Those Heiden kids are at it again. Old-timers at the Madison (Wis.) Figure Skating Club will recall that Eric and Beth had seemed hopeless. All they had wanted to do was race around the rink. They were still racing last week. Eric, now 18 and a University of Wisconsin freshman, was in Heerenveen, The Netherlands, as a member of the U.S. team in the men's world speed skating championships. Beth was competing in the women's world meet at Keystone, Colo. She is 17 now, the youngest and, at 88 pounds, the smallest member of the U.S. team. Eric is six feet and 165 pounds.
No way an 88-pound girl is going to beat the Europeans, many of whom have thighs that weigh that much, and, indeed, the Russians scored a one-two-three sweep in the overall standings. Which left it up to Eric in Holland.
First day, Eric won the 500 meters in 38.80, breaking the track record. He followed that with a ninth-place finish in the 5,000 to become the overall point leader with two events to go. On Sunday, he finished third in the 1,500, but the crushing 10,000 meters was still ahead. What's more, Eric was paired in his heat with defending world champ Piet Kleine of The Netherlands. Off they went. The crowd was stunned when Eric matched Kleine stride for stride, lap after lap, and beat him. Eric finished third in the event, and with the best point total was the new world champion, the first American man to win the title in the 76-year history of world speed skating.
February 21, 1977
"A worthy world champion," said the deposed Kleine. "When a youngster can skate that well over four distances, he deserves to win."
Eric was more modest. "People will read about it," he said, "and remember it for a week, but then they'll forget."
Golf, which prides itself on the technical precision of its many rules and the meticulous way golfers generally pay attention to those fine points, fell on its face in a matter involving an 18-year-old Californian named Joe Rassett. Rassett, representing the Northern California Golf Association, was playing Francisco Lopez of the Northern California PGA Section in a team match. On the 13th hole Rassett had an easy three-foot putt for a par. He had marked his ball and as he leaned over to respot it, his putter fell out of his other hand and hit the ball. It moved about three inches.
"I was stunned," Rassett said, in an item that appeared in Golf Digest. "Lopez yelled at me, 'That's a shot.' He was right, of course. It's a penalty."
Rassett then holed the putt for a bogey to halve the hole, and he and Lopez tied in their match, each earning half a point for his team. The PGA side won the match 10½-9½. "Had Rassett hung on to his putter," said Golf Digest, "it would have been 10-10."
But George Marks, executive director of the Utah Golf Association and a member of the USGA rules committee for the U.S. Open, saw the item, and he realized at once that Lopez, Rassett and Golf Digest were all wrong on the rule.
"If you are in the process of marking or remarking the ball on the green," says Marks, "and you accidentally move the ball, it is not a penalty if you put the ball back in its proper place. This is one time a golfer does not get penalized for being clumsy."
Marks told the USGA rules committee, and that body sent a letter to Golf Digest explaining the rule. The score of the match, he said, should have been 10-10.
In the years since they joined the National League back in 1962, the Houston Astros have been guilty of some depressing judgment in the matter of trading baseball players, having sent off, among others, Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, John Mayberry, Mike Cuellar, Jerry Grote, Cesar Geronimo and Dave Giusti to star with other teams. Now there is evidence that this jarring inability to recognize talent exists elsewhere in the Houston operation.
Every now and then the club conducts a Miss Astro contest, in which it brings a pretty candidate from each city in the club's broadcasting chain to the finals in Houston. One year the Corpus Christi entry was a girl who went on to fame as Farrah Fawcett-Majors.
She didn't win.
A MAN FOR A' THAT
Tennis players may be the most excuse-ridden of all professional athletes. After a losing match they are wont to complain about the heavy (or light) balls, the slow (or fast) surface, the noise, the lights, the background, the line calls, the ball boys and girls, the spectators; they will not overlook bad luck, bad seeding, bad motivation; and, of course, they will be sure to let people know about the sore leg, elbow, back, knee, hand, shoulder or head that put them off their game.
This is standard operating procedure for most losers. But there is an exception, and he is a player usually lumped with the bad actors on court. He is Jimmy Connors. Even those affronted by Connors' disregard of the polite conventions of tennis behavior are beginning to recognize that Jimmy never cops a plea on a tennis court, even when he has ample reason to, as he certainly had this past month.
Before playing Bjorn Borg in the finals of the Grand Slam at Boca Raton, Fla. on Jan. 23, Connors was asked where he had been in the days before the tournament. "At home," Jimmy said. "I went home to Belleville to see my folks." Connors lost to Borg, but he never mentioned that the reason he had gone home was to see his father, who was desperately ill.
A week later in Philadelphia in the finals of the U.S. Pro Indoor championship, Connors was upset by Dick Stockton. He made no excuse that day either, but after the match he immediately flew to Belleville, Ill. again, arriving at eight in the evening. Two hours later his father died, a victim of the cancer that had hospitalized him for the previous six weeks. He was 53.
Jimmy Connors often has been criticized for opening his mouth too much. But he did not talk of his dying father, did not seek sympathy, did not use his father's illness as an excuse for his defeats. In a sport where fortitude and class are sometimes sadly lacking, Connors has displayed an admirable quantity of both.
After Basketball Coach Earl Voss of West Chester (Pa.) State College racked up the 99th victory of his career, the college athletic office ordered a case of champagne in anticipation of the victory celebration following No. 100.
However, along with his 99 victories Coach Voss also had 96 career losses, and after the next game he had 97. Then 98. Then 99.
In West Chester's next game, against Delaware, it buckled down and, with eight minutes to play, held an eight-point lead. The Golden Rams decided to sit on that lead and went into a four-corner stall. But the stall kept backfiring, and the lead diminished to one point. With six seconds to go, a Delaware player tipped in a missed shot and Voss had his No. 100—the wrong one.
And it kept going: 101, 102, 103. No matter how bubbly the champagne is, when Voss finally gets to drink it, it's bound to taste flat.
Sporting crime, or crime with a sporting accent, has been occupying the attention of Massachusetts law officers. Two South Boston men were arraigned earlier this month on charges of armed robbery—they were accused of holding up a parking lot. This is not particularly sensational news, but what was novel about the crime was the weapon used. It wasn't a .38, or a Saturday Night Special, or a sawed-off shotgun or anything like that. The men, sporting types apparently, held up the parking-lot attendant with a spear gun. We assume the detective who cracked the case rubbed his chin at some point and muttered, "Hmmm, something fishy here."
On the same day that the arrest of the alleged spear carriers appeared in the newspapers, another item reported that two Massachusetts hunters had been fined $75 each for using an illegal weapon in their pursuit of game. No, not an automatic rifle. These fellows packed a ferret. Right there in the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts it says clearly, "...a person shall not take or attempt to take any bird or mammal by the aid or use of a ferret or a fitchew, commonly known as fitch...." At least the hunters were open about it. If they had hidden the little animal, do you suppose they could have been charged with carrying a concealed ferret?
It is interesting to note, too, that the word "ferret" is derived from furittus, a Latin word that means—damn, the English language is fun—little thief.
Everybody who follows basketball knows that David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets is an extraordinary athlete. Among his gifts is an amazing jumping ability. He can leap straight up 42 inches from a standing start, which means that with his body vertical the soles of his sneakers are 3½ feet in the air.
Back in the spring of 1972 when Thompson was a freshman at North Carolina State, someone persuaded him to come out and try the triple jump at a Wolfpack track meet. Thompson didn't want to at first, but then reluctantly agreed. He had never tried the event, but after a few preliminary practice runs he took off down the runway and in his first competitive effort jumped 49'11" to set a school record.
When the basketball staff heard about Thompson's venture into track and field it hurriedly persuaded him to stop, fearing he would injure himself and endanger his basketball career. So David retired from track, opening and closing in one, as they used to say in vaudeville.
But his 49'11" record lasted nearly five years, or until a few weeks ago when James Coleman, who majors in triple jump, so to speak, did 49'11¾".
One jump—and a record that lasted five years. That's David Thompson.
ARMY MARCHES ON
Traditionally, a military man is named athletic director at West Point, and the assignment, like most non-combat tours of duty, lasts three years. Then a new man takes over. These repeated changes in the West Point front office have created a lack of continuity on the playing fields. Or so says General Bernard Rogers, Chief of Staff, who last week scrapped tradition by appointing retired Major General Raymond P. Murphy to the post. Murphy is Army's first civilian athletic director since Red Blaik resigned in 1959. The reason for the shift in policy, Rogers says, is to achieve "greater stability." He noted the comparatively greater success of sports at Navy, where Bo Coppedge, a now retired captain, has been director of athletics since June 1968.
Murphy had held the position before (1963-66) when he was on active duty, and he was instrumental in hiring Basketball Coach Bobby Knight, now at Indiana, and Football Coach Tom Cahill, now at Union College, two of the most successful West Point coaches in recent years. Nonetheless, his appointment probably won't rock college athletics. Even with Coppedge, Navy's football teams have won only 19 of 44 games during the last four seasons. But for Army, which in the same period has had a much more embarrassing 10-33 record, including four straight losses to Navy, it could be a step in the right direction.
THEY SAID IT
•Charles Johnson, Golden State guard, on breaking out of his two-month scoring slump: "Shooting is just like toenails. They may fall off occasionally, but you always know they'll come back."
•Bill Foster, Clemson basketball coach, on dislocating a shoulder during an upset victory: "I threw up my arms and one just kept on going."
•Rick Waits, Cleveland Indian pitcher, who has just signed his contract, on the new trend in baseball: "The difference is, it used to be you got paid after you did it. Now you get paid before."