THE TRACK MESS
Villanova Track Coach Jumbo Elliott is crying foul because the system used to select the U.S. Olympic track team has caused his best runner, Miler Dave Patrick, to be left out, and Elliott has a point. More important, though, is the fact that the public has been mystified and misled by the peculiar selection process.
Until the week before the final trials at South Lake Tahoe a few men seemed to be absolutely sure of berths—those, like Patrick in the 1,500 meters, who had won their events at Los Angeles in June in a meet billed as the U.S. Olympic Trials. All these winners had to do subsequently, they were told by Olympic officials, was to prove at Tahoe that they could also run well at high altitude.
But then, for reasons still not clear, the officials embarked upon an experiment in democracy. Just before the Tahoe trials they let the athletes themselves, in a series of group discussions, decide upon the selection system. Prior assurance to the Los Angeles winners was dissolved by a vote of all the contenders—among whom the Los Angeles winners were a negligible minority. The majority decided that the top three finishers in the Tahoe events would make the team, and that would be that. So the Los Angeles trials, which drew 25,654 spectators who thought they were seeing the trials, were actually a preliminary meet, a big trial heat.
September 29, 1968
As it turned out, Patrick was the only one of the earlier winners who definitely proved himself at high altitude (he ran the fastest 1,500 meters at Tahoe in a preliminary heat) and yet was eliminated (in the final heat he ran fourth). Our sympathy for Patrick is diluted by the fact that he backed the idea of taking the Tahoe finals as the only criterion. But he shouldn't have been put in such an awkward position.
The entire selection process was misleading. The system should have been established early and adhered to. Then no one would have had grounds to complain that the officials had in effect reneged on an earlier promise.
BLACK AND BLUE TOGETHER
In a recent effort to ease racial tensions in South Bend, Ind., four softball teams representing the city police met four teams representing the Negro community. The Negro teams wore T shirts saying, "Black Is Beautiful." The police wore T shirts saying, "Blue Isn't Bad." The Negroes won three out of four.
Artificial tracks and fields are in the news again, hailed as magic carpets on which humans never dirty their breeches and horses never need mud marks. We confess to some skepticism as to whether this will be—and some doubt as to whether it should be. It would be a shame, for example, to divorce horse racing entirely from the turf and dirt tracks that have been at the very heart of its history. Among other things, that would deprive the world of the term "mudder." It would shortchange those stout-limbed horses that come into their own on a slow track, thus eliminating another venerable factor from the horseplayer's equation. And it would make most tracks even harder to tell apart than they already are.
We also wonder whether a uniform sports surface is such a good idea for people—not to mention a uniform temperature, a uniform humidity or a uniform lack of wind. Last week the French sports daily, L'Equipe, perhaps having let the Astrodome slip its mind, said, "It is high time that stadiums with major competitions be protected from the wind, as the Romans protected the immense Colosseum from the sun with canvases, cables and pulleys."
What all this narrowing down of variables does is focus more and more attention on the athlete's muscles—which seem to get more fragile as playing conditions improve—and his neuroses. It gives him less to talk about unselfconsciously. It gives him less and less to blame on God. It makes him, like the rest of us, less of what we like to think of as a natural man.
OFF WITH ANOTHER BANG
One more little thing went wrong with the Olympics last week. The communications satellite that was supposed to carry the Olympic telecast around the world blew up.
Or rather it had to be blown up when it went off course after launching.
But the show will go on, anyway. Arrangements have been made to hook up the Olympics with a NASA satellite.
THE MARXIST MARE
HORSES OF THE WORLD UNITE! That, in effect, is the slogan of a new movement that would give every racehorse a living wage. Owners and trainers say that racing is the only professional sport or entertainment in which the performer often gets nothing for his services. To repair this unfair labor practice, the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is proposing that each horse that starts be given "appearance money." For instance, an owner might receive 1% of the total amount of money wagered on his horse, a system used at some tracks in Argentina.
Frank Mackle, the president of the HBPA, says it is essential to help horse owners meet their expenses. He points out that the average cost of keeping a Thoroughbred in training is $7,000 a year, yet 50% of the horses that race earn less than $1,800 a year.
One problem, of course, is where to get the 1%. Horsemen suggest that it come out of the state's share of the pari-mutuel handle, but state governments will not part with a cent, never mind a percent, of their profits. The horses may just have to wait until the state withers away. Then there should be oats for one and all.
WILL THE REAL...
People are still somewhat uptight in Baltimore over the case of the ersatz Kathy Harter. A couple of weeks ago Baltimore Sportswriter Bill Tanton interviewed someone he called Kathy Harter, the eighth-ranked girl tennis player, on one of his twice-a-week television spots. The girl told of under-the-table payments to tennis players and of being confident of victory over Mary Ann Eisel the next day because Mary Ann had been "socializing" all week in Baltimore.
The following day when Kathy arrived at the Baltimore Country Club for the next round of the grasscourt invitational, people looked at her askance and asked some odd questions. Unnerved, she lost the first four games and the match to Miss Eisel, who was not in a socializing mood.
After the match Kathy learned the full story of the interview show—that Tanton, apparently just as a prank, had brought on the wife of a local advertising man to impersonate her. The television station, WMAR, has publicly apologized and Tanton has lost his spots. Nobody in Baltimore is saying much, and the matter is in the hands of the real Kathy Harter's lawyers.
BACK TO EARTH
The Texas Aggies, proud of being reduced to a state of pure gristle in preseason football drills by Bear Bryant disciple Gene Stallings, have found more grounds than usual in recent years to call University of Texas people "tea sippers." Darrell Royal's training programs, while not effete, have been soft-nosed in comparison.
But the Longhorns have now had three straight 6-4 seasons, which in Texas is like saddle-breaking three straight Shetland ponies, and this year Royal has been acting more like Stallings, or Bryant, or a presidential candidate accused of being weak on law and order. In fact, things have gotten so fundamental on the practice fields of Austin that eight Texas players, most of them standouts (and all of them from the offense), quit before the opening tie with Houston.
In general these refugees probably should be pictured less as faint hearts than as Okies. That is, they have not been fleeing the punishment so much as the dust—as in four-yards-and-a-cloud-of. In recent years, says Royal, "We tried to join the crowd. We split people out and all that." This year he is going back to a grinding ground attack. "I'm talking about field position. They can call me conservative or whatever they want, but it's the name of the game."
This ideological reversion, to the style that won Texas the national championship in 1963, has entailed some shuffling of the ranks. For instance, a former first-string, pro-prospect split end found himself a third-string tight end, too weak a blocker to start. He quit. Another retiree, a promising halfback, "said he didn't enjoy it anymore," says Royal. "If he doesn't like it, I don't blame him."
For his part, Royal says, "I'm not going to lose my guts. I'd rather let the ones that don't want to play football quit. We'll tighten the circle and go with boys with lesser talent if we have to." He did show his concern, however, by meeting with the team's elective council. "I asked them if they thought we were doing anything wrong. They said, 'Not a thing, keep it up.' "
Morale appears firm, if somewhat gritty. "We'll win this year," says a guard who is sticking, "because we've gotten rid of some who were distracting the rest of us." Says a tackle who quit, with perhaps the hint of a shudder, "There is definitely no dissension on that squad, that's for sure."
Before reaching its present eminence the Indianapolis 500 suffered some poverty-stricken years. Now comes Indianapolis West, and if ever a track was born rich, this is it. Ground was to be broken this week for the Ontario Motor Speedway, as the track is called, on 697 acres in vineyard country 40 miles up the San Bernardino Freeway from the Los Angeles Civic Center, and let it be said at once, reverently, that the people behind the speedway are going to offer a purse of $300,000 for their very first Indy-style race around Thanksgiving time in 1970. What's more, there are to be permanent seats for 95,000 and temporary stands for 45,000 as the Foyts and Andrettis and Unsers make their Ontario debuts. It has taken the original Indy, of which Ontario is to be a close copy right down to the angle of the four low-banked turns, more than half a century to build its purse to $712,269 and seating capacity to 210,000.
Where is the Ontario money coming from? A $25.5 million, tax-exempt municipal-bond issue offered by a nonprofit corporation. It sold out in three weeks. Besides the 2.5-mile main track there will also be a drag strip and a road-racing course.
What is good for Ontario, however, may be grim for Riverside and its raceway, the most important track in California. Riverside is only 20 miles away, and the officials there are said to be furious over the massive intrusion.
A LITTLE PEPPER
There may be nothing wrong with baseball that playing it in Spanish wouldn't cure. According to a reliable source in Mexico, the following spicy terms are currently in vogue among baseball buffs down there:
Exciting game: juego cardíaco (cardiac game). A full swing: tirando a toda orquesta (swinging at full orchestration). Get going: póngase los pantalones (put your pants on). First base, second, third and home: la inicial, la intermedia, la antesala (the antechamber) and la chocolatera (the chocolate pot). Home is also the caja registradora. Bases full: se llenó la casa (the house got full).
Then, says our Mexican correspondent, there is the phrase bola de nudillos, which means "knuckleballs"—and which is used, he writes, "when the pitcher swirls the ball, putting the man at base out of control."
It may be that that last one lost something in the transmission.
THEY SAID IT
•Bobby Mitchell, veteran Washington Redskin flanker, explaining what bothers him most about his new role as a bench warmer: "The things that people don't say to me."
•Louis Nalley, Arkansas center, on football's forgotten man: "You never hear about the center until he flubs up. Then he's ruined the game. No one knows I'm on the field except for Mother and Dad, or whomever I've given tickets to."