Anyone feeling sorry for himself should consider the plight of Francine Auer Sichting, a 5'9", 19-year-old freckled lovely from Coos Bay, Ore. who is the best American female sprinter to come down the track in some time. Competing this spring for Southwestern Oregon Community College on a 25-member squad that included two dozen men, she was the team's eighth leading point scorer and anchored her 440 relay to a school record of 43.3. She ran the 100 in 10.3 and the 220 in 23.2, times that respectively equaled and lowered the American women's records but were unacceptable because there was no wind gauge. These times also qualified her for the finals of both events in the Oregon State Junior College Championships. While she went unplaced in her specialties in that meet, she did anchor her relay team to a second-place finish. In addition, she long-jumped 19'11". Oh, yes, she also had a 4.0 grade point average despite her claim that "I'm mainly going to school so I can run on the team."
"The guys on her team were her biggest fans," says Mike Hodges, the former Oregon javelin thrower who coaches her. "Out of town there was never a problem, except for a few guys who got upset when they got beat by a girl. Like the guy she made up 10 yards on on an anchor leg and outleaned at the finish. He threw his baton into the woods."
Obviously a brilliant track career lies ahead of Fran Sichting, most immediately the U.S.-U.S.S.R. meet in Minsk later this month. No way, says Ted Sichting, 23, a Marine veteran who won the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam and is Fran's husband. Ted, a logger, would like his wife to quit track; he has already told her to forget about running against the Russians or any other foreigners this year.
"My husband has put his foot down," she says. "It's track or my marriage. Ted hates the whole idea. He has forbidden me to compete next year. I've already qualified for the World University Games in Moscow in August but Ted says I can't go."
"The thing is," Hodges says, "that he looks at all the publicity she gets and considers it a put-down to himself, like he's something less of a person than she is, and he's not. He's a wonderful person. It's just that he was raised by his grandparents and in his environment there was never the idea that it might be as good to go out for a sport as to get a job. We've had talks and I can make him see this, but he forgets. He reverts to being the male chauvinist, but he's not a bad guy or anything like that. He worked himself up to a job with the logging company that usually would go to a man 35 years old or more. No one works any harder than he does.
"You know, Ted told me once that what she was doing wasn't that great, and to prove it he came out to the track to run a 220 against her. She was 15 yards ahead of him at the turn and he just walked off the track. He was good about it, though. He laughed at himself."
To his further credit, Ted relaxed his adamant stand against Fran's running long enough for her to compete last week in the AAU Women's National Track and Field Championships in Irvine, Calif., where she qualified for the trip to Russia by finishing second in the 220 and third in the 100.
Her best performance came in Friday's 220 semifinals, when she set a new American record of 23.2. However, this mark, too, may not be ratified because she ran in Lane 9. International rules specify that records in such races can only be established in the first eight lanes, since the outside lane is barely curved.
In Saturday's finals Sichting was in the eighth lane but lost to Mable Fergerson, a member of the 1,600-meter relay team that got the silver medal in Munich. Fergerson runs for the West Coast Jets, is one of 10 children and was named the outstanding performer of the meet. Sichting, who earlier was timed in 10.4 for her 100, finished in 23.5, a tick slower than Marvelous Mable, who also won the 440 in 54.1 and anchored the Jets' 880 medley relay team to another first place.
"I was dead tired," Fran said. "I just couldn't get my knees up. I worked too hard at the long jump today and only got 19'3" on my one legal jump. The other five were all fouls."
The day was not a total loss, however, for the girl who graduated from Marshfield High School three years after another Coos Bay runner named Steve Prefontaine. The trip to Europe had to be turned down, but she said, "I called my husband last night and he liked the fact that I'd gotten the American record. I also asked him if I could go to the Olympics if he went along with me and he said, "You bet." That's a great sign."
The loss of Sichting was but one frustration for the AAU, which was informed that Fergerson, Iris Davis, Kathy Schmidt and possibly Martha Watson won't be making the four-meet tour, either. Fergerson's coach is her father Bill, and he plans to take his daughters and other Jets to "some little meets down South where I can get me some soul food." Davis, who won the 100 in 10.3, plans to work on her master's thesis. Schmidt, the American record holder in the javelin who has been threatening the world mark this spring, said, "It would cost me too much money. I just can't afford it." The AAU hopes to persuade the L.A. City Recreation Department to release Watson from her job to make the tour. "For years we've been hearing that all our women's team needed was international competition to get better," said one AAU official. "So we set it up better than it ever has been before and look what happens. What can you do?"
The team will be a combination of a lot of youth and a little experience, the latter largely provided by Willye White, whose lengthy career has provided her with more trips to Europe than Henry Kissinger.
Willye finished second in the long jump behind Watson's wind-aided 21'4¾", and she was as radiant as a 14-year-old over her performance. "What makes me feel good is all these coaches who come by and tell me that I should retire," she said after jumping 20'5¼", also with an aiding wind, in only her second meet since Munich. "They tell me that you can't be as resilient as you were when you were younger and how the body can't do the same things it did when you were a kid. I like to make fools of them all. I am 33 years old and I haven't reached my peak yet." White's first international meet was the 1956 Olympics. Since one of her heroes is George Blanda, don't count her out for Montreal.
Youth was served in the 880, the best competitive race of the meet. Wendy Koenig, 18, won it in 2:04.7, holding off Mary Decker, a 14-year-old 85-pounder, through the stretch.
More predictable was the hard-charging triumph of Patty Johnson, who attacked a flight of 100-meter hurdles for a 12.9 triumph that would have qualified as a new American record but for the aiding wind. The race brought Patty and Chi Cheng Reel back together for the first time in three years, and while it appeared that Chi suffered a recurrence of the leg injury that has interrupted her career, no one was a match for the inexorable Johnson. Chi faded badly and finished seventh while Mamie Rallins, in another blow to the U.S. team, fell and never finished at all.
"The rivalry between Chi and me was being built up here," Patty said. "I'm sorry she got hurt but I don't think it would have mattered. I was geared to win today. I'm glad I won. That means the AAU has to pay my fare to the nationals next year, since I am the defending champion. I lost in this meet a year ago, so they only gave me $15 to get here from Seattle."
The Los Angeles Track Club won the team championship for the second straight year with 44 points, while the Brooklyn Atoms, which had its mile relay team disqualified for two false starts in a heat, was second with 38 points.
Pressure, in fact, was the order of the day and diminished the efforts of some performers, like Schmidt, who won the javelin with a throw of 194'6", 13'7" under her new American record. Francie Larrieu, who planned to break the world record of 4:35.4 for the mile, edged Kathy Gibbons in 4:40.3. "Do you realize that if I had messed up, I'd have missed a trip to Europe?" she said. "I hate races with so much at stake."
"It's hard to say how good our team will be," said Brooks Johnson, who will coach the U.S. women. "It hurts when you lose an experienced competitor like Rallins. In the 880 we've got a lot of youth and it's like they say in football, 'Every freshman and sophomore you play is going to hurt you.' But if the leadership is good, we'll win."
As for the loss of Sichting, Johnson sighed, "Isn't that something? The best sprint find in the country for the last two or three years and she can't go because her guy won't let her."