As Philadelphia's pro teams were slugging it out in the NBA and NHL playoffs, 29,647 spectators took last Saturday off and went to Franklin Field to watch the finals of the 83rd Penn Relay Carnival. They were rewarded with some sizzling competition and, unlike those other track fans in Des Moines, they saw some Olympians produce the most heat. Leading the way was Herman Frazier, the 22-year-old 400-meter bronze medalist at Montreal, who ran anchor for Arizona State on all three of its winning relays—400, 800 and 1,600 meters—which were good for a world record, a college mark and a triple that had not been accomplished at Penn since 1952.
In the 800-meter relay the Sun Devils set their world record of 1:21.4, lowering by .1 second the mark shared by Tennessee and Italy. Perhaps more surprising, considering that two of Frazier's teammates, Tony Darden and Gerald Burl, also ran in all three relays, was Arizona State's collegiate record in the 1.600, the final running event of the day. They clocked a 3:01.9, bettering their own mark by .9 of a second.
Favorites also rose to the occasion in two individual events. One was the men's 100-meter dash, in which local hero Steve Riddick faced Steve Williams and Don Quarrie, the Olympic 200-meter gold medalist. The other was the Ben Franklin Mile, which featured a battle among Wilson Waigwa of Kenya and Texas-El Paso, who won the race in 1975, Paul Cummings, the defending Penn Relay champion, and Steve Scott, the 20-year-old junior from the University of California at Irvine who has emerged as America's top new miler.
For Riddick and Scott, the Penn Relays were especially significant, providing the first big test for each after successful indoor seasons. Riddick, a gold medal relayist at Montreal who had dominated the sprints all winter, met the challenge in stride. He took the lead after 10 meters and won in 10.31, to Williams' 10.33 and Quarrie's 10.34. "Winning is more important to me than the time," said Riddick. "I'm still sharpening up."
May 8, 1977
For Scott, running a fast time had to suffice. "I doubt that winning the race will take anything less than a 3:53 or 3:54," he had said beforehand, and he proved to be right.
Last January, Scott wangled an invitation to the Sunkist meet in Los Angeles by promising he would act as a rabbit. He finished third. "After the Sunkist," he said, "I decided that I would never be a rabbit again." Five weeks later in the San Diego indoor track meet, he came in a surprise second to Waigwa in 3:56.5. Then, early in March, in the Meet of Champions at Irvine, he broke four minutes for the first time in an outdoor mile, clocking a 3:57.8, and less than a hour later he ran the 800 meters in 1:48.1.
Scott led from the start in Philadelphia, burning the first quarter in 58.6 and passing the half in 1:58.4, with only Ron Speirs of the New York Athletic Club and Cummings in close pursuit. Waigwa, as usual, provided the suspense as he trailed in ninth and last place, as many as 30 yards back. Then, with 600 yards to go, Waigwa began to move up. Cummings took the lead before the gun lap, being clocked in 2:58.1 for three-quarters, but Waigwa was in fourth, ready to strike. The Kenyan's final burst recalled the finishes of his countryman, Kip Keino, except that he did not fling a cap when he started his sprint. Instead he simply swept past Speirs, Scott and Cummings on the last turn and finished in 3:53.8, having run the last quarter in 54.9. Scott finished second in 3:55.1 and Steve Foster of the Florida Athletic Association, a foot behind, was third in the same time. Speirs, Cummings and Ray Flynn of Eastern Tennessee State also were under four minutes.
Waigwa may be the hottest miler from Kenya, but Scott, four years his junior, is clearly the brightest prospect for the U.S. since Tony Waldrop dropped out of sight. "If you lose to Waigwa," said Scott after the race, "you're not losing to a slouch. I'm still experimenting. I was trying to take it out faster, hoping to take the kick out of him, but I wasn't able to. Waigwa never tightens up, and he's always confident he can get you. At the end it was as if he were running a 220-yard dash."
Later this month Scott looks forward to some experimenting when he races against Filbert Bayi, a much more famous front-runner, in Kingston, Jamaica. How does it feel to be billed as America's top miler? "I haven't proven myself yet," says Scott. But as his first major outdoor performance indicates, he is certainly building up a strong case.