One of these days, when they learn how to recycle gasoline from smog and Lake Erie is clean enough to gargle, the Amateur Athletic Union may either abolish all its rules or enforce each of them with the lash. In either case the change will make the world an easier place for 22-year-old Francie Larrieu, who won't have to go so far to prove a point. It should also help the governing body of American amateur sport, whose talent for self-humiliation continues to rival that of the contestants on Let's Make a Deal.
The AAU's inconsistency marred its 87th National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which took place last Friday night at Madison Square Garden before a crowd of 14,529, and helped obscure some first-rate performances. But the meet also provided a unique example of psychological warfare by Larrieu who, feeling that she had been dumped on by the AAU, responded with a splendidly arrogant performance as she won the women's mile.
Certainly there have been better times than Francie's 4:42.8 (her world record is 4:29), but it is doubtful that any of them have ever been run, wire-to-wire, in lane two, thus adding roughly 50 yards to the distance. Yet that's where Francie ran, as a protest to another of those infernal decisions that make the AAU look ridiculous.
America's best woman distance runner, Larrieu had come to New York with the noble ambition of running and winning the mile and the two mile, which would have put her on the U.S. team in both events for the dual meet with the Soviet Union three nights later in Richmond. The Pacific Coast Club, to which Larrieu belongs, had passed up the Russian meet in previous years because of one beef or another with the AAU, but this time no problems were expected. Least of all from Francie Larrieu, whose only complaint this season was that she couldn't hear her splits in the Millrose Games a month earlier.
March 9, 1975
Since Larrieu holds the American record (9:39.4) for the two mile along with the world standard for the mile, her ambition was something more than conceit. But because the 5'4", 105-pound UCLA junior had not run a two-mile race during this calendar year, and thus had not produced a qualifying time—a procedure designed to improve, not diminish, the quality of the competition—the Women's AAU Committee headed by Mrs. Pat Rico rejected Larrieu's entry for the longer event. It thus ignored Francie's ability, the glut of AAU press releases that had advertised the ambitious double and the fact that Francie probably could beat the 11:10 qualifying time wearing galoshes, leg shackles and a trenchcoat.
Larrieu learned of the rejection Thursday night, not from Mrs. Rico or one of her committee, but from PCC teammate Jim Bolding. "I had called Tom Jennings [the PCC manager] at about 10:30 to see if I had to run mile trials the next morning," Larrieu said. "Tom wasn't there, but Jim said, 'You don't have to worry about the two mile. They're not going to let you run.' I was never officially notified of the decision.
"I think if they wanted the best team to run against the Russians, seeing that I've broken or equaled the American record every time I've attempted the two mile, they could have stretched the rules a little bit. They doubt my capabilities, I guess."
So Francie, wearing a U.S. Track and Field Federation T-shirt (the USTFF is the AAU's hated rival) ran hard but wide, thus making sure she would not come close to a record, and beat her UCLA friend Julie Brown by a solid margin. The two mile was a sedate affair won by Brenda Webb in 10:22; several of the 14 women in the field finished over the qualifying standard.
Still, such strict enforcement of the rules might have provoked only minor griping had not the AAU, in the person of Track Administrator Bob Lafferty, ignored them later on. Lafferty knuckled under to pressure from Protase Muchwampaka, chief of the Tanzanian delegation, by allowing a Tanzanian runner to enter the 600 final without having run in a heat. Muchwampaka told Lafferty that if his man, Claver Kamanya, was not allowed in the 600 final, Filbert Bayi, the Tanzanian star, would be withdrawn from the mile. Lafferty acquiesced. Kamanya ran an unimpressive fifth in an overcrowded field, and Bayi won the mile in 4:02.1, the slowest of his five wins on his U.S. tour.
The best performances in the meet came from Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter in the three mile, Rick Wohlhuter in the 1,000 and Rosalyn Bryant of the Mayor Daley Youth Foundation, who set a world record of 23.6 in the 220. Yifter, a 5'5", 127-pound police sergeant, unleashed a devastating kick, finishing far ahead of a good field in 13:07.6, only 2.4 seconds off the world indoor record. Wohlhuter similarly sprinted away from his competition to win the 1,000 in a blistering 2:06.4, his 27th victory in his last 28 starts. Brian McElroy came in a strong second.
Another foreigner, Hasely Crawford, the 24-year-old Eastern Michigan sprinter out of Trinidad, narrowly beat Steve Williams in a six-flat 60-yard dash, just as he had in the Millrose Games, and thus refuted the needling prediction of Ivory Crockett, who was eliminated in the semifinals.
Crockett, who holds the outdoor world record of nine seconds flat in the 100-yard dash, is a compact package of high energy who delights in putting on his fellow sprinters. "You gonna be back here tonight, crying in your cornflakes," he told Crawford after he beat the Trinidadian in a heat of the 60. But such gamesmanship and psyching, which used to be as important to sprinters as their starting blocks, are as old hat now as Charlie Greene and John Carlos, the retired heroes of the '60s. On the track none of the sprinters at the AAU meet talked before or after their races and none staged elaborate moves to gain a psychological advantage.
"I wouldn't know a psych job if one were going on right in front of me," said Dr. Delano Meriwether, the 31-year-old hematologist who works in Washington for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He came in fifth in the 60.
"When you've been around as long as Steve Riddick, Hasely and me," Crockett admitted, "there ain't no such thing as a psych job. Everybody knows you, and they know what you can do."
Nonetheless, the American sprinters made a big impression on Italy's Pietro Mennea, the European 100- and 200-meter star, who said he was amazed by "the way they enter the races without fear or problem. I am very nervous. In Italy I have to win and win and win and get medals." Mennea was eliminated in his semifinal.
Russia's Yuri Silov, who won his heat and semifinal, was obviously tougher and considerably less fearful. "Why should I be afraid of the Americans after running against Valery Borzov?" said Silov. Undaunted, he finished sixth in the final, after Mike McFarland of Indiana almost stole the race with a superb start. Houston McTear, the high school junior from Milligan, Fla., was also out fast but Crawford and Williams passed both in the last yards. "My start wasn't good," Crawford said, "but it was all right. At 40 yards I thought I would win it."
"Hasely ran a good race," said Williams. "I just ran, ran, ran and got second. I'm tired of the indoor season. I'm ready for the outdoors." But he did add he would run in the Russian meet.
"I hadn't planned to run it because Borzov wasn't going to be there," he said. "But then I decided to, just to finish off the season. Indoor has been a learning experience. Every time I've lost, I've been shaded by a half-inch. If I'm a half-inch behind those other sprinters at 60 yards in a 100, they know the game is over."
And Francie Larrieu went to Richmond, too, despite her resentment of the AAU—for personal reasons, she explained. "I've definitely made up my mind to go," she said after the finish of the men's 1,000. "A very close friend of mine just made the team." The very close friend was Brian McElroy, whom Francie met at the Millrose Games. The two have been interested in one another ever since, despite the 3,000 miles of country usually separating them.
Happily for the AAU, which had enough trouble already.