausting he did not have the energy to press the acquaintances. It was all uphill and downhill, and very tough. He ran over sharp rocks, through loose gravel, around dead, twisted trees hurled down the slopes by the winter storms. His running path was a three-mile snake from the rocky bottom to the notch and back down again. He ran on the edge of cliffs—"If you slipped," he said, "the next stop was a thousand feet down." The sharp rocks dug into his light running shoes. He turned his ankles so often he just naturally got used to running on sprained ankles.
"It was nearly as hard as running against Ron Clarke," he said. He found that the altitude was not so terribly hard to take, except that it cut into one's endurance for post-trail sprints. A test revealed that his lung capacity, his ability to assimilate oxygen, was second only to the separate abilities of three much bigger men: Clarke and Ryun and Kipchoge Keino of Kenya. When he came down from the mountain, Lindgren was more than confident.
Now it is the homestretch for Olympic preparation, and Lindgren is coming to a point where a decision will have to be made—5,000 or 10,000 or both? Probably both. Last month at Modesto, Calif. Lindgren beat Clarke, the Australian world-record holder, at 5,000 meters for the first time. He set an American record of 13:33.8 and he began to think maybe he wasn't just a 10,000-meter man after all. He also discovered that Clarke had stopped stepping on his heels during a race. "Clarke used to step on my heels a lot," he said. "He doesn't do that any more. Maybe that's a sign of respect."
He was flattered, too, that Clarke had found it necessary to start psyching him, though Tracy Walters, who was Lindgren's high school coach, says that when it comes to psyching, little Gerry can stand eyeball to eyeball with the biggest of them. Walters expects that Lindgren will come up behind a Russian in a big meet some day and yell in his ear in Russian, "Hey, you look tired." Or even, "Edward lost his toothbrush."
Lindgren says he used to practice his psyching at school, usually on somebody he was having trouble beating. "I told this one guy, 'Chris, the trouble is you are too much of a left-footed runner.' He limped around for two days trying to figure it out." Lindgren won the NCAA 10,000 by half a lap. His competition was much stiffer at 5,000 meters. He did all the psyching he could do, but he was laughing only on the outside. Inside he was sore and tired. He had blisters. His left Achilles' tendon was inflamed from the 10,000 meters. His legs were lifeless. As a result, the surging that he does in a race—itself a form of psyching because it is done to confuse and discourage—could not be called upon.
Almost from the start, the 5,000 meters was a four-man race: Lindgren, Steve Stageberg of Georgetown, Arne Kvalheim of Oregon—who had beaten Lindgren at two miles in a dual meet—and Kerry Pearce. A mile into the race, or so he said later, Lindgren was ready to drop out. "I felt like I'd never make it. I tried to surge, but I couldn't. I thought, 'Boy, I'll settle for fifth place right now.' Then I'd think, 'Dawgone, I've got to at least try. I can't end it like this. Bad berries.' "
The four were still closely bunched going into the next to last lap, where Lindgren fell two strides behind Pearce, Stageberg and Kvalheim, in that order. He looked beaten. At the gun for the last lap, Kvalheim sprinted, overtook Stageberg and went into the lead. Pearce fell back to fourth place and Lindgren was now third, three yards back. Then Lindgren went to the outside and began what he called a "wild sprint, a miracle." If it was wild it did not look it. It looked controlled and decisive, and, as the crowd on the far side came to its feet and cheered him on, he went 10 yards in front. The sight certainly must have depressed Kvalheim and Pearce, because they were soon out of it. Only Stageberg remained. He sprinted hard, but by this time what Mike Larrabee used to call "Gerry Lindgren's two hearts" were carrying him well along. Lindgren won over Stageberg by 12 yards.
Lindgren made little self-conscious Churchillian half waves to the crowd as they cheered his walk back to the trainer's tent. He flopped down and the trainer put an icebag on his stomach, and he exhaled, "Ahhhhh."
"Ahhh bad?" said the trainer.
"No, ahhh good," said Lindgren. Good berries.