Houston McTear was angry. During the indoor track season he had won six of seven sprints, failing only in the Philadelphia Track Classic in which he was disqualified for two false starts. In the process, McTear had established three world records: 6.54 at 60 meters, 6.11 at 60 yards and 5.25 at 50 yards. Yet on the morning of last week's AAU Indoor Track and Field Championships at Madison Square Garden, McTear felt slighted. "I want to win the national championship," he fumed, "because right now I feel people aren't giving me the credit I deserve. If I win here, maybe they'll pay me a little more attention."
McTear was sitting with his trainer, Larry McVey, in the lobby of a hotel across the street from the Garden. McVey stoked his runner's fire. "This is the fastest man in the world," he said. "We haven't looked at anyone's back this whole year, but you don't see Houston's name on the marquee at Madison Square Garden. You know what name they got up there? Francie Larrieu."
At last Friday night's meet McTear set matters straight. By the end of the evening he was sharing top billing with Larrieu, having been named along with the woman miler as the meet's outstanding competitors. Larrieu had earned the honor by kicking past Jan Merrill to win the mile in a meet-record 4:37. She then delighted the crowd by tossing autographed pictures of herself into the stands. But it was McTear who stole the show. He broke his own 60-yard world record, winning by an awesome three feet in 6.04. More important, McTear, who is renowned for his fast start, ran his record despite leaving the blocks second to Steve Williams, winner of last summer's World Cup 100-meter dash.
McTear wasn't surprised by his performance. Between his verbal outburst in the morning and his burst of speed in the evening he had telephoned his next-door neighbor in California and predicted his world record. Yet he didn't feel like basking in his indoor glory. "I want to go outdoors. I wish the 1980 Olympics were next week," he told reporters after the 60.
March 6, 1978
The press was quick to remind the 21-year-old McTear that success indoors doesn't necessarily carry over to the outdoor season, that just last year Steve Riddick won 15 of 16 indoor sprints and then flopped outdoors, and that a fast start wouldn't be enough to assure him of victory at 100 meters. McTear refused to have his spirits dampened. "I don't agree with those people who say all I've got is a fast start," he said. "None of the sprinters who say that about me ever ran a 9.7 in the eighth grade. You got to be fast to do that. I ran a 9.9 in the seventh grade the first time I hit the track. In tennis shoes."
McTear's preeminence this winter stems from greatly increased self-confidence. He has transferred from Santa Monica Junior College to Cerritos College near Long Beach, Calif. because there he can get individual tutoring. Meanwhile, his association with the Muhammad Ali Track Club, which was founded by the late greatest to give athletes the same opportunities Ali felt the Louisville Athletic Association gave him when he was starting out, has brought stability to his life and training.
One of McTear's biggest handicaps in the past was that he was muscle-bound. He is a blocky 5'7½", 158 pounds. When he was a high school senior in Baker, Fla., a pull in his right hamstring kept him from competing in the 1976 Olympics, even though he had qualified for the U.S. team, and that same pull bothered him all last season. "When Houston came to me, he couldn't touch the floor with his hands. His muscles were as hard as this wood," McVey said, tapping his fist on a table. "I'm a fanatic for stretching, and I've gotten Houston's muscles more pliable, more maneuverable. He doesn't have to worry about pulls anymore. The world is just beginning to see a healthy Houston McTear."
The Western Hemisphere, if not the world, also got its first look at a trimmer Maren Seidler last Friday. She has been America's best female shotputter since about 14 B.C. Or so it sometimes seems. She has been winning national championships since 1967 and now, at the ripe old age of 27, holds eight outdoor titles and six indoor. In 1974 she set the American indoor shotput record of 56'11", a far space ahead of her closest competitor. But internationally Seidler is nothing. The world indoor record, held by Helena Fibingerova of Czechoslovakia, is 73'9¾", and Seidler's name does not appear among the top 20 on the world list. So six months ago she took off for Munich to train under a coach named Christian Gehrmann.
Gehrmann quickly shaved 25 pounds off Seidler's 6'2", 220-pound frame while increasing her strength and improving her technique. "Before I just dabbled with training," Seidler says. "Now I know how to train with intensity and a sense of purpose. I feel that if I do the work I'll get results."
She has already gotten them. On Jan. 21 in Sindlefingen, Germany, she threw 61'2¼" at an indoor meet. She returned to America the night before the AAU championships. "I felt very, very good," she said with a big smile. "I was happy and anxious to say, 'Hey, this is what I'm able to do.' " Whom she would say it to was another matter, the AAU having scheduled her event in the afternoon, lest an errant shot squish McTear or some other sprinter through the Garden floor. Nevertheless, in front of her fellow competitors and close friends, Seidler became the first American woman to put the shot over 60' on American soil, indoor or out. Her high-arcing put of 61' beat the second-place throw by 11'5¾".
McTear's and Seidler's heroics aside, the AAU meet was a curiously limp finale to what had been an exciting indoor season. McTear's race was the fourth event of the evening, and the program went downhill from there, deteriorating to the point where in the next-to-last race two women relay runners began exchanging blows with their batons and finally stopped running and squared off on the track. The AAU might well have wanted to forget the whole evening. For a national championship in an indoor season during which 29 world records were set, the meet was more notable for the competitors it didn't produce than for the competition it did produce.
Among the high points of this year's indoor season were Dick Buerkle's world-record mile, Mike Tully's world-record pole vault, Mary Decker's comeback as a middle-distance runner and the emergence of 18-year-old Renaldo Nehemiah as the top high hurdler in the U.S. Yet none of those athletes were in action at the Garden. Nor were Mark Belger, who recently set an American indoor record in the 880, milers Niall O'Shaughnessy and Filbert Bayi, sprinter Harvey Glance and 1,000-meter man Mike Boit. The reasons ranged from injury to conflicts with college meets to ill-disguised lack of interest and disenchantment with the AAU. As one meet official said, "Because the AAU does nothing, or almost nothing, for the athletes in America, the athletes feel no obligation to participate in the AAU meet." A competitor put it more strongly. "It's a oneway relationship. The AAU just uses us to get more money for its TV contract. None of it ever filters down to us."
With all the dropouts, the high jump—a duel between the new and old world-record holders, Franklin Jacobs and Dwight Stones—figured to be a sure-fire highlight. But even that event fizzled when Jacobs couldn't get his steps down and performed, by his own account, "like an amateur," which the AAU, of course, hopes he is. To accommodate an unwieldy field of 24, the high jump opened at a record height of 7'½". Jacobs cleared the bar on his first attempt but needed three tries to make the next height, 7'2½", and then failed to clear 7'4½". Stones made that height on his first try, then failed in three attempts at 7'6½" but won the competition on fewer misses from Benn Fields, the only other jumper to clear 7'4½".
As usual, Stones was openly contemptuous of the AAU and of the importance of winning the national championship. "Big deal. Who cares?" he said.
The first-and second-place finishers in each event were invited to join an AAU team for a March meet in Milan, Italy against a European team. Asked if he would accompany the team, Stones replied, "Of course not. I'll be competing in the World Superstars in the Bahamas." Stones recently finished second in the men's Superstars, and he conceded that his $21,000 in prize money was more rewarding than the $5 per diem the AAU gives its athletes abroad. Of course, the AAU also provides room and board. Stones characterized that as "some dump where you can eat pasta all day." In general, he seemed to agree with the coach who said, "First prize is three days in Milan. Second prize is a week in Milan. No one wants to go, and that's the big enticement to bring people to this meet."
Houston McTear, however, had needed no additional enticement to get him to the AAU Championships. As he and Larrieu were called to receive their awards as top male and female athletes, McTear saw a huge trophy and thought it was his. The trophy, however, was for the meet's winning men's team, the Philadelphia Pioneers. McTear had to settle for a weighty medallion. As he headed for an exit, he grumbled, "They didn't give me what I wanted. I wanted that big trophy." He was still playing the role of the angry young man, but he couldn't suppress a smile. After all, he was getting a little more attention.