MILES TO GO
This is an article from the Aug. 25, 1975 issue
After John Walker ran his remarkable 3:49.4 world-record mile last week (page 14) the theorists were out in force discussing the future of the event, with emphasis on "barriers" and "ultimates." Barriers are a sports-page myth, but obviously there has to be an ultimate—no one is ever going to run a mile in 10 seconds flat. The elusive limit lies somewhere between 10 seconds and Walker's time, but just where, no one yet has any idea.
The four-minute mile used to be considered the ultimate, and then 3:50; now it is said to be 3:40 or even 3:30. An English physiologist has determined it is 3:38, which he says can be reached if the runner in question is "theoretically perfect" in physique, natural speed, mental attitude and training. He also says, "The athlete possessing all these perfections has yet to be born."
Nonsense. The man who eventually runs 3:38 may not be alive as yet, but there are those running today who are capable of it. Walker ran the mile 10 seconds faster than Roger Bannister did 21 years ago, when he broke four minutes for the first time. Is Walker that superior to Bannister as a pure athlete? Or is he simply the current end product of effort, training, technique, equipment and psychological attitude?
A study of the evolution of the mile record over the past 10 decades indicates that 3:38 is not an ultimate but an inevitable, one that should be reached in 30 years or so. In the past century the mile record has dropped an average of 3½ seconds per decade. In the past 50 years it has dropped even faster. Walker's mile was 4.2 seconds better than Michel Jazy's 1965 world record of 3:53.6; Jazy's was 4.4 seconds faster than John Landy's 3:58, the record in 1955; Landy's was 3.4 seconds better than Gunder Hagg's 1945 time of 4:01.4; Hagg's was 5.4 better than Glenn Cunningham's 4:06.8, the record in 1935; and Cunningham's was 3.6 faster than Paavo Nurmi's 4:10.4, which created a bigger stir when it was run in 1923 than Walker's 3:49.4 did last week.
Because this relentless downward movement has yet to show signs of slowing, of even approaching that asymptotic ultimate, there seems no reason why the record won't be down around 3:46 by 1985, to 3:42 or 3:43 by 1995, and below 3:38 early in the 21st century.
There may be one snag. Rumors persist that the IAAF, international ruling body for track and field, will soon refuse to sanction records at anything but metric distances, which would do away with the mile as a valid event. Of course, the IAAF might bend a little and accept new records at the increasingly popular distance of 1609.344 meters.
At the Hang Ten Amateur Grass Court Championship tennis tournament this summer at the Casino in Newport, R.I. one of the ball boys—who happened to be the 16-year-old son of Robert Day, the tournament director—gave an interview to a reporter in which he complained that being a ball boy wasn't much fun, that they worked five hours a day and were being paid only $5 a day. No sooner did the story appear than the Rhode Island State Employment Practices Division stepped in, ruled that unless the ball boys were 16 years old they could not legally be employed, and, further, said anyone who was employed had to be paid the state's minimum wage of $2.05 an hour. Ten ball boys and girls were dropped, but the rest got a nice raise.
Poor Canada. Those Olympics she was so happy to get a few years ago have become a serpent in her bosom. Strikes, political unrest, the threat of financial disaster, and—can you imagine this?—dirty language. In French-speaking Montreal the Olympic organizing committee is called Comité Organisateur des Jeux Olympiques, COJO for short; its associate committee for TV, the Organisme de radio-télévision des Olympiques, is called ORTO. Nothing much wrong with that, is there? Except that the two acronyms are causing embarrassment to Canadian diplomats in Argentina. Some time ago Ambassador Alfred P. Bissonnet wrote home to Ottawa to point out that in the lunfardo, or local slang, of greater Buenos Aires and neighboring Uruguay, COJO and ORTO "have a meaning or connotation which makes it virtually impossible for my embassy to use them." Gingerly, the letter explained that cojo is an obscenity for sexual intercourse and or to an obscenity for the backside. When a Montreal newspaper appeared in the embassy with a headline saying CITY VOTES $250 MILLION FOR COJO, locally hired members of the staff dissolved in muffled laughter.
Bet they wouldn't laugh if Avery Brundage were alive.
Anna Cuttone, a 17-year-old senior at Waltham High School in Massachusetts, went to Biddeford, Maine with seven friends to try a bit of parachute jumping. They took a five-hour course in ground school, strapped on parachutes, took off in a plane and jumped.
Everything went fine, except that Anna landed right next to a moving 93-car Boston & Maine freight train, which snagged her chute and began dragging her along. Luckily, her reserve chute opened, billowed full, lifted her into the air and deposited her gently on top of the 63rd car.
Three miles and several frantic phone calls later, the freight train stopped and Anna, despite her airmail-special delivery handling, was returned uncanceled. But bruised and bleeding and unenthusiastic. "I don't think I'll be jumping again," she said.
For years, the doom peddlers kept saying that baseball was dying, that no one really cared about it anymore. Baseball kept right on booming along anyway (SI, Aug. 11). Now the sourballs are turning their attention to pro football, saying of it much of what they used to say about baseball: it is past its peak, it has become a dull game, people are losing interest, the decline has set in.
However, nobody bothered to tell this to Seattle, or else Seattle wasn't listening. The city on Puget Sound has a brand-new National Football League team called the Seahawks, which will begin play in 1976. Seating capacity at Seattle's new Kingdome Stadium is 65,000, and advance season-ticket sales already are approaching 50,000. Seahawk management says it will cut off sales at around 57,000 to allow some tickets to be available on game days.
"It's phenomenal," says ticket director Gordon Green, who apparently does not realize that he is dealing with a dying sport. "It's the largest first-year ticket sale in the history of pro football."
IN MEMORY OF MAURICE
For years the annual Maurice Stokes Memorial Game was a rite of summer for NBA players: a showcase for the game's stars and touted rookies, a chance to relax in the haven of Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello, N.Y. and a way to raise funds for needy ex-NBA players, college students and summer leagues. All of this was in memory of Stokes, the former Rochester and Cincinnati Royals star who, after being stricken with encephalitis, spent 12 years struggling to regain a semblance of health before he died in 1970 at the age of 37.
The show went on again this year. George McGinnis made his debut in NBA company with every bit of expected brilliance; 6'10" Darryl Dawkins demonstrated that the stride from May-nard Evans High School to the Philadelphia '76ers might be a baby step; and the Phoenix Suns' John Shumate, who sat out his rookie year with a lung ailment, looked healthier than ever. But there were moments when the traditionally benign atmosphere was punctuated with bad humor and misplaced priorities.
First, Donald Schupak, part owner of the ABA Spirits of St. Louis, threatened a lawsuit to open up the game to ABA players. "Why?" shouted Red Auerbach. "This is our game. The money we raise is for ex-NBA players. Let the ABA take care of its own." That attitude by the older NBA people like Auerbach and Eddie Gottlieb ignored both the spirit of charity and the promotional value of Julius Erving, the ABA's ranking superstar, who wanted to come but was not invited. "To Red and Eddie, the ABA might as well be Russia," said Hank Lowenkron, one of the game's promoters.
Some players got into the niggling, too, reportedly charging that the game MVP award was fixed for McGinnis, the NBA's newest star, although officials denied it. All the bickering seemed silly in view of the game's purpose, which was underscored by the story of Ray Felix, one of the first 7-footers, who played nine years in the NBA and never made more than $10,500 a season. The 44-year-old Felix, unemployed since February, injured his knee two weeks ago and turned to the Stokes Foundation for financial help. "This is what the game is about," says Haskell Cohen, one of the game's founders. "But with all the big money around now, lots of players don't care like they used to. Some of these kids hardly even know who Maurice was. And some say they'll come and don't show." And some who want to come are not allowed to. It doesn't quite figure.
It is a source of wonder to some observers that there are millions of people who like country music. But then there are millions of people who like Big Macs and Frank Sinatra, so who's to argue? At any rate, country music has given rise to a nutty sort of In game among sportswriters and broadcasters, particularly people like Don Meredith, who continually dredge up from memory unforgettable gems from country-music songs. And, it must be admitted, if the tunes of country songs are deadly, the lyrics certainly are not. Some samples, from Meredith and friends.
"He broke my heart at Walgreens and I cried all the way to Sears."
"Don't come home a-drinkin', with lovin' on your mind."
"I had a good woman but she married Lawrence."
"I feel better all over more than anywhere else."
"Every time I say I'll quit, she knows that it's a myth, when it's five to two and the bottom of the fifth."
"Life is like a book, and let me tell you Janet I've read every page."
"My pride's not hard to swallow, once I chew it long enough."
"I got the all-overs for you all over me."
"If you want to keep the beer real cold, put it next to my ex-wife's heart."
Enough? O.K. You want to go back to playing trivia?
Five years ago when Brent Imlach had visions of a career as a pro hockey player, his father, Punch Imlach, boss of the Buffalo Sabres, recommended that Brent take a legal course on contracts so that he would know how to negotiate salary terms with general managers, should the occasion ever arise.
Well, he did and it did, but not the way either Imlach anticipated. Brent, who holds a master's degree in business, became not a player but an agent, and last week he handled a contract for Gary McAdam, an amateur drafted by Buffalo. The general manager Brent dealt with was, of course, his father.
Although the Imlachs live at the same address, Punch said, "Negotiations were by mail, phone and business meetings." Brent said, "They were mostly that way, but there was some negotiation around the dinner table, too."
All parties—father, son and McAdam—expressed satisfaction with the multiyear contract, although Brent did say, "It's interesting to note that a certain request for tickets to a Buffalo-Philadelphia exhibition game was not filled until after McAdam signed."
THEY SAID IT
•Arthur Ashe, on Jimmy Connors: "That kid would make a heck of a Davis Cup prospect."
•Cal Stoll, University of Minnesota football coach: "We finally got Nebraska where we want them—off the schedule."
•Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskin quarterback: "Everybody says that I'm throwing better, but that's because they don't have Sonny Jurgensen to compare me with anymore."