The legs move smoothly and easily. Through eight laps, two miles, they carry their man with the others, and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, start leaving them all behind. Two laps more and the legs are 15 yards ahead of the pack; another two and now it is 50 yards, and before the 10,000 meters are over it will be a full 100 yards. Through it all the man seems to move without effort, and when he finishes in an adequate time of 28:35.4 there is little hint that he is tired.
But it has been a hot night in Los Angeles, and this is the end of a long and demanding tour, 17 races in five weeks. In the stands Ron Clarke mutters, "This was my hardest outing of them all." He takes off his shirt and wrings it like a wet towel. Then he unlaces his shoes and looks at the bottoms; they are cracked, and now they will be thrown away. Finally he looks at his feet, at the blisters and the blood. "No race tomorrow," he says.
Over the years little has changed in Ron Clarke. There is the splotch of gray hair over the right ear, but the body is still tight, like a ship's rigging, and the skin tanned. At the Orange County Invitational in mid-June Clarke was thinking out loud of making this his last tour. He is 32 years old, and Australia is a fair piece away. "I'm tired of traveling," he said then. "I want to spend more time with my family. This will be my final trip." Yet at the end of last weekend's U.S.-U.S.S.R.-British Commonwealth meet in the Coliseum he sounded much different when reminded of his promise. "Really?" he mused. "Did I really say that? Oh, I'm enjoying it more now. I think I'll be back."
The meet itself was something of a lackluster affair. First it was a promotional flop, drawing only 30,000 people for both days, when twice that number had been hopefully anticipated. Artistically the meet was only average, indicative more of Post Olympic Year Letdown than rising nationalistic fervor. That the American men beat both the Russians and the Commonwealth meant little. One runner said simply, "No one's really very excited. It just doesn't mean that much."
July 27, 1969
The parade to the victory stand was a reunion of familiar faces, the Russians in their specialties—the hammer, the triple jump and javelin—and then, in larger numbers, the Americans. There was Bill Toomey in the decathlon and Bob Seagren in the pole vault and Willie Davenport in the 110-meter hurdles and Lee Evans in the 400 meters and, of course, John Carlos in both the 100 and 200 meters, each with good, but unspectacular, performances. Marty Liquori came from behind to win an exciting 1,500-meter run, but there were only two genuine surprises, on Friday night from a half-miler with the name of Juris Luzins, a senior at William and Mary, and on Saturday from a precocious band of American girls who, after a decade of frustration, finally beat the Russians.
Luzins' victory in the 800 meters turned more heads, for all week everyone had talked only of Australia's Olympic champion, Ralph Doubell, and of New York University's (and, in international competition, Jamaica's) Byron Dyce. Though Doubell had recently lost twice in Europe he still held the world record and he owned a finishing kick that had for two years beaten everyone. Dyce had won the NCAA title with the third fastest half-mile ever run (1:45.9) and, the next week, the AAU championship, beating Luzins by a step. Luzins was, in fact, the only one who even hinted of the possible upset. "I'm not psyched out," he said the morning of the race. "Look, I know I'm going to have to run hard. But when you have so many guys within one second of each other, well, anything can happen. Anything. Even my winning." Perhaps a victory earlier in the week prompted this prophecy—Monday evening at a local bar, Luzins had beaten Dyce five out of six games in pinball bowling.
Friday night wasn't to be quite so easy, but when Luzins came off the final turn five yards ahead of the pack, with both Doubell and Dyce boxed, he had fewer worries. Neither Doubell nor Dyce offered excuses. "I wouldn't have won anyway," Doubell said. "I might have been a yard or two closer. But there was nothing left in me. I've traveled too much. I'm really surprised and happy I did even that well." Said Dyce: "I just ran a stupid race."
While Doubell and Dyce were fighting to get out of trouble, Luzins wondered just where they were. "I couldn't hear anyone coming down the straight," he said. "I just kept thinking where are they? Where's Dyce? I thought for sure they would come whipping by. It kept going back and forth in my mind. I'm going to win, I'm not going to win. I wasn't sure until I hit the tape."
Then Luzins stopped talking and looked up as his victory was announced. The name was mispronounced Looses instead of Loozins. "Does this happen often?" someone asked.
"Sure," he said. "Everyone's learned it a different way. It's really ridiculous."
"Well, maybe now they'll pronounce it correctly?"
"Yeah, maybe," Luzins said, laughing. "Or maybe I ought to change it to something simple. Like John Smith."
For years the American girls have been nothing more than so many Jane Smiths to the Russians. Then Saturday afternoon they found themselves one point ahead going into the final event, the 1,600-meter relay. Dr. John Davis, their coach, called a quick meeting.
"Look, girls," he said, "just one thing. Don't drop the baton. We have the lead. All we have to do is win this race. We're fast enough. Just hang on to that baton." It was a strange speech to give a group that needed none. Said Jarvis Scott, who was to run the second leg, "We had all the incentive there was." Indeed they had, for they finished some 20 yards ahead of the second-place Russians.
"We really wanted this one," Davis said later. "We've waited 11 years for it. People have always looked at the Russians as the power in women's track. Now they will start looking towards us as well."