At the Munich Olympics of 1972, no champion competed stronger or with more joy than John Akii-Bua of Uganda. In setting the world record for the 400-meter hurdles and indulging his delight after the race, Akii-Bua was a splash of joy on Munich's tragic backdrop.
For the last 11 months, however, sadness has been Akii-Bua's lot. Denied permission to compete alone out of his country, Akii-Bua has not raced internationally since last June, and though he still trains, he has given thought to ending his track career.
A member of the Lango tribe that Idi Amin, the sinister Ugandan dictator, has been purging, Akii-Bua described his situation to Bill Brubaker of The Miami News in an overseas phone call last week.
While his African and American friends have feared for his life, Akii-Bua told Brubaker that he was in no danger. He is a policeman in Kampala, and he does not want to leave Uganda permanently because he has 15 family members to support.
"I may run no more," Akii-Bua said to Brubaker. "I have still been training but I can't get any competition anymore. It's because of the National Council of Sports. They won't give me clearance to compete out of Uganda. They just don't want me to go. They want me to carry a coach with me. I don't need a coach. We have only one national coach, and if I take him, the rest of the athletes in the country—about 30 of them—will stay without a coach."
Apprised of his friends' concern, Akii-Bua said, "I'm glad they care about me. Naturally I'm disappointed. Sometimes I think of quitting track forever, but I think Edwin Moses [world-record setter in last week's AAU meet, page 24] needs me. Only I can challenge him, nobody else. In my spare time I don't do anything. I just sit and listen to records. You know, Diana Ross."
Akii-Bua asked Brubaker for a favor: "Can you send me your old copies of Track & Field News? I want to see what's been happening. Maybe next year I will run. I hope." So do we.
KISMET COMES THROUGH
When Portland beat Philadelphia for the NBA Championship, the Blazers' success was attributed to teamwork, a sometime thing for the 76ers. It seems, however, that destiny may also have had a hand in the proceedings.
Writing in the Oregonian, Larry Colton recalls a story based in part on the journals of Lewis and Clark and another explorer, ironically named David Thompson, in a book of Northwest history called Flood Tide of Empire.
The journals tell how the explorers met an Indian chief in Oregon who was accompanied by a man described as "...about 25 years of age with long red hair, fair skin and a partially freckled face. He is slender, remarkably well made and at least half-white."
On the redhead's arm was tattooed the name of his father, an English sailor who had deserted the sea for Indian life. The father's name was Jack Ramsay.
Oh, yes, it seems that part of the research for the book came from another volume. Its title? The Doctor in Oregon.
With a base hit his last time at the plate, Sid Davis of Bear River High School, Tremonton, Utah would have ended his three-year varsity career with a batting average of 1.000. As it was, Davis finished as one of the most productive members of his team—despite a career average of .000.
Sparking more rallies than any other Bear, Davis went to the plate 24 times and drew 24 walks. Davis stands 3'9", and crouching at the plate in a stance developed by his coach, Dick Green, he offers opposing pitchers a strike zone about the size of a milk carton.
"He's given us maybe 10 victories over the past three years," Green says of his disciplined pinch hitter.
"Sometimes I'd just like to smack it," Davis admits, "but I know that wouldn't help the team."
As everyone knows, professional football is the vocation of some rather large people. Just how large has now been pointed out, with the fingers no less, of the Oakland Raiders.
Last week the Raiders received their championship rings, emblematic of victory in Super Bowl XI. While the average man has a ring size of 10¼, the Raider average is 12‚Öì, with some 14s among their number. The biggest went to Otis Sistrunk, the 6'4", 273-pound defensive lineman, who wears a size 17. That ring is almost 3‚Öù inches in circumference and 1[5/32] inches in diameter.
The club record, however, is still held by Dan Birdwell, a defensive tackle who retired in 1970. Birdwell's ring, a size 19, was so large that the knot of a necktie could pass through it.
The alltime record probably belongs to Bronko Nagurski, whose ring is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Nagurski's size-23 ring measures approximately 4‚Öú inches in circumference and 1‚Öú inches in diameter.
HURRY ON DOWN TO BELMONT
The 70,000 people who showed up at Belmont Park Saturday did so despite the best efforts of the New York Racing Association to keep the race a secret. No wonder the NYRA is in trouble. It has lost thousands of customers to the OTB parlors strewn throughout the city, a few more because of labor difficulties, and stands to lose who knows how many when the Meadowlands in New Jersey opens its first thoroughbred meeting in September. NYRA Chairman Dinny Phipps needed a bang-up selling job. So, the week of the Kentucky Derby, just one month before the Belmont, Phipps hired a marketing expert and gave him the title vice-president in charge of marketing. It seemed like a smart move.
But new VP Ted Demmon admits that the only thing he knew about horses is which end the tail is on. His previous job was marketing vice-president for Hardee's, the "hurry on down to" hamburger joints, where he was also in charge of product development. While Phipps hasn't yet assigned him that job, someone at the NYRA should have told Demmon that a man named Billy Turner has just spent a year developing the hottest product the NYRA could have hoped for. Yet just three days before Seattle Slew was to become the first undefeated Triple Crown winner in the history of racing, the television ads in New York were still inviting people to come on out to beautiful Belmont Park, where, just maybe, some afternoon they might see another Secretariat.
FIGURE THIS ONE
Another facet of the lively ball controversy has been revealed by William Weiss, historian for the Class A California League who notes the phenomenon is not limited to the majors. Hitters have been on a tear in Weiss' six-team league, with homers up 98%, triples 34%, doubles 24% and runs scored 19%. Batting averages also are higher with 24 regulars above .300 compared to 14 in 1976.
But ponder this: the California League has not changed baseballs. A Wilson ball is still being used and the first month many were leftovers from last year.
A weird thing happened to Nathaniel Crosby, Bing's 15-year-old son, when he failed to qualify for the California State Amateur golf championship last week. Playing at the San Francisco Olympic Club, Nathaniel drove into the rough on the 14th hole, where he found a Titleist I. Unfortunately, he discovered it was not his ball only after he had hit it out into the fairway.
Young Crosby then asked for a committee ruling and stood aside while waving the next foursome through. It included Mat Palacio, who also was playing a Titleist I and who rashly hit the ball Crosby had played when he came upon it.
The combination of errors cost each a two-stroke penalty. Crosby eventually took a 10 on the hole and Palacio, the 1936 state champion who also failed to qualify by one stroke, a seven.
"I'm young and there will be other chances," Nathaniel said. "From now on I'll put a special mark on my golf ball."
NAME THE RASCAL
Newspapers in San Diego and Dallas gave baseball fans an opportunity to finger the culprits responsible for the failure of the Padres and Rangers to improve their 1976 records, despite the purchase by each club of two free agents. San Diego spent $3.25 million for Gene Tenace and Rollie Fingers, and Texas bought Doyle Alexander and Bert Campaneris for $2 million. When the teams faltered, the San Diego Tribune and the Dallas Times Herald started polling.
In San Diego Club President Buzzie Bavasi was named chief goat on 1,111 of 2,000 ballots returned. Manager John McNamara was second with 211 (he had been fired two days before), followed by Pitching Coach Roger Craig (205), owner Ray Kroc (114), Director of Player Personnel Bob Fontaine (58), the pitching staff (35), disgruntled First Baseman Mike Ivie (32) and the entire team (22). The media drew a total of 60 raps.
The Times Herald survey was conducted on a Friday night at Arlington Stadium, after the Rangers had lost five of their last seven games. Of 142 fans queried, 38 found fault with Manager Frank Lucchesi, while 37 blamed the entire team. The rest of the ballots indicted Executive Vice-President Eddie Robinson, 26; owner Brad Corbett, 20; everybody, 18; the media, 2; and General Manager Dan O'Brien, who had but one critic.
While the San Diego and Texas polls evolved from team failures, the Baltimore Orioles are taking a survey to discover why quality performance isn't reflected at the box office. Contending for first place in the AL East, the O's have drawn almost 70,000 below their attendance at this time last year. The problem is an old one in Baltimore, where the Orioles have not reached their attendance breakeven point of 1,100,000 in the last eight seasons despite five division titles, three American League pennants and a World Series championship. The pollsters expect to interview between 12,000 and 15,000 Baltimore fans. By the end of the season, if not sooner, the Orioles hope to have a better understanding of who comes to their games and how their numbers can be increased.
The United States entry in the Intercontinental Cup basketball series returned home from Europe last week with few good words to say for international competition. The U.S. team, a group of Metro Conference all-stars, finished its two-week tour with a 2-3 record, beating Israel and Belgium and losing to Italy, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
What ruined the trip for the Americans, however, was not their record but the referees, who, Coach Gale Catlett of Cincinnati charged, were "either incompetent or just plain cheating." While we are as weary as anyone of having to listen to losing basketball coaches complain interminably about officiating, perhaps Catlett's claim has validity. In the five games, 164 fouls were called against the U.S. compared to 114 for the opposition. The Americans outscored the Europeans from the field 204-172, but the Europeans made 165 of 224 free throws while the Americans sank 74 of 137.
A 107-85 loss to Italy epitomized the U.S. frustration. Officials George Turner of England and Alfred Drost of West Germany whistled 45 fouls against the Americans and only 18 against the Italians, who went to the free-throw line 72 times. Seven U.S. players fouled out of the game and only four were available in the last 1:34 of competition.
"I know it means a lot to those countries to beat the United States," Catlett says, "but how far can they go? If officiating like this continues, I'd recommend the U.S. not compete in the Intercontinental Cup again."
THEY SAID IT
•Pete Rose, on the way his salary has gone up: "With the money I'm making. I should be playing two positions."
•Frank Broyles, former Arkansas football coach, on his retirement: "My wife and family are very pleased. They had all forgotten I had a good disposition."
•Gene Shue, after a team meeting at which he castigated his Philadelphia 76ers for popping off to the press: "Fifteen minutes after I told them that, one of the sportswriters had the story."