At any track meet, high jumpers appear curiously out of place, interlopers. Usually tall and angular, they resemble skitterish, ungainly birds, which alone in this aviary no longer possess the power of flight. While others all about them soar and flash by, the high jumpers only preen and stretch and nest. They are known to be a quiet and introverted sort, as lazy at practice as they are inconsistent in competition.
From their improvised little pallets, they rise but rarely to pare off their sweat suits and address the distant bar. Facing it so still, heads cocked, it seems they must be listening for some unseen predator. Dwight Stones, the highest jumper of all time, may twitch uncontrollably in this pose, reacting to the caffeine in his body, from an over-the-counter painkiller he takes for his chronically weak ankles. Jumpers are allowed but two minutes to break this trance, and surely the time limit is not for the convenience of the meet or the fans, but is a favor to the jumpers. Were they not forced to move toward the bar, it is likely that most would stand there and commune with the proposition forever. It is, after all, insane to think: Me, leap over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and not disturb a hair on his head? But, at last, some stir. Some fidget. Some go through ritual motions, designed to overcome the dreadful inertia. Failure looms, and it is manifest: the bar clattering to the earth for all to see.
High jumping is one of the most primitive of athletic endeavors, and now is a discipline more than a sport. The preeminent Stones, who has learned to tumble backward over a height of 7'7¼", deals with the event by treating his body as if it were a contrivance, nothing more. Rushing to the bar, he is, his doctor says, "like a highly informed computer making last-second adjustments."
When he locks in, precisely 69'2" from the bar, waiting for the crowd and any breeze to still, his magnificent body takes on the form of an inanimate object, as if, say, it were a baseball a pitcher was ready to throw. Finally, some silent bell rings, some blind light flashes, and the man, Dwight Stones, thrusts forward this object, his body, sending it, as he says, "running into the sky."
The kinetic mechanism is triggered only after he perceives the proper apparition of Dwight Stones approaching the bar. "I see a translucent image of myself coming out of myself," he says. "I watch to see if it will make it. Many times it doesn't I have to concentrate harder. Those who know me well can often tell by my fifth step [of 10] whether or not I will make it. The last time I set the record, I could see two steps before I jumped that I had made it. I could see that so clearly that I even quit on it a little—almost too much."
A stranger to this arcane art must find it extremely difficult to comprehend what Stones is talking about, but the consolation is that soon enough the jumper will advance something that may be understood. The only time silence ever attends Stones is when he stands at his mark for those two minutes, in prelude to a jump. (One can almost hear the cavalryman whispering, "Things are quiet, too quiet.")
Stones possesses what can best be described as an exhausting voice: it grates, whines, portends, challenges; it officiates. Sometimes, it seems, he puts it on automatic pilot. Often he borrows other voices for variety and emphasis (AAU officials, as portrayed by Stones, always speak basso profundo), and regularly he reenacts entire past discussions. Also, there is pantomime, most effectively when he illustrates how exactly it was he put his foot in his mouth (another plug for Puma), and even in the most pedestrian conversations Stones babbles with his hands. "Maybe you'll notice that Dwight has some feminine mannerisms," says his mother, Sandy, herself no slouch in the loquacious league.
Stones has been called "The Mouth with Legs." and, indeed, he has drawn as much attention to himself and his event with his tongue as with his lower limbs. "He's done so much for high jumping," says a chief rival, Tom Woods, "but we just don't want to listen to him anymore." Stones once explained a victory by alluding to the losers: "It's hard to clear seven feet when you have one hand on your throat." All of French Canada came down upon him at the Olympics, when a squadron of reporters wrote that Stones declared, "I'm very upset with the French-Canadians. The stadium isn't finished, and that's just plain rude." While attending UCLA he attacked that university for not providing him with the cushy jobs that football and basketball players were getting. He refers blithely to the AAU as "blackmailers" and once turned down a trip to China in this way: "What would you do over there? You can't talk to the people. That means for 24 hours a day you'd be dependent on the AAU. I'd go berserk." He regularly puts down the jumping conditions at the best meets, but he has, as well, often boasted at meets he endorsed that he would set records—and did just that. Stones has set the world outdoor record three times, most recently at 7'7¼", and has broken the world indoor record, which now stands at 7'6½", seven times.
Everything considered, Dwight Stones has good reason to be keen on Dwight Stones, and he is not afraid to voice that opinion, e.g., "Nobody cared for high jumping for 10 years before me." Periodically, he makes such asinine declarations that even he backs off in the ensuing brouhaha, usually by promising that a more tactful new model of Dwight Stones has just been dashed off the assembly line. As he grudgingly allows, "I've accepted the fact that I don't know everything about everything."
Still, Stones retains what amounts to a moral obligation to be candid. This trait runs in the family, at least on his mother's side, where the twig is bent. Stones says, "I feel that I must say things that need being said," and then he goes on to relate a tale about a boy who was mute until he was nine years old. Then, out of the blue, he said, "The soup's cold." The tyke explained that the reason why he had never said anything before was that previously everything had been up to snuff. Well, Stones goes on, if the soup is cold, you had better call this to someone's attention or you're going to get cold soup as a matter of course.
O.K., but there are no intermediate temperatures in Dwight Stones' soup, just as there are none in his sport. High jumping is most especially not a game of inches. Baseball and football are measured in points, but they are each a game of inches: racing and swimming are measured in time, but they are each a game of inches. High jumping is measured in inches, but it is a game of either/ or. Either you get over the bar or you don't. Starting with soup, Stones looks upon everything in the world much this way—hot or cold, black or white, good or bad. As Bill Jankunis, another jumper and his close friend, says, "If Dwight likes you, he will do anything for you." But others—for example, some jumpers who Stones feels toadied to the AAU in a dispute this winter—cease to exist as persons. "I have no more feelings toward those people," he says. An uncommonly large number of his acquaintances have attained this non-person status. There is no middle ground.
His idol, whom he has never met, is Valeri Brumel. Stones took up high jumping the day he saw Brumel set a world record on TV. He was nine years old and "already had maxed on team sports." It was July 21, 1963, almost a decade to the day when Stones would first set the world record. But had he not seen Brumel, Stones probably would have found the event, anyway, for the two have a perfect marriage. With rancor still, Stones recalls his last days of baseball as a child: "The jerks! I'd be on deck and they'd strike out. I decided then I wanted to do something that didn't require a ball, setting screens, other players. Just me. High jumping was perfect. And it was all mine. Nobody else was doing it." He constructed his own bar and pit in the front yard. "It's no fun when no one can see you," Dwight Stones said.
The Faustian price that track pays for its glorious moment of quadrennial attention at the Olympics is that it operates in the penumbra of "annuals" the rest of the time. Because track is also the last big-time (sh)amateur sport, where the stars are gigolos for shoe companies, it has difficulties attracting and holding on to truly gifted American athletes. Stones, who is probably our best known track and field performer at this moment, is a good example. He would be a tennis player today (he is an ace "celebrity" player) had the tennis boom begun a few years sooner. "It was a sissy sport then." he says ruefully. "I look back on it now, and I sure wish I'd pursued that sissy sport."
Stones is single. He drives a Porsche and lives in a snappy apartment in Long Beach. He has a commentator's job with CBS and, like all track stars, he gets "expenses." It beats working. Still, were Stones a superstar in almost any other sport, he'd be a conglomerate. Nonetheless, he understands how you buy on margin. "I'm not just a here-present guy," he says. "I'm for the long-term betterment of Dwight Stones. So maybe high jumping is only for 10% of my life, but it is worth devoting myself to because it can have a great impact on the rest of my life. My parents have understood this all along."
Unfortunately, with a few conspicuous exceptions, the value of one's success in track has been pegged to gold, Olympic gold. For all of the sport's manic fixation on numbers—hundredths of seconds, fractions of inches—a track athlete's credentials are not in order if all he has beaten is the stopwatch or tape measure. To be the champion he must also have beaten the best with the Olympic flame burning overhead. It is ridiculous that track is still run on a 2,753-year-old timetable set by a bunch of Greeks who didn't want to stop wars each and every summer. But it is so. Stones has been voted high jumper of the year four years running (Brumel went five in a row) and he has jumped higher than any person in the history of mankind, but it rained one summer afternoon in the wrong place in the wide world, and so he is not the champion. Worse, although Stones is in the prime of his career, he cannot vindicate himself until 1980—and that will surely be his last chance. The pressure began to mount the moment he went out at a paltry 7'3¾" in a steady drizzle at Montreal, and there are rumors that Stones is strictly a big-mouthed front-runner, a gaudy numbers king who can't beat live people in the crunch of the big ones.
But, happily for those who failed, the year after any Olympics is always something of an obscurity in track and field. Stones is fortunate that the spotlight is dimmed for a while, and though he promises that 1978 will be "animal city" (that's good), he is content that '77 can be "experimental." Having mastered technique, Stones is taking advantage of this slow year to tinker with the machine, the body. He has no jumping coach. He does have doctors. There is Dr. Leroy Perry Jr., whom he refers to as "my chiropractor," and Dr. David Martin, who is "my physiologist." Says Stones, "I've acquired these people."
Says Tom Jennings, the manager of the Pacific Coast Club, of which Stones was once a member, "No one ever really coaches Dwight, but he likes to think he is dependent on somebody. Right now, it's those doctors."
Stones does not like imponderables cluttering up life. He prefers things settled. "Dwight is always convinced that he is right," says Francie Larrieu Lutz, the former U.S. women's mile record holder, who is an old and dear friend, "and he will not stop until he is convinced that he has convinced you." Stones wants all the romance removed from his specialty, all the human idiosyncrasy eliminated (and all the rain, too, if God will only pay attention). He wants high jumping laid out scientifically. Eat this plus practice that equals 7'7¼". Next question. And this is not all hokum. Just by studying the changes in Stones' body, the doctors, Perry and Martin, have, independent of each other, correctly predicted when the body would set a new world record. Perry thinks Stones can reach 7'9 1/1". Stones believes he will top out at 7'10½". But then Stones has also declared, "I've always known I'd be a complete success.... I plan to be a millionaire by 30."
He was at 7'3" in Montreal when the rain came in earnest. Thereafter, fearful of injury, he made only cursory attempts, and the crowd happily jeered the American blackguard. A Polish teen-ager named Jacek Wszola won the gold medal. Stones took the bronze. He got the bronze in Munich, too. His only consolation is when, inevitably, a reference is made to that day in Montreal and no one can remember the name of the gold medalist. Stones smiles, for once saying nothing. He always refers to the fellow, deferentially and formally, as "the Olympic champion."
Still unfazed, the two-time bronze medalist says, "I was totally ready in Montreal. I was so ready it was ridiculous. Without the rain, I would have set the record. No question. I would have given it to those 60,000 obscenity people screaming at me. They don't know anything about track in either Canada or the U.S., but at least they would have known I was giving them a record."
But so what the rain? Isn't rain just like the quality of mercy, dropping on everybody, Poles and Californians, much the same? Well, not necessarily in high jumping. Stones has little natural spring. Although he is 6'5", he can dunk a basketball only with great exertion. "I haven't got the calves for it," he explains. Instead of using the strength in his legs to shoot himself upward, he must convert the horizontal speed of the run-up into vertical thrust. His run of 10 steps is carefully diagramed—five and then five more, in the shape of a J, and he says that his run is 75% of his jump. Obviously, then, the final placement of the foot on the lift-off pad is crucial to the entire enterprise. If it is slick....
But then Stones calibrates everything so finely. He is forever demanding that the whole jumping apparatus be moved. "If the standards that hold up the bar are off just an inch, that is enough to ruin my whole effort," he says. To make sure that he begins his run from precisely the correct spot, he now determines his take-off mark through triangulation. "Those lines meet at only one place on earth," he intones. He has gotten his way sometimes—and antagonized other competitors—by promising meet directors a record if they would place the standards where he wants them. He went home to work out in California after the opening-day ceremonies in Montreal because the practice facilities "stink." He needs all the right pills. Improper food distresses him. Sugar verges on a conspiracy. His hips are unaligned and he has the X rays to prove it. And the rain. At Eugene, Ore., where he finished behind Jankunis in the sunshine of the Trials, there were some harsh words about the wind. Dwight Stones' whole life is poised precariously on a precipice of one Russian afternoon more than three years hence, and he keeps shaving it finer.
Notwithstanding, most people in track—even those who can't abide him—accept Stones' excuses for Montreal. It was a technical thing; he is a dry-weather jumper. That's just his style. But one person thinks that is all rubbish. That is his mother, Mrs. Sandy Duren. "All that about the rain is just a cop-out," Sandy says. "Dwight's just got to learn to jump in the rain. That's all there is to that." She pauses, and just as forcefully she says this, too, about her son: "It's best that Dwight didn't win in Montreal. He wasn't ready as a person."
The soup was cold here, too.
Bill Riordan, who once was Jimmy Connors' manager, has marveled that no great athlete has ever been as dependent upon women as Connors. He was trained by his mother and grandmother, is still closely aligned with his mother and requires the constant company of women for comfort and security. Like ships in the night, Connors and Stones passed through UCLA as freshmen the same year, and they share very similar experiences and dispositions. Neither is a diplomat, both have become drawing cards as villains, and Stones' life has revolved around women every bit as much as Connors'.
"Jimmy went through his obnoxious period at the same time I did," Stones says. "We both had to do our growing up in public." Stones' growing up was much stormier than Connors', however; his mother and father were constantly at odds—and it was often about Dwight that they fought. Years ago Sandy and Richard Stones—always referred to as "Dwight's father" by his ex-wife, in much the same way as Dwight says "the Olympic champion"—were divorced, the father surrendering his son to three generations of women: Dwight's maternal grandmother, Mrs. Alice Roberts; his mother; and his younger sister, Tammy.
Richard Stones, who works in a family construction firm, is of the first generation of Stoneses born in the U.S. His father had come from Sweden in 1919; his name was Stenstr√∂m, which means stones in the brook. When Richard was 19 and wearing an Air Force uniform, he married pretty Sandy Roberts, who was 17. "I shouldn't have gotten married," she says, "but it was the Korean War, and everybody was doing it."
Sandy had her first child, Dwight, when she was still a teen-ager. Mrs. Duren (after her divorce from Stones, Sandy was briefly remarried and had a third child, Bill) is now only 43 and, to complicate matters, looks younger still. In fact, none of Dwight's ladies look their age. One recent evening Mrs. Duren was in a fetching little short tennis dress; Mrs. Roberts, who is 72, wore a vivid blouse and slacks with white boots; and Tammy, 18, played off her long, flowing hair against a jazzy V-neck jump suit. They were in their house in Palm Springs, where they have recently moved from the Los Angeles area. Dwight calls the place "the shrine," so filled is it with his trophies, but the rooms are not cluttered; they are as well appointed, as open and as cheerful as the inhabitants. In the days, too, there is the laughter of children. Mrs. Duren has always adored kids, and she runs a small, licensed childcare center.
Dwight was born on Dec. 6, 1953, and Sandy was buoyed that he was a Sagittarius, which she considers an especially felicitous sign. She named him after the President, for whom she had campaigned. None of this, however, buttressed Sandy's shaky adolescent marriage. "I was a better mother than I was a wife," she admits.
"Hell, she built her whole world around me," says Dwight.
"I was wired to Dwight," Sandy goes on. "I didn't have anybody else for five years." From the first, she delighted in dressing up her little son in fancy togs, and that, plus her unstinting devotion to the child, led her husband to accuse her of trying "to turn my son into a fag."
The parents' fights left an emotionally rattled child. The first day in kindergarten, when all the other children made melanges of colorful scribbles, Dwight handed in a page done solidly with one black crayon. His eyes often crossed and he had difficulty getting them straight. At the age of 5½, he was shunted off to a military school, where he was boarded all week. Stones vividly recalls being beaten up the first day at military school. "And I'm a coward," he says. Strangely, he makes this point often. He likes to cite pole vaulters as courageous, while "I don't have any guts. Never have. I'm not curious to find out how brave I am."
Tammy came along when Dwight was five, in the last gasp of marriage. Shortly afterward Richard Stones moved out, and while the boy visited with his father periodically, he says he disliked him and made no effort to understand him until the last few years. But he grew all the closer to his mother. Her first clear recollection of Dwight the athlete was one day when he told her, "Someday, Mom, I'm going to be a great baseball star, and then I'll buy you a sable coat."
Back in public school, his reviews were mixed. He exhibited a high IQ and was always dressed immaculately. "I always gussied up my kids," Sandy says. However, he was not easy to handle. "From the third grade on, I was on to Dwight, but the teachers sometimes had to be scraped off the ceiling," Sandy says. "He wasn't bad, just a cutup. Perhaps you've heard that Dwight was a perfect child. Well, it's true, he nearly was. But with his teachers—he'd just find their weakest link and drive them into the corner."
To be sure, Dwight's mother was less than in awe of her son's educators. She describes herself as "very conservative," while Dwight says, "Mom's a John Bircher." Dismayed at liberal mollycoddlers in the classroom, Sandy removed Dwight from public school (as she was to do with Tammy and Bill) and packed him off to a small school run by the Congregational Church. This experience so isolated Dwight from the golden California mainstream that when he attempted re-entry to public school in the eighth grade he was unable to make the transition. "I was totally out of touch," he says. "My mother was out of touch."
He returned to the parochial school for another year before going back to public school. Even then, there were continuing problems. Well into high school, Dwight's mother would not permit him to wear jeans to school. "Dwight wanted to be like everyone else," she says, "and I don't approve of that." Humiliated by his mandated attire, the boy kept a pair of jeans hidden in his school locker and changed into them when he arrived in the morning.
He wanted desperately to be like the other kids, but he is also, forever, so very much like his mother. Stones and his mother do not bear a close physical resemblance—he looks more like his father, a lean man of 6'3"—but in every other way they are a match: their mannerisms and expressions, their tone, their determination and assurance, their competitiveness. Neither is in any way self-conscious about this close relationship, which has, of course, elicited gossipy attention. Stones still makes it a point to telephone his mother after every important competition, and at any slight perception of criticism, he and his ladies circle the wagons and start firing back.
At one point, Sandy grew convinced that Jennings, as manager of the Pacific Coast Club, was trying to drive a wedge between herself and her son. Dwight had just dropped out of UCLA, and Jennings urged him to take an apartment of his own in order to get away from his nearly all-female environment. Stones did. Jennings also took to rooming with the boy on road trips, and, rather like an older brother, tried to help educate him in the ways of the track world—"travel-agency stuff," Dwight says now. At the time, Stones took advantage of his first real platform away from home to strut and speechify and call himself "Big D."
Mrs. Duren simmered over Jennings, and eventually Stones did leave the PCC to complete his college eligibility at Long Beach State. When that ran out last spring, Stones started up his own small group—the Desert Oasis Track Club—at his mother's urging. "Listen, I like Tom," Stones says, "but he tried to drive Mom and me apart. Tom never had a close relationship with his own parents, so he couldn't tolerate mine."
Jennings refuses to get in the middle of this family fray, but he does admit to being rather entertained by Stones' contention that he has transformed himself completely since the clangorous Big D days in Jennings' company. But then, Stones also periodically issues proclamations that he is no longer "obnoxious" and has suddenly become a retiring, soft-spoken, new and improved fellow, who might easily be confused with the well-known gentleman from Assisi.
Says Jennings, chuckling, "Dwight never changes at all. He believes that change amounts to declaring that he has changed. Usually what happens is that he says something that embarrasses him, and so then he goes up to the track and field writers' luncheon in L.A. and announces that he has changed."
In any event, the Stones aggregation can never be intimidated. It is a cocksure family proud of its unorthodoxy. Track officials would be wise to keep this following colloquy in mind the next time they are baffled by some outburst from Stones. This took place when his mother and his grandmother were trying to explain why they gave up on living in the tightly packed Los Angeles area, with its liberal functionaries, dark conspiracies and nosy conformists.
Mother: We're strange. We're odd. We don't fit.
Grandmother: We're screwy.
Mother: We're very private and independent people. That's why we're here.
Grandmother: That's why we're not there.
Unfortunately for the teen-age Stones, the fierce individualism of his home was of no profit to him when he was finally returned to Glendale High as a skinny, insecure kid who wore the wrong clothes and tried too hard. "You know the guy who breaks into the conversation and then can't say anything right?" he asks. "That was me." Also, he got pimples.
Stones often talks of high school. It was a brutal time in his life, as it is for many. Say what you will about the importance of Montreal or Moscow, Stones gives the impression that no gold medal could ever surpass the thrill of leaving behind in his dust all those Glendale High big shots who snubbed him. Glendale High looks like one of those schools that all the kids from the situation comedies attend. The peer pressure must be so great that it can be measured with a barometer. There are mountains in the background, the students' cars are parked all around, and there is a marquee out front. A marquee. And Dwight Stones had to wear different pants. Then he hit on high jumping.
"All I wanted was to be accepted," he says. "We had our fifth reunion last year, but I couldn't be there because I was at the Olympic training camp. Well, I'm glad I couldn't go back." He bites that off. "I would have hated all of a sudden having so many 'friends.' I don't think I could have kept a civil tongue in my head. I probably would have reverted to the way I used to be and acted very immature. You see, I know I'm never going to be accepted by those people. But maybe I was obsessed because they wouldn't accept me. Maybe that made me jump higher. Maybe they did me a big favor."
When he focuses his mind, Stones is a very orderly thinker, but in a way that requires neat cause and effect—or, from another point of view, instant gratification. He is majoring in speech now at Long Beach State, taking courses one night a week, but because he has no more athletic eligibility, he considers it all something of a divertissement. "I don't need it," he says. "I'll never use it." In high school, jumping—which he had fooled around with for years—suddenly struck him as something he could use to attract attention and girls. To his mind, popularity could be reduced to a cause-and-effect formula. "Dwight thought that the higher he jumped, the more girls he could get," his mother explains.
In the same way nowadays, you solve problems by up and declaring a new, improved Dwight Stones. Or, if you insult the touchy French-Canadians one day, you appear the next in a T shirt reading i love french-canadians, and everything is peachy keen. But, of course, where real life is different from high jumping is that you don't get three tries at every new height. "What really hurt me," Stones says, the hurt still evident, "is that I wasn't even accepted on my own team in high school. I was never even nominated for captain."
But he cleared seven feet as a senior—on March 27, 1971—and he was offered a scholarship to UCLA. Perhaps more important, he realized that he never would have attained either had it not been for another man's help. John Barnes, the Glendale track coach, a handsome, no-nonsense man who had been an Olympian in the 800 meters in 1952, not only nurtured Stones as a high jumper but also steadied him as a person. "I don't care if you jump 10 feet, Dwight, you're only worth five points to me," Barnes told him one day when the boy's conceit was running especially high.
Barnes was a disciplinarian—he made his athletes cut their hair short at a time when that was a cosmic issue—and, as such, he appealed to the mother as much as to the son. In a very real sense, Barnes was the first male authority figure of any substance for Stones, and the boy worked hard to please him. The thorough conscientiousness with which Stones approaches his training was established under Barnes. He could never work less diligently, for that would slight Barnes, the man he still consults.
Dr. Perry is another important man to Stones. One day in the Olympic Village at Montreal, Stones happened upon Mac Wilkins, the discus world-record holder and another disciple of Dr. Perry's. Wilkins was eating food Stones considered unwholesome, and so he stopped and railed at the big fellow for "insulting Dr. Perry and your own body." Stunned and properly chastised, Wilkins pushed his plate of goodies aside.
But always before there were only women close to Stones, and this concerned everyone in the family. "I was so afraid I was raising a sissy," his mother says. She need not have feared. The greatest tribute Stones has paid his women is that he has enjoyed them so much that he has been encouraged to seek the company and pleasures of other women. As Stones would have it, not since Georgie Porgie has there been such a kindergarten Lothario as he. "Hey," he reports, "at age five or six I was making out with girls. I'm not kidding: five or six. I never went through that stage where boys hated girls. I was always girl-oriented. Still am. I'd much rather be with women anytime. I don't particularly trust men." It does not seem insignificant that the particular stage in his life when he refers to himself as being "obnoxious" was, in fact, a time when his friends say Stones was especially self-conscious about his acne and seldom dared to take out girls.
While Stones suffers no poverty of distaff companionship these days, he is mindful of his mother's two bad marriages, and he confidently expects to remain unattached until he is through with track. Then, as his friends are fond of telling him, he is going to make someone a wonderful wife, for he is a dandy and devoted housekeeper. His apartment is exquisitely decorated, just the right shades and styles, done so well that his Mickey Mouse collection—clock, telephone, place mats, dishes—fits in as well as his trophies are accommodated at his mother's. Stones prefers to locate himself in the kitchen, where he can fix his many special meals and tidy up. "You'd be surprised how many undomesticated women there are around these days," he exclaims, preparing fruits and milk.
The private Stones—as apart from the alleged "new" one that is periodically marketed—is, in fact, a very private fellow, as introverted as other high jumpers are in public. "I'm fine here at home," he says. "Me and my music and my food—I don't get bored here." In fact, while Stones is recognized for his braggadocio, the flip side, the one never played in public, is of an incredibly thoughtful and earnest individual—as an athlete and a man.
"I enjoy his company," says Francie Larrieu Lutz. "I don't know if I could enjoy it for 24 hours a day, but I know Dwight would be a person I would always turn to if I needed help. I have. Dwight is concerned. He cares."
He possesses old-fashioned instincts of loyalty and devotion. There is a ledger for life; he never steals from his training to pay off the rest of him. "Most everybody thinks he's flaky," John Barnes says, "but he's one of the most stable athletes I've ever known. He must be to be so consistent." Dr. Perry marvels at the amount of careful, educated research that Stones applies to his body. "In that sense, he is totally unique as an athlete," Perry says.
He is an authority on the statistical minutiae of track and field and a defender of the faith, wounded that track must contest for popularity from such a disadvantaged position. He never lets the sport down. "No one I've coached has ever honored their commitments like Dwight," Jennings says. Not long ago Peter Spengler, a vice-president of Bristol-Myers, received a long, unsolicited letter signed "Dwight Edwin Stones, World High Jump Record Holder." thanking Bristol-Myers for its generous support of track and field. It was the first letter thanking the company that Spengler had ever received from any athlete in any sport.
In his apartment, Stones sometimes sits at the dining-room table autographing photographs of himself clearing the bar at 7'7¼". He orders the photos himself and will work hours at a time, signing them ("Much happiness, Dwight Stones"), posting them, hundreds of them, at his own expense. Long after a meet has concluded, he will stand patiently and sign autographs for the children who cluster around him. Before they earn this prize, however, he makes them queue up and mind their manners, looking down sternly upon them.
At 6'5", and apparently not quite finished growing, Stones towers over virtually everyone at a track meet. He adds to the impression of height with his lean angularity: long face, long limbs; also, he stands up a lot, so as not to be missed. He wears pipestem warm-up pants that are a bit short, and like most jumpers he carries a shoulder bag, so when he and the other long-legged jumpers stride into the proceedings, they resemble a passel of hookers.
While others in his event hunker down between jumps, snuggling up against their little shoulder bags, Stones prances about, kibitzing and perusing the crowd. At last, with the bar at seven feet, Stones seizes the stage. Although high jumpers spend an inordinate amount of tiresome time taking off and putting back on their sweat clothes, few of these bashful sorts know how to undress in style. They yank at their tops and catch their bottoms on their rubber-soled shoes. Stones has learned to disrobe and redress with grace and élan. Ready to jump, he stands on his mark at salute, with socks and shorts alike pulled high. With his blond mane brushed back, there is the air of a stallion about him.
He makes a splendid figure. The expression "Greek god" has lingered in the language to signify a brawny, muscle-bound body, the kind that is out of fashion. In today's society, where thinness is prized and iron pumpers are midway attractions, Stones has the prototype California god body: long and loose, an isthmus for a waist, a lean torso and shoulders as wide and thin as a bridge span.
An odd aspect of jumping is that you don't get better at jumping by practicing jumping. You must struggle with the components, and then hope they come together. Thus, Stones alternately works with weights (he cleans and jerks 220 now) and on speed, running both sprints and longer distances. The rest of the time he reserves for properly fueling himself, with a succession of demi-meals and pills (up to 21 at a clip). As witness the Wilkins episode, Stones is something of a nutritional zealot, and one recent morning, when he went on a pancake binge, he was overwhelmed with guilt.
That afternoon Stones devoted himself to running a series of 330-yard works at four-minute intervals. He practices at Long Beach State, where he parks illegally next to the track facilities by the expedient of driving down sidewalks, as students and faculty scurry before the Porsche like so many barnyard ducks and chickens. It is that direct logic again: if you jump higher, you get more girls; if you set world records, you drive on the sidewalk. And if you eat a lot of pancakes with syrup, you must be punished.
He warms up and begins his workout. His stated goal is to run the 330s in 42 seconds. He times the first couple himself, and then gives his stopwatch to Ron Allice, the Long Beach coach, his team coach last year. Stones speaks highly of Allice, both as a man and as a track technician, but Allice has recently hurt Stones. Allice does not know this, though. He does not know that he has nicked the strict code of Dwight Stones.
When the college season was over last year, Stones got the squad members to chip in for a watch for the coach. Dwight picked it out himself and paid the lion's share. But the last few times Stones has seen Allice the coach has not worn the watch. Stones feels betrayed.
Stones now gives the coach his stopwatch and asks him to time him on his third 330. "Here," he snaps, "you need a watch." Allice does not appreciate the crisp message. Stones runs the 330. Allice tells him it was 43 even. Stones is furious at this news. He screams at the coach and rips the watch from his hands. He says that the coach wasn't paying attention, that he started timing too soon. He says that it was "impossible" for him to have run 43 even, because he always knows exactly how he is running, and it felt like 41.8 to him. He storms away, with the watch.
Allice doesn't respond. "I'm sorry," he says at last when Stones has strolled some distance away. "Dwight's got a bad head today. Something's bothering him." Allice does not know about his watch. Or the pancakes, either, for that matter.
Stones times himself for his fourth 330. He is way on the far side of the track by now. Allice borrows a stopwatch, and when Stones breaks again for his last 330, the coach times him. In the stretch, Allice says, "He can't make it. It's killing him. He's been doing too much weight work to shift over and try to run this fast. Dwight told himself he's ready for this, but he isn't, and it's upset him." Stones reaches the finish. Allice clicks his stopwatch. It reads 42.8.
Stones staggers about. He has run his guts out. He even thinks he is going to throw up. Finally, he catches his breath and his composure and he comes back. What was your time, Dwight? "Forty-one, nine," replies the new, improved Dwight Stones. "I told him I was ready to do it."