Jim Ryun and Kip Keino have waged many a classic race over a mile's worth of running track. Their meeting last weekend was not one of these. It wasn't classic, it wasn't even classy and it very nearly wasn't a mile.
For the eighth time in seven years Ryun and Keino hooked up in the mile run last Saturday night in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Three weeks earlier, in a dress rehearsal of its pro track show, the ITA unveiled its innovations and format in Pocatello, Idaho, winning the hearts and pocketbooks of the rustics. In Los Angeles, a town as used to good track as it is to bad air, ITA hoped to capture the sophisticates. A good crowd of 12,280, paying $58,600, turned out but, by and large, their hearts but feebly throbbed.
The success of the ITA tour, which will play 17 other cities between now and June 6, depends upon the big Ryun-Keino closing number. Said ITA impresario Mike O'Hara, "I knew that when Jim went down in Munich, I had to get that combination for our meets." His reasoning was sound. Ryun's fall in his Olympic 1,500-meter heat almost guaranteed that people would pay to see how he would fare upright, and the dramatic history of the Ryun-Keino races was equally irresistible.
To hype the gate, Keino said it was possible that the world indoor mile record would be broken when he and Ryun chased the ITA pacer lights Saturday. "The lights will be set for an even 59 seconds per quarter," Keino said. "If we run four 59-second quarters, it will be 3:56. The indoor record is 3:56.4. It will depend on the condition of the runners. I think I'm ready."
Perhaps he was, though he never established that fact the way the race was run, which was to a 60-second-quarter pace. It was obvious, however, that Ryun was not ready. Plodding far behind on heavy legs, he ran a race painful to watch through its first eight laps. At one point he trailed his old rival by 70 yards.
"I don't know what kind of pace he's going to ask for," Ryun had said the night before the meet. "Whatever it is, I'll probably follow him and try to go at the end. I've found that the best part of my race is from 500 to 600 yards in. I'll be trying to beat him, but I really don't know what I'm ready for yet."
What neither Ryun nor Keino was ready for was a race of 1,600 yards. Despite their acclaimed professionalism, the meet officials were no better than their bumbling amateur counterparts. The starter fired his pistol for the gun lap with two laps to go, and as Keino approached the finish line he was waved on for another go-round. As he predicted, Ryun kicked through the last three laps, but he had yielded too much early ground to catch the bushed Kenyan, who hung on to beat him by 10 yards in 4:06 and pick up the $500 purse.
"I just jogged the last lap," said Keino. "I didn't have any momentum."
"I've got to have some more time to get in condition," said Ryun, "and I need some more competitive races." Of course, neither he nor Keino beat the lights, and perhaps that was to be expected. The night before Keino had said "How can I beat the lights? That's electricity and I am only a human being."
Had the mile been the only gaffe of the evening, the meet might have got rave reviews. There were other mishaps, however, most notably Lee Evans' try for a world record in the 500-meter run being bollixed by a tape that graced the finish line one lap too early. The meet also dragged on behind schedule; emcee Marty Liquori fought a losing battle with inexperience; and the 60-yard dash finish was a perfect mess.
The 500 meters is seldom run, indoors or out, so it appeared that the old indoor world record of 1:02.9 set by Mal Whitfield in 1953 would be broken by the proud and powerful Evans. Larry James also said he felt he had a good chance to take the race, and Vince Matthews, the controversial Olympic 400-meter champion, doubtlessly felt much the same way. To Evans' credit, he threw aside the tape and kept on running. James and Matthews, who thought that the race was over, stopped. Evans missed the record by a second, and was disappointed. James missed beating Evans and was frustrated. The crowd was angry and booed. "The first thing I thought of," Evans said, "was 'How am I going to get around that tape?' The other guys should have known that the race wasn't over that soon. The trouble was that when it happened the crowd went blank and didn't help pull me along the way a crowd has to when you're going for a world record." In a nice gesture, Evans offered to run James and Matthews again in a two-lap race, but they declined. "If we had run," Evans said, "it wouldn't have been any different. I'd have been first in that one, too."
Who was first in the 60 is a matter of interpretation. Warren Edmonson was declared the winner over Mel Pender and Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa since a photo showed his head had crossed the finish line first and, according to ITA rules, heads, not torsos, count. Pender protested. He said he didn't know of the head-first rule. A suggestion that the prize money be split enraged Edmonson. "I knew about the rule," he fumed. "It was published in a lot of papers and therefore I think I won."
The meet did not rank as a total disaster, however. That prospect was forestalled early in the evening by Shot Putter Brian Oldfield. A chap who admits to a hankering for booze and butts, Oldfield got off a personal best of 68'4¼", a foot and a half under the indoor record, to win his event on his last attempt, but he had it wrapped up with his first toss, which measured out at 68'1". Randy Matson finished second at 65'9". Oldfield's series of six throws included efforts of 68'¾ and 67'11¾"
"I had a 70-footer in practice," he said. "I just felt secure and then little things blew it for me. I really wanted the record. That last one was a low throw, but there was more energy in it." Puffing on a post-put cigarette, he added, "I want to be the best. I want to bring the outdoor record indoors and I want to do it this year. My timetable calls for me to be at 71'5" or 72' by the end of May or early June. I'm training more consistently now. Instead of the cocktail hour, I go to practice, then to the cocktail hour."
Another plus came from Bob Beamon, who got off his best long jump in four years, soaring 26'5½" on his first attempt. The leap was the second best indoors in the world this season, and the prospect of Beamon's return to his outdoor majesty of 1968 was augmented when he fouled, but only slightly, on a jump of 26'10½".
"I did all right," contended Beamon, who now takes off from his left foot, having suffered an injury to his right leg. "It was a decent jump, but I've still got to pay the price for being out four years. I've got a goal in my mind as to what I'd like to do, but I can't say what it is right now."
Lacey O'Neal, a photo-finish winner of the women's 60-yard dash in 6.7, was not so mysterious. "Pro track is great," she said. "The money is important, but you also get a feeling of importance. I'm enjoying every bit of it and I hope and pray that it continues."
So does Mike O'Hara. But at the moment a little more professionalism would not hurt.