Meanwhile, in the quaint setting of Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Md. the 30-odd woman Olympic track and field team was being sorted out, with a bit too much help from The Man Upstairs.
According to the cliché that got the heaviest workout at the trials, the girls were "just trying to make the team," which meant, in most cases, placing among the top three in an event. Still, it was hard to imagine the likes of Mrs. Madeline Manning Jackson or Kathy Hammond settling for other than total victory. Jackson's specialty is the 800-meter run, an event she won in world-record time in the 1968 Olympics, but now she was attempting the 400, too. This spelled trouble. On the U.S. track scene, anyway, that distance has come to be very much Kathy Hammond's province.
Before this clash could take place, Jackson first had to tend briefly to the 800. A 24-year-old Baptist minister's stepdaughter with ambitions of becoming a gospel singer, she had journeyed from her home in Columbus, Ohio to run, as she unblinkingly stated, "to glorify God and show His power." Since winning her gold medal in Mexico, the former Madeline Manning (a scoreboard at one recent meet abbreviated her name, unwittingly, to MAD MAN JACKSON) has married, become a mother, split with her husband and, she believes, become faster than ever. Her religious fervor is only part of the explanation. "I feel a lot stronger now," she said as her 22-month-old son John scampered around a motel lobby. "I honestly believe that having a baby has given me strength."
Stronger or no, her long-striding style on the track is so smooth and languid that when the gun sounded for the 800 she seemed to be running only slightly faster than her little boy had in the lobby. A slender 5'9" with a Nefertiti-like tilt to her braided head, she loped into a quick and enduring lead, kicking home in a comfortable 2:05.2.
Jackson was under no illusions that she would prevail as easily in the 400. She had been a quarter-miler before moving up in distance, but she had lost to Kathy Hammond in a 400 in California last month, being nipped at the wire after making up a 12-yard deficit.
"That race gave us both something to think about," Jackson said, and Hammond's thoughts in Frederick concerned the need to start even faster than before to nullify her rival's strong finish. The morning of the race the 20-year-old Sacramento coed found out that she had drawn an outside lane, which meant that, because of the stagger, she would be running without seeing her principal competitors. Tears flowed. Then Hammond learned that Jackson would be in the first lane, where the turns are sharp and tricky. The tears stopped.
At the gun that night Hammond rushed into a huge lead that nobody, not even Jackson, was going to erase. Utterly alone in the stretch, knees lifting like a majorette's, she won in 51.8, breaking her own American record by three-tenths of a second. Struggling, Jackson failed even to qualify, finishing fourth.
As Hammond mounted the victory stand her coach, Steve Lehnhardt, snapped away with his Instamatic. Lehnhardt is also Kathy's ex-fiancé, and both agreed that their relationship had improved since they broke their engagement. "Before, when he'd tell me to do something, I'd talk back," she said. "Now I do what he says."
Jackson and Hammond shared the spotlight with others, among them Barbara Ferrell, a '68 silver medalist in the 100 who made the team in the 100 and 200, and Patty Johnson, winner of the 100-meter hurdles with an American record of 12.9. Though not deep, the team may have more potential medalists than in '68. The U.S. remains weakest in the field events, and it was partly for that reason that two venerable athletes, Willye White and Olga Fikotova Connolly, each qualified for her fifth Olympics.
White, a 32-year-old long-jumper, leaped 20'1¼", a quarter inch behind archrival Martha Watson. Mrs. Connolly, a 39-year-old mother of four, is eligible to go to Munich but not, alas, hammer-throwing husband Hal, who failed to qualify for his fifth Games. Improving with age, she broke the American discus record earlier this year with a 185'3" throw (far off the world mark of 214'10") but, weakened by flu, made do in Frederick with 170'4". The outspoken Olga, a gold medalist for Czechoslovakia in 1956, seemed less eager than usual to twit the Establishment. "I don't care if the discus ring here is made up of packed cow dung," she said with a radiant smile. "I'll say it's beautiful."
It developed that the discus ring was practically the only thing about the trials site that did not come in for criticism from the women and their coaches, few of whom seemed to care that the cyclone-fenced, 4,000-seat facility had been good enough for Governor Thomas Johnson High's football team, which was No. 1 in the state last year. The USOC awarded the trials to the Frederick Jaycees, who promised in return "Southern charm and Yankee ingenuity." The charm was delivered along with plenty of roast beef and homemade buns. As for the ingenuity, it came into play when officials found themselves countering charges that the track was too hard and the lanes too narrow.
Speaking for the defense, Dr. Nell Jackson, the women's Olympic coach, observed incontrovertibly that "everybody runs on the same track." Nonetheless, Madeline Jackson said before the meet, "I intend to get out in front where you can't get hurt." Following her success in doing just that in the 800 and her failure to do so in the 400, it remained for diminutive Francie Larrieu of the San Jose Cindergals, running in the 1,500, to show what getting out in front really means. Larrieu was as caught up in matters spiritual as Mad Man Jackson herself. Cheerfully labeling herself a Jesus freak, she declared, "I believe it's the Lord's will for me to do well," then up and broke her own American record with a 4:10.4.
Larrieu led most of the way, finishing 20 yards ahead of Mrs. Francie Kraker Johnson, with Doris Brown, hobbled by tendinitis in her left leg, getting third. Brown is also deeply religious, with what she calls a "fundamental background," but her role as queen of American distance runners may be passing to Larrieu. "That's one trouble with God," Brown said, packing her ailing leg with ice. "He's helping too many of us."