At the end of the current indoor track season George Young says he will hang up his spikes and call it a career at the age of 31. This news will be greeted warmly by distance runners everywhere, but it does not necessarily mean that the world has seen the last of little George, his stubby legs and his bleeding ulcer. Retirement is, after all, a fairly relative thing, and what George means is that he is going to channel his energy into other endeavors, such as going back to school to get his doctorate in education or perhaps setting a new world's record for running across the Grand Canyon.
"Yes, they have a time record for the Canyon," says Young, who hails from Casa Grande, Ariz., "and it's not too good. About three hours for 18 miles. I think I could run it in two. Just for kicks I'd like to try it. It would be something to do, a lot of fun, and yet it wouldn't be too competitive."
Last Friday night in the Los Angeles Invitational Track Meet, Young had a more conventional route and distance to run—22 times around a Tartan track, or two miles. Yet, such is his dominance of this race indoors that he didn't have too much competition here, either. With one splendid burst of speed early in the last lap, he swept past Ron Clarke to take the lead, then held off a belated challenge by John Lawson to win his 11th straight indoor race in a commendable 8:42.2. "I was rather shocked, really, to see him blow past me like that," said Clarke, who holds four world records. "I didn't think he was that close. That's the way to win, though—move quickly and kick hard."
As impressive as Young's victory was, the color TV set awarded the premier athlete of the meet went to Australia's bright, young Ralph Doubell, the Olympic 800-meter champion, whose time of 2:07 for 1,000 yards was only a second off Peter Snell's world record. Along with his prize Doubell also got a kiss from Meredith MacRae, the daughter of Gordon MacRae and one of the stars of Petticoat Junction, whose clinging orange minidress drew more attention than the majority of the events. It was a measure of the meet when Clarke said, only half jokingly, "That kiss was the most exciting thing that happened all night."
Indeed, what didn't happen was possibly more momentous than what did. For one, the NCAA refused to sanction the meet. This meant that top college stars like Jim Ryun, Dick Fosbury and Bob Seagren could have competed only at the risk, if not with the certainty, of losing whatever eligibility they have remaining, and `were therefore conspicuously absent. "We didn't feel the meet management was proper," explained Chuck Neinas, the NCAA's assistant executive director. "We have information to indicate that it does not meet our standards in regard to prizes and extra inducements."
The awards at most meets sanctioned by the NCAA consist of trophies, plaques and/or watches. At Los Angeles, besides the TV won by Doubell, the awards were portable typewriters for first place, clock-radios for second and attaché cases for third. The athletes, of course, opposed the NCAA stand almost to a man. "Man, you keep getting those watches," said John Carlos, "and what are you supposed to do with them all?" Although Carlos is enrolled at San Jose State, he was not affected by the rule because he is not competing for the school's track team. But two Olympians, Seagren of USC and Lee Evans, also of San Jose, withdrew and, downcast, watched from the stands. "I think it's kind of pathetic when a fellow can't compete in his own town," said Seagren. "But what can I do? My hands are tied. If I go ahead and vault, I'll be ineligible. The only guy who loses anything is me." So handsome Bob had to be content with driving all the women mad and watching a Japanese named Kiyoshi Niwa, who finished 11th at Mexico City, win the pole vault by clearing 16 feet.
In addition, there were an unusual number of athletes who were willing but, for a variety of circumstances, unable to compete. Early in the week Dave Patrick had to cancel out of the mile because of a torn back muscle. The afternoon of the meet, Sprinter Charlie Greene telephoned to say he was snowbound in Omaha. And, as the meet was under way, Long Jumper Bob Beamon, whose astonishing leap of 29'2½" in Mexico City earned him the warmest greeting of the night, pulled a thigh muscle and was forced to withdraw.
Even the Olympians who did show were not up to snuff. Willie Davenport won the 60-yard hurdles in seven seconds flat and, disgruntled, muttered: "I should have done 6.8 or 6.9 easy." In the same race Dave Hemery, who won a gold medal for Great Britain in the 400-meter hurdles, finished a dismal fourth due mainly, he said, to a pulled muscle. Barbara Ferrell, Geoff Vanderstock, John Pennel, Bob Day, Tom Farrell and Ralph Boston also took their lumps. "Everybody let down after the Olympics," explained Hemery, "and now we're just starting to get ourselves back in shape."
One Olympian still very much in shape both physically and verbally was Carlos. Here he came, several hours before the meet, into the hospitality room of the Sheraton-West Hotel, snapping his fingers, bopping, stuffed into a black jacket and tight Levi's. "Somebody better get on it," he said, jabbing a finger at an official, "because I paid my own money to get down here." That night, Carlos warmed up in a faded Malcolm X sweat shirt, then rather melodramatically peeled that off to reveal an all-black uniform: shirt, trunks and socks—even his watchband. He decided on this stunning ensemble, he said, because two weeks ago a writer had noted that he had worn white socks while running the 60-yard dash in a world-record-tying 5.9 at Washington, D.C.
"I didn't want people to think I couldn't run a 5.9 without white socks," Carlos said, "so it's going to be all black from now on."
Nobody was impolitic enough to point out to Carlos that his winning time in the 60 was two-tenths of a second more than it was in Washington, but he was questioned about the boos. Twice during the night the mention of Carlos' name over the public-address system had drawn scattered hoots from the crowd of 8,000, which half filled the Sports Arena, apparently because of his role in the notorious black-glove incident in Mexico City. "It wasn't really as much as I expected," Carlos said, "but I don't really care. Man, I don't need them. I tell them to stick their head in a bucket three times and pull it out twice."
The meet took a turnup in class with Doubell's extraordinary victory in the 1,000. The race was billed as Wade Bell's chance to get even. Bell, an 800-meter favorite in Mexico City, suffered from severe stomach cramps and didn't even make the Olympic final, which was won quite handily by Doubell. What was overlooked, however, was that, while Doubell continued training and racing in Australia after the Olympics, Bell succumbed to the general American letdown. The result was that he was never in the race—nor, for that matter, was any other of Doubell's competitors.
Hanging close to the pace until the last three laps, Doubell surged to the front, and speculation shifted from who would win to whether he could break the world record. Thrashing madly down the stretch, Doubell finished 20 yards ahead of the struggling Bell. "I wasn't really shooting for the record," Doubell said later, "but I think I would have gotten closer if somebody else had been out there in front."
While Doubell was claiming the TV set and the kiss, George Young was loosening up under the stands. During the 14 months prior to the Olympics, Young ran more than 100 miles a week. He would get up at 6 a.m. and run for two hours; in the afternoon he would run three more hours. "Some of my workouts were so rough that I wouldn't tell people about them," Young said. "I was in the best condition of my life, better, I felt, than anyone else at the Games."
Then the altitude monkey jumped on his back, as it did on Ron Clarke's, and Young finished third behind two Kenyans in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Said Young: "I will always feel within myself that anyone in the kind of condition I was in would have made it a different race at sea level."
To his credit, George didn't let all the hard work and conditioning go for naught. "I didn't have the Olympics to shoot for but I knew that it was only a little more than two months before the first indoor meet," he explained. "I knew that with a minimal amount of training I could run well, so even though I let down a little and was mentally tired I stayed in shape." Meanwhile, Clarke, who also felt he was in the best shape of his career at Mexico City, cut down his training considerably. "I had to catch up on my sporting-goods business," he said, "and for the first time I was a bit sick of athletics."
Lawson, who runs for the Pacific Coast Club, led for the first three laps of the two-mile run, with Young second, Tracy Smith third and Clarke fourth. "I planned on getting out, setting a comfortable pace for myself and dictating the pace of the race," Lawson explained afterward. "I felt that if I could dictate it at the first I would have a better chance at the end. I wanted somebody to come up and take it from me after the first few laps."
That somebody happened to be Smith, who got out front and stayed there until Clarke, with his long legs eating up great chunks of Tartan, moved ahead at about the mile mark. The race at this point was going exactly as Clarke had hoped it would. "I'll probably run the first mile or so pretty slow," he had said, "then try to pick it up pretty good."
With six laps remaining, Smith was fading badly, and Clarke tried to pull away, but Young remained squarely behind his taller rival. "I couldn't do it," Clarke said, "because I wasn't fit enough." Still, he led until the gun lap, when Young caught him on the turn. Simultaneously, Lawson, who had dropped back as far as fifth, made his move and overtook Clarke, too. "George and I moved at exactly the same time," Law-son said. "I tried to get him with half a lap to go and all I could do was keep the same distance behind. He just can't be beaten."
Making his way back to the dressing room after the race, his new typewriter tucked under one arm and his hair, which he is wearing longer than at the Olympics, sweat-plastered to his forehead, Young was stopped constantly to shake a hand here, to sign an autograph there. "Yes, I'm thinking about going back to college," he said. "If I give up running, I've got to strive toward something. I always want a goal to work for, to try and improve on." This much a man could understand. But really, George, the Grand Canyon?