Dave Roberts, the world-record holder in the pole vault, catapulted 18'1" and another world-record holder, Dwight Stones, high-jumped 7'1" to win their specialties at the Texas Relays last weekend. These were fine efforts so early in the outdoor season, but they were not what these relays are all about. You had to look deeper into the ruck of the 1,500-odd athletes of both sexes and all shapes, sizes and ages to find out what makes a track meet a happening, not just an event.
Chip Guesman is a stocky, mustachioed freshman at the University of Texas, who hails from Hereford, Texas, where he was something less than a mediocre pole vaulter (13'6"). But if any athlete at this meet, including Roberts and Stones, was happier than Guesman, he concealed it well.
Guesman ran the third leg in the intramural 440-yard relay, limited to students attending Texas. When he finished his leg and passed the baton to anchorman Lee Line, he gave Line a solid 10-yard lead. After he had completed the handoff, Guesman jumped high in the air, shaking his fists and yelling. He did not bother to watch Line go on to win but sprinted across the infield of Texas Memorial Stadium to receive a congratulatory kiss from his girl friend in the stands, then hurried back to embrace his three teammates. Guesman, of course, runs for fun. And, at his modest level, running is fun.
"We call ourselves the OTIS track club," he said. "We were riding in an elevator in the dorm when we decided to run in the intramurals, so we picked Otis for the name, then figured out what it means. What it means is Organized Terrors of Intramural Sports."
April 13, 1975
His colleagues on the OTIS 440-yard relay team, freshman all, are Andy Wingert, a 50-second quarter miler, Bucky Payne, a not-very-good hurdler, and Line, a not-very-good sprinter. Line, tall and slender with an ineradicable smile, said, "Now we're going to run in the intramural meet for all the conference schools. And I figure, with a little more work, we'll win. Our handoffs were a bit ragged today."
"But we won," said Guesman, "we won!"
He looked toward the end of the track, where Roberts was preparing to make his first pole vault attempt at 17 feet.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "I got to watch this dude."
He and his friends sat in the infield, watching, as Roberts vaulted faultlessly until he tried to break his world record of 18'6½", set only a week before at the Florida Relays. He failed three times at 18'8". Guesman, the 13'6" high school vaulter, shook his head in admiration. "How about that?" he said. "He must have been six inches over the bar at 18'1", huh? I wonder how it feels to be that good."
Margaret Ellison, who coaches the Texas Track Club of Abilene, figures that being that good does not really matter. She brought nine girls to the Texas Relays, none of whom did anything spectacular, but all of whom had fun.
"These little old girls get a lot of good out of running," she said. Ellison is 57 and has red hair that has earned her the somewhat inappropriate nickname of Flaming Mamie and, more years ago than she likes to say, she once ran 50 yards in seven seconds.
"Girls who are plain run for attention," she said. "I mean, for a little while on the track they feel like everyone is looking at them and that makes them feel good, you know? Before they start running, they've got no confidence in themselves. They don't think any boys want to look at them, and they walk around bent over with their heads down. Then they start to run, and they prove something to themselves. They begin to walk tall and straight and that does something for their figures, and the running has already helped out there and the first thing you know, they've got dates and boyfriends."
Mamie, chunky and cheerful, works as a secretary for an Abilene oilman, but devotes most of her time to coaching track.
"Some of them quit if they don't win," she said, "but if they stick with it, they get hooked. I dress them up in red suits, fix them up so they look good. I had a stewardess from Braniff ran for me nearly seven years, never really won anything big, but she kept running."
She ran in this meet, too, although not for Flaming Mamie. Her name is Miki Hervey and she is, indeed, a Braniff stewardess. She ran for a Dallas track club, and finished a modest sixth in the women's mile, won by world-record holder Francie Larrieu. Hervey's time was 5:19.2.
"I guess that's too far for me," she said. She has the tight skinned, thin face of a distance runner and a compact, trim body. "My best distance is the half mile. I've won some races at that distance around this area. Once I nearly made the finals in the nationals.
"I got a kind of late start in this. I mean I was 26 when I began running, and I'm 32 now. Well, I'm really nearly 33. But because I started late, I had to work harder. I felt I had to do well against the young girls. I mean if I didn't, they would all be thinking, 'What's that old bag doing out there?' I just like running, I guess. Of course, I like to win, but what I really like is to prepare myself for a stress situation and handle it as well as I can."
She stopped talking to watch a relay race and shook her head sadly when a tall, thin youngster in the red and blue uniform of Southern Methodist finished 100 yards back in last place and collapsed on the infield.
"Poor kid," she said. "I know how he feels. I wish I could help him but there really isn't much you can do. You have to make it on your own. That's what I like about it."
The SMU runner was a freshman from Houston with the faint hint of a beard beginning to show on his narrow face. He sat with his head hanging between his knees, his breath still short, his face drawn. He had run his leg as fast as he could and finished far behind and he looked up angrily when he was touched on the shoulder.
He listened to a question and turned away resentfully.
"What are you doing," he said, "looking for extremes? And I'm the worst? There were some other people on the team, too."
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "But I don't feel too good. You hear people cheering when you finish last by a mile and you know they aren't really cheering. You feel like they're making fun of you, but you have to finish. Look, I run the mile most of the time. I know maybe I'm not ever going to run a really good mile, but I'm not going to be a bad miler, either. I'm a freshman and I've run 4:18.7 and I hope to get under 4:10. Running is something I can do and improve at, so I'll keep on doing it."
His name was Jeff Rolf and he majors in journalism. Running is not his life. "It's a kind of emotional release," he said. "I like it. I don't like it today, but I'll like it again tomorrow."
He got up, his breathing even now, his face composed. "I like to watch the good ones, too," he said. The 120-yard hurdles were starting and he went to the edge of the track. "I'd like to know what they think about after a race," he said. "It must be another kind of a world."
Larry Shipp, the LSU star, came out of his blocks a bit late, gradually moved ahead of the field over the hurdles, then sprinted in a two-yard winner in 13.7 seconds, very good early-season time. He was not breathing hard, and as he put on his warmup jacket, he talked easily and confidently.
"I'm still working on my start," Shipp said. "I have a tendency to dwell a bit. While I'm in the blocks, waiting for the gun, I think about the start, but I think about the other runners, too. You can feel the whole happening—who is scared, who thinks he can run, who thinks he can win. No, I always think I will win. I wouldn't run if I didn't think that."
He has startling light hazel eyes in a handsome cocoa-brown face and he smiled as he thought about winning.
"I look at the hurdles as an art form," he said. "It's a performance, like a ballerina puts on. I'm aware of the people and I want to do well for them. Of course, I'm aware of the other runners, too. For the first few hurdles I'm getting my rhythm, then I am aware of where the pressure is coming from. If no one is coming up on my left, say, I forget my left and I'm aware of the field on my right. Today I could feel that Allen Misher, my teammate, was pressing and forcing the hurdles, so I dismissed him from my mind."
He was asked how it felt to win his event in the Texas Relays and he smiled again, a composed young man.
"It's very early in the season," he said. "You can win all the Texas Relays titles in the world and it doesn't mean a thing. What I am trying to build to is the national championship. That's what counts. And then the Olympics. I like to excel. And this is something I can excel at."
He seemed only mildly pleased at his victory. Not as happy, say, as the OTIS track club. But he has been a winner for a long time. Victory is infinitely more precious when it is a rare pleasure.
Too bad the OTIS relay team won't be running in the Olympics.