Like a revered potentate ensconced upon his throne, Coach Ed Temple of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles sat on a chair on a grassy hill overlooking the track at White Plains (N.Y.) High School. Crouched and squatted about him were fellow coaches, former students (like Wyomia Tyus) and track buffs who listened to the master's comments on the contestants in the 1975 AAU National Women's Track and Field Championships. Temple's words were forthright and candid, and only once last Friday afternoon was he visibly moved. As the hurdlers swept by in a 100-meter semifinal Temple exclaimed in frank admiration of the leader, 'Hmmmmm, that's some big hoss!"
The big hoss was Jane Frederick, a handsome, statuesque (5'11¼", 160 pounds) blonde who may well become the feminist flesh-and-blood answer to TV's synthetic Six Million Dollar Man, and she was just one of several new U.S. hopefuls for the 1976 Olympics. The week before last, Frederick won the U.S. women's pentathlon championship in Los Alamos, New Mex., with 4,676 points, best in the world this year. Her victory at Los Alamos did not surprise her; what did was that the head of the family with whom she roomed designed nuclear weapons.
Although there was no pentathlon at White Plains—and Frederick considers herself a pentathlete first and foremost because "my mentality, my personality don't go with one event"—she did very well in events ordinarily dominated by specialists. Like the 100-meter hurdles. Slow off the starting blocks in the Saturday finals, she was second to Debbie LaPlante at the eighth hurdle by perhaps a foot. Then she shot over the last hurdle with a burst of speed that put her in front at the finish. "I just wanted it," she said, and with that she went back to the shotput for her final three throws. She hit 48'9½" for fifth place. "I was a foot under my best," Frederick said. "I wanted to go over 49, but then I had to do my three throws after the hurdles." All this was in the afternoon; at noon she had competed in the high jump and taken fourth place with 5'9".
Now 23 and competing for the Los Angeles Track Club, Frederick grew up in Berkeley, where her father, a former political scientist at the University of California, served as a track official. She began long-jumping in AAU meets at 11, and entered the University of Colorado as an arts major. "I'm into metalwork," she says. "All kinds of jewelry. It's relaxing." She took her sophomore year in Italy, then returned to Colorado, where she switched to a major in Italian and a minor in German. After graduating summa cum laude in 1973, she lived in Italy for a year, supporting herself as an interpreter and translator and training under Franco Radman, the Italian national pentathlon and decathlon coach.
Back in the U.S. she moved to Santa Barbara, where she now works with Sam Adams, coach at Cal Santa Barbara, "a good decathlon man." She plans to teach Italian this year while preparing for the Montreal Olympics. "I work every event at least twice a week," she says. "They're part of me." She credits much of her success to weight lifting; as she puts it, "Usually you get the benefits of hard work the year after. I feel much more stable now. It's starting to come together." Aside from the 1976 Games, her future is undecided but she is thinking of taking the U.S. Foreign Service exams or going for her Ph. D. in Italian.
Among other new Olympic prospects in White Plains were two in the high jump, Joni Huntley, 18, of Oregon State and Paula Girven, 17, of Garfield High School in Woodbridge, Va. Both competed earlier in the week in the juniors, with Huntley flopping over at 6'2" for a U.S. record and Girven clearing 6'1". Huntley started flopping in 1970 with help from her father, an insurance man, who used diagrams supplied by Berny Wagner, the coach at Oregon State. Until last year all her practice took place at home; her high school in small town Sheridan (pop. 2,000) did not have a track team. At Oregon State, the red-haired Huntley began to blossom under Wagner, so much so that last winter at a meet in New Zealand she went after the world record of 6'5" held by East Germany's Rosemarie Ackermann. "I had two close ones," she says, "but I hit the bar with my heel. I've done weight training and I've got more strength, but I have to work it back in the right form."
Two weeks before White Plains, Huntley pulled the hamstring muscle in her left leg. Despite her 6'2" in the juniors she was able to clear only six feet in the seniors on Saturday, which was still good enough for first place. Girven had scratched from the senior finals because of a strained ankle, and Huntley said, "The adrenaline didn't flow for me. I didn't feel pushed." Huntley is very high on her rival. "She has so much spring in her legs, but her approach is terrible. Her coach thinks so, too. She makes two turns in the circle of her approach while I make one. But, boy, she's great, and she's just starting."
Girven, who jumps for Coach Brooks Johnson and Sports International, began to refine her technique only a few weeks before the meet. By chance she happened to meet Frank Costello, the University of Maryland track coach, who offered advice. "He got me over six feet," Girven says. "He says he's going to get me over 6'4" or 6'5". I hope it's true."
Although Ed Temple said that the meet showed "we don't have a world-class sprinter right now," another newcomer, Debra Sapenter, was a surprise in the 400 meters. The daughter of a retired Army colonel who had run at Prairie View, Sapenter enrolled at her father's alma mater five years ago and began running when she was recruited out of gym class. Her time in the 400 at White Plains was 51.6, equaling the U.S. record. Scheduled to teach freshman English at Prairie View this fall, she has the Olympics in mind, but says, "I won't be overconfident and say I can make the team. I don't want to eat my own words."
Martha Watson, one of the best long jumpers in the world, won her event with a leap of 21'3", and Kathy Schmidt, a bronze medalist in the Munich javelin, set an American record with a throw of 209'7" on her first attempt in the finals. Schmidt had to shorten her approach by a step before throwing, and she didn't think much of her effort, "but then it looked real good upstairs." The toss topped her previous U.S. record, set a month ago, by four inches. Despite the handicap of a torn ligament and a hairline fracture in her right foot, Schmidt's two marks are the best in the world this year. In 1976, she expects to be in the neighborhood of 220 feet.
One veteran who showed sure signs of a return to former ability was 27-year-old Madeline Manning Jackson. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, she won the 800-meter gold medal. She married, had a son, Little John, and was a disappointing fifth in the 800 semifinals at Munich. Now divorced, she works for the Salvation Army in Cleveland and began running again last October. "I've been surprised one race after the other," she said after breaking her own U.S. record with a 2:00.5 in the AAU. "This is about the 20th race I've won since I started running last fall. In this race I was boxed in on the first turn and had to go around four people, which slowed my time. I'm looking for something like a 1:55 at Montreal. The more meets I have, the stronger I get. I'll keep on reaching. I make a lot of sacrifices. Everything I do is for the Ministry of Christ. It's time for me to give my talent to the Lord again. I've reached thousands of young people with the Gospel, and I've seen that it has done good. In the ghettos I see people struggling for happiness and peace of mind. I see drug addicts and prostitutes, but I know that you can be somebody with the help of God."
Some celebrated male athletes were spectators at White Plains, among them John Thomas, Ralph Boston and Wilt Chamberlain, who was on hand to watch Wilt's Wonder Women compete. As a team, the Wonder Women finished eighth behind the victorious LA Track Club, but some sort of prize should have gone to Chamberlain. Suddenly confronted with a chain link fence almost 4½ feet high near the press box, Wilt simply stepped over the fence with barely a break in stride.