For the uninitiated, a relay carnival is track and field's answer to haggis, a dubious dish that surrounds its meaty morsels with a glut of unknown stuff. Consider last weekend's Penn Relays, at Franklin Field in Philadelphia: over 6,000 athletes, 136 events, more baton passes than Toscanini ever knew.
But folks are eager to sample this feast—34,525 of them on Saturday—so much so that six people were arrested for selling counterfeit tickets, and it is perhaps ironic that the most impressive competitive effort of the meet was run on a counterfeit track, It came on the anchor leg of the 480-yard hurdle shuttle relay, staged not on the regular oval but on the stadium infield's Astro Turf, where the competitors could have more running room. Charles Foster, anchor for North Carolina Central, was sent off 15 yards behind Seton Hall's Reggie Blackshear. With an astonishing effort Foster caught Blackshear to give NCC the victory in 57.2 seconds. Splits on Foster's heroic performance—into the wind—ranged from 13.2 to 13 flat. Later, running with a 10-mph wind at his back, Foster won the college high-hurdle final in 13.3, his comparative performances demonstrating once again the stimulus of adrenaline.
Beyond Foster, the meet belonged to Villanova, most particularly to a Villa-nova import from Ireland named Eamonn Coghlan. The 21-year-old Coghlan set new standards for performance and recuperation in leading the Wildcats to the distance medley, four-mile and two-mile relay championships. In so doing, he ran sub-four-minute miles on successive days and turned an 880 leg in 1:51.9.
On Friday, in a constant rain, Coghlan ran a 3:56.3—the fastest Penn Relay mile leg ever—to give Villanova the distance-medley title for the 10th year in a row. Ken Schappert (1:49.6 half mile), Greg Eckman (46.7 quarter) and Tom Gregan (2:55.6 three-quarters) preceded Coghlan in that order. The Wildcats' 9:28.2 is a meet record and a world ' "best," but it is not a world record because the four runners do not all hail from the same country.
May 4, 1975
Ever the competitor, Coghlan also defeated six teammates and his father, Billy, Friday night in a Monopoly game. On Saturday, Eamonn's 3:59.6 anchor for Villanova's four-mile relay team made a laugher of that race, and he later helped the Wildcats take the two-mile title. That gave Villanova its 56th relay victory at Penn, the most for any school.
Along with Coghlan's stunning mile, the distance medley produced a familiar relay phenomenon: a runner starting off far behind who does something exceptional that few people notice and most do not learn about until the summaries are printed: Tony Colon of Manhattan ran a 3:57.6 lifetime best in his mile leg as he brought his team from ninth to fifth, but few paid heed.
All of this might have been just a pleasant prelude to the featured Ben Franklin Mile, had that event lived up to its promise as the highlight of the meet. It was a good, not great, race, won in a solid 3:57.7 by Wilson Waigwa, a 23-year-old Kenyan who attends the University of Texas, El Paso. Rick Wohlhuter, the Sullivan Award winner and 880-yard world-record holder, had been the favorite, although Tony Waldrop, who ran a 3:53.2 at the Penn Relays a year ago, had been working his way back into shape after a winter in competitive limbo.
Anticipating a Wohlhuter-Waldrop duel, the crowd had its hopes dashed 220 yards into the race. That's how far Waldrop ran with both shoes on his feet before losing his left one to the hot pursuit of England's Ray Smedley.
"He just caught my heel," Waldrop said. "It wasn't his fault, it wasn't my fault, it's just something that can happen when you're jostled around in a race."
Hobbled though he was ("I got to sliding and grabbing with one shoe"), Waldrop stayed in contention through the first three laps, hard on the pace of Reggie McAfee and Wohlhuter as the split timer called "3:01.8." Waldrop even began an early kick along the backstretch of the final lap before Waigwa burst out of the six-man pack going into the last turn. Wohlhuter went with him, but the wind gusting into the runners' faces on the homestretch was too much for the 135-pound Wohlhuter to handle. He finished two yards behind Waigwa in 3:58.1, while Waldrop, despite a hubcapsized blister on his left foot, was a strong third in 3:58.9. Waigwa ran his last lap in a fast 55.4.
"I wanted to try to finish quickly," Waigwa said. "I wanted to find out if I have a good kick because I haven't done any intervals at all."
Wohlhuter, 26, a Chicago insurance salesman, is an athlete of heroic ambition. Next year he wants to make the U.S. Olympic team, not only at 800 meters, the distance he has owned for more than a year, but also at 1,500 meters. The only man to win the Olympic 800-1,500 double in the last 55 years was Peter Snell in 1964.
"I'm sure I'll go to the Olympic Trials in both events, so I've got nothing to lose," Rick said Saturday morning. "The 800 falls first and then there's a day or so of rest followed by the 1,500. If I qualify, I'll most likely run both in the Games. I'll just have to see how I handle the mile this year and next."
After his Ben Franklin defeat he said, "What I've learned to date is that I'm the best American miler, but that isn't good enough to win some of these meets. I'm pleased, frankly, with my effort. It's early for me. Waigwa trains in Texas and he's got a slight weather edge at this point. He got too much jump on me, I guess. I came around and was gaining on him, but that wind...."
Waldrop also found cause for cheer. "I think I could have run faster with two shoes," he said, "but it did me good as far as my confidence is concerned just to get back into things."