By the time they got around to the final shoot-out in the high jump early last Saturday morning at Madison Square Garden, the bulk of the record crowd of 18,142 had long since departed, the workmen were complaining because they had been forced into overtime by three lanky giants and a long-legged midget, and some loudmouth in the upper reaches of the seats was screaming, "Hey, Stones, you're a bum. Fall down, you bum." To which a burly cop on temporary duty as a Millrose Games spectator roared back, "Shut up, you idiot, or go home."
Always it has been like this for Dwight Stones, the cocky world-record holder (7'6½" outdoors, 7'5¾" indoors) and Olympic bronze medalist, who has been known to review his many accomplishments with the aid of a megaphone, and thus has alienated almost everyone, especially his peers. As Tom Woods, who would win this time, said, "He's cocky and sometimes he says things that bother me. If there's one individual I like to beat more than anyone else, it's Dwight."
The Millrose people had brought in a whole army of world-class jumpers to compete against Stones. There was the 6'4" Woods, of course, who has done 7'5¾" outdoors and was ranked No. 2 in the world last year behind Stones. That pair met 10 times in Europe last summer, and each won five times. The French sent over Paul Poaniewa, their 6-foot straddler from New Caledonia, who has soared 7'5". Then there were Pat Matzdorf, the former world-record holder with a 7'6¼" best; Rory Kotinek (7'4"), Bill Jankunis (7'4") and little Ron Livers, who had just jumped a 7'4¼", which is 20 inches over his head. Plus Dennis Adama (7'3") of the University of Chicago Track Club, the only other straddler in the field and a man known to inspire Stones with his verbal barbs.
"I think I had better lighten up my premeet meal," said Stones at lunch in the coffee shop of his hotel. He ordered a hot roast beef sandwich and a cheeseburger.
February 9, 1976
"Both for you?" asked the waiter.
"Yeah, and two milks and dessert."
"What would you like for dessert?"
"A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich."
That done, Stones, who is 22 and attends Long Beach State, began to assay his own personality, which, he says, has improved considerably the last two years. "I should have won the gold medal at Munich, but I'm glad now that I only came in third," he said. "I was hard enough to live with as the bronze medalist. With the gold, I would have been impossible. There would have been no shutting me up. I never would have realized what a buffoon I was."
Not far away, in a lounge two floors above where Stones was eating, Woods, who had elected to have stew as his pre-meet meal, was beginning to feel nauseous. He was afraid it might be the stomach virus that had hit some of his Pacific Coast Club teammates. He had been the United States' prime high jumper in 1972 but had injured a knee two weeks before the Olympic Trials.
"That disappointment changed my whole outlook," said the 22-year-old Oregon State senior. "When I went to college I wanted to play basketball but they convinced me to concentrate everything on the Olympics. I sacrificed a lot of things. Then I looked at the results and realized what I had given up. For what? I was really let down. I swore then I'd never let that happen again. Now I want to do my best, but I'm not sacrificing all the other things to do it.
"Still, I want to beat Dwight and break his record. We're friends, but he does get on my nerves. He's got an outward emotional personality. He has to voice his confidence to believe it. Most people have an inner confidence and don't have to talk about it. Also, he equates everything in life to track and field. He doesn't have any other interests. Except his groupies."
With that, Woods decided he had better hurry to his room, hoping that rest would resettle the stew. And Stones went off in search of Poaniewa, who had instantly disliked New York City but had found almost hourly solace in McDonald's hamburgers. "When he sees how they have the high-jump pit set up," Stones said, "he won't be able to eat for a week. The pit is set up for floppers. Straddlers will have to make their way out of a tunnel and across the track. But there's only two straddlers, Poaniewa and Adama, who is a nice guy but bitches a lot. And Poaniewa can't speak English, which won't hurt."
The high jumpers, usually the last to start competition, had hoped to begin by 9:30, but as it turned out they were delayed an hour and by then the meet was nearly over. Almost two hours earlier, Houston McTear, the 18-year-old high school streak from Milligan, Fla., had laughed his way through a strong 60-yard field, which included Olympian Hasely Crawford, and won in 5.9, a tick off the world record.
After that, Rick Wohlhuter won the 880 (in 1:52) as expected, Jan Merrill, from obscurity and Connecticut, upset newlywed Francie Larrieu in the women's 1,500 (in a Garden-record 4:15.2) and slight, bespectacled Paul Cummings, running alone and a ton of yards in front of favored Tony Waldrop, took the mile in 3:57.6, which is faster than anybody else has run it indoors this season. Cummings said he had to hurry because he felt sick halfway through the race.
While awaiting their turn, the high jumpers watched their female counterparts perform, and that event lasted longer than usual because of an outstanding effort by Joni Huntley, the American-record holder from Oregon State, who won with a leap of 6'2¼", below her indoor record.
Then the bar went up to 6'8", and the men went to work. By the time they reached 7'2", only seven jumpers were left, none of them straddlers. Matzdorf, who has had trouble finding a place to train, went out at 6'10".
The bar went up to 7'3¼" and Jankunis went out. Kotinek, a UCLA senior, made it on his first try, breaking a Mill-rose record set by John Thomas 12 years earlier. Woods cleared the bar on his first attempt, too. Now it was Stones' turn.
"By then we were all starting to get pretty tired, and we were all hoping one of us would beat Stones," Kotinek would say later. "We just don't dig his act anymore."
Stones sailed over on his first try, and a few minutes later, little Livers, after two misses, made it a group of four.
"People say they don't know how he does it, but look at him," said Woods, gazing at Livers, who is 5'8½". "Look at his center mass, which is what you have to lift. He has such long legs, his center mass is only an inch below mine and Stones'. The mystery is a lot of bull."
Up went the bar to 7'4¼". On his second attempt, Woods flopped over, leaving the bar rocking but in place. Livers was the first to go out. Under the circumstances, he had done extraordinarily well. The only contestant to begin his approach from the left, the quiet little man from Norristown, Pa., also a world-class triple jumper, was forced to begin his approach from the top of the banked track. His first three steps were downhill.
Kotinek was the next to go out. Then Stones failed. "Losing won't get me bent out of shape," he said. "I know what kind of shape I'm not in. But I do want to go for the same height at the L.A. Times meet next week. That would be a collegiate indoor record [Woods has passed up his collegiate eligibility] and I'm kind of hot on records. I like to get my name in the book as often as possible. After that I want to win the NCAAs indoors and outdoors, then the gold medal. That will be about everything."
Woods had the officials raise the bar to 7'6", a quarter of an inch beyond Stones' indoor world record. On his first two jumps he barely missed; his third was a wipeout. It was 1:12 a.m.
"Wow, that was too close," said Stones. "He just missed those first two. I've got to move that record up some. But if he had broken it, I had made up my mind to be the first to shake his hand."