Quadrennially the Jeremiahs of our society take a frightened look at the Olympics ahead and pronounce, "We're going to lose." The reasons why the United States is going to lose this time in track and field are the foreigners in our midst. They are all over the landscape receiving expert American training, and to hear some college coaches tell it, if we do not cut out this frivolous neighborliness soon we are going to feel as betrayed as the Trojans.
It is a mean view that denies the beauties of competition and the satisfactions of brotherhood—which sport is supposed to be all about—and as usual it is probably wrong. Never has the U.S. possessed so broad and deep a reservoir of track-and-field talent as it does today. As three good examples, take the qualifying standards for the 86th annual National AAU meet in Los Angeles on June 21-22. With three weeks to go, 60 sprinters had already run 9.4 in the 100-yard dash, the minimum requirement for the 100 meters (all AAU distances are in meters). It takes a 4:03 mile or better to get into the 1,500 meters; 51 Americans qualify. And if you cannot high-jump at least 6'11", you have no chance to compete against the 77 who have. Performances for other events match these. Even if pro track siphons off the best of these athletes, there will be plenty in reserve to assure the kind of runoff with medals in 1976 that this country so often has enjoyed in the past.
June 9, 1974
Sentiment is running high at Iowa State to name the new stadium for an ex-football player and not, as ordinarily happens, after the heftiest contributor. The player, Jack Trice, was no All-America. Except for one game—the only game he ever played for the Cyclones—he was not even a starter.
That was 50 years ago. In the noiseless footsteps of time since then, memory of Trice on the Ames campus had all but vanished. One day last year English teacher Alan Beals became curious about a plaque attached to the Old State gym. Under a coat of dust and bird droppings was a tribute to Trice. Beals assigned some students to find out why.
Jack Trice, they learned, was a sophomore in 1923. He was married, majored in animal husbandry with a 90 average and played football. He also was black. Because of that, he was kept out of the first two games of the season, but the team and coaches rallied behind him and he started against Minnesota at Minneapolis.
Ahead 14-10 in the third quarter, Minnesota ran a cross buck and the Iowa State defensive line crumbled. Trice rushed in to close the gap. He stopped the play but fell on his back, and three charging Minnesota players ran over him. As he was carried from the field Minnesota fans rose and chanted, "We're sorry, Ames, we're sorry."
Trice returned to Ames lying on a bed of straw in a Pullman railroad car. He was taken immediately to the college hospital, but two days later he died of hemorrhaging lungs and internal bleeding.
The day Trice was buried friends found in his jacket pocket a note that he had written to himself in a Minneapolis hotel room on the eve of the game. Headed "My thoughts just before the first real college game of my life," it read: "The honor of my race, family and self is at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will. My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about the field. Every time the ball is snapped, I will be trying to do more than my part."
The morning after he had run a record-setting 3:56.6 mile at Madison Square Garden, Kenyan Ben Jipcho walked into the Fifth Avenue office of British Airways to confirm his flight to Nairobi that evening. A woman behind the counter overheard the discussion of his destination and noticed his warmup jacket. She asked diffidently in an ever-so-British accent, "Were you at Madison Square Garden last night?"
"Yes," replied Jipcho, who for all his soft-spoken modesty enjoys being recognized.
"Did you run in the mile?"
"Yes." Jipcho smiled encouragingly.
"Are you...Kip Keino?"
"No," said Jipcho evenly, registering no disappointment at being mistaken yet again for his more famous countryman. "Do you know any other names?"
The symptoms were odd, and they had Dr. Albert Bromberg of Springfield, N.J. worried. But let him tell the story:
"Our skiing vacation was cut short by a left knee injury that left my wife Adrienne with a pronounced limp. Several weeks after her accident I twisted my right knee during a workout at karate school and limped even worse than Adrienne did. It was a few days after this that I began to notice that our hound dog, Oliver, was limping, too. He seemed to be having difficulty with his left hind leg. The condition worsened, and his right hind leg appeared weakened, too, making his limp more pronounced. I examined Oliver carefully but could not determine a cause for the affliction. Peculiarly, he was able to romp and play with the children as vigorously as ever. He limped only when Adrienne and I were present.
"I became quite concerned and consulted with dog handlers and veterinarians. A variety of diagnoses were offered, ranging from something fatal to no illness at all. I had Oliver thoroughly examined by our vet. He took X rays of his hips, etc. and enough blood tests to satisfy Dracula. He could find nothing. However, the next day Oliver's symptoms were gone, and have not returned.
"How is this to be explained? Well, I should have known; my specialty is psychiatry. Right under my own couch Oliver had developed a hysterical limp."
When the French Lawn Tennis Federation barred Evonne Goolagong and Jimmy Connors from this June's French Open because of their affiliation with World Team Tennis, Federation spokesman Stanislas d'Otton insisted, "This is not a question of persons, but of principle.... We are making our stand for the best traditions of tennis."
The principle, in part, is money. The WTT has enticed many of the world's name players into its lucrative U.S. summer league and away from the European circuit. It is regrettable that the WTT and the Europeans have not worked out a satisfactory accommodation. Goolagong and Connors, who won the Australian Open titles on the grass courts of Kooyong in January, will now miss a chance at the grand slam of tennis—Australia, France, Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Only four players have ever slammed: Don Budge in 1938, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970. By their action the French are depriving the game of the interest that grows as a slam appears possible, as well as denying two fine players their chance at a title.
OPEN DOOR POLICY
In years past the sanctity of the pro-football clubhouse was guarded tenaciously. There were no leaks. But, as almost everywhere else, the old barriers are breaking down. Now the Houston Texans of the new World Football League say there are not only going to be leaks from their clubhouse; they are throwing open the gates, Texas style.
The gate swinger is Jim Garrett, head coach and a former functionary with the NFL's Giants and Cowboys, who feels coaches have been too secretive about their operations. "I think the biggest mistake the NFL makes is pushing its fans out of the way," he says. "They expect a guy to come out to the game, and then go home. That's where it ends. He seldom gets to watch practice, see the facilities or meet the players."
Garrett plans to open the Texans' practice sessions to the public, with 10 minutes set aside at the end for spectators to mingle with the players. Groups will be permitted to tour the locker room, even on game day, and the halftime period will, on occasion, be open to a few people on a first-come basis.
No, Garrett is not afraid of scouts from rival teams. "I don't worry about scouts. We'll do the things we do best, and I don't care who knows it. We don't have any secrets. We are going to win with enthusiasm, not trickery."
A policy, we hope, that will last beyond the first loss.
So much for secret drafts. The National Hockey League's elaborate plans to hide its selections from the rival WHA (SCORECARD, May 27) never got into the closet. Said Brian O'Neill, NHL executive director, "It's incredible. We were reading names in the newspaper and hearing them on radio while we were still drafting. It could only come from inside." Surprise.
Long-suffering Philly? The rest of the country should have such troubles. As May passed into June, the City of Brotherly Brawlers had a lot more to flip over than the National Hockey League champion Flyers. The Atoms led the North American Soccer League, the Freedoms led World Team Tennis, the Phillies were in a virtual tie in the National League East (page 24) and the Wings were in first place in the National Lacrosse League. Eat your heart out, America.
There are few sounds in sport more pitiable than the plaint of an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball coach whose team has just finished first in the league. To make the NCAA playoff's he must still win out over the six other schools in a postrace tournament, the only sense for which is dollars and cents. Cheapening regular-season league competition as it does, the format would hardly seem the very model of a modern major program, but last September the Eastern College Athletic Conference announced it would adopt it (SCORECARD, Oct. 1). Now two more conferences seem on the verge of following suit.
The Big Eight has a committee working on a plan to replace its own meaningless Christmas holiday tournament in Kansas City with an ACC-style postseason ender. The KC affair was not consistently drawing capacity crowds, and it was no help to recruiters trying to persuade prospects that four December days in Kansas City were somehow as alluring as the same time spent on the beach in Hawaii or on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. If the presidents of the 10 South-eastern Conference universities agree, the SEC will go the same route as the Big Eight. Last week its coaches and athletic directors approved the idea beginning with the 1975-76 season.
The expectation is to stir more excitement and, hopefully, attract more full houses, but that may turn out to be easier said in the aspiring three conferences than it is done in the ACC. North Carolina, NC State and Duke are within 25 miles of one another, and the rest of the schools in the geographically compact ACC are not very much farther away from Greensboro, N.C., where the tournament is held. But consider the distances team followers would have to travel in the Southeast or Midwest tournaments. The golden egg might hatch a goose.
THEY SAID IT
•Gene Mauch, Montreal Expos manager, on Houston's Cesar Cedeno: "The nice thing about Cedeno is that he can play all three outfield positions—at the same time."
•Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the North American Soccer League, discounting fears that Americans find the game bewildering: "The rules are very simple. Basically, it's this: if it moves, kick it; if it doesn't move, kick it until it does."
•Bill Walton, asked about his knee operation described by doctors as minor surgery: "It's always minor when it's on someone else."
•Vice President Gerald Ford, on women playing football: "I have reservations about whether we ought to have women linemen. There are areas where head-to-head competition is not in the best interest of all concerned."
•Jack Nicklaus, on why he tees a golf ball so high: "Through years of experience I have found that air offers less resistance than dirt."