For a while it looked as if last week's NCAA indoor track championships would turn out to be one of those Detroit products that have to be recalled because of defects. Runners wandered out of lanes and were disqualified, or tumbled out of contention, or performed below par because of injury or sickness; batons clattered unpassed to the floor of Cobo Arena; and coaches suffered severe brain fade. But then, as the two-day meet moved toward its finale on Saturday afternoon, Mike Tully and Franklin Jacobs did their bit for quality control, and the 14th annual meet, as well as the 1978 indoor season, ended up glittering like a custom-finished Caddy.
Tully, the 21-year-old UCLA senior who hopes to become a Hollywood actor, was the biggest star. In true show-business tradition, his was the final act on the card. Shortly after the last race had been run and Texas-El Paso had claimed yet another NCAA indoor team championship, Tully raised his own world indoor record in the pole vault from 18'4" to 18'5¼". The performance was the result of what he later critiqued as "a really sloppy vault." He was not being overly modest. Tully had brushed the crossbar as he tucked over it, then landed flat on his back in the pit and watched as the bar continued to bounce vigorously on its support pegs.
"I thought it was going to fall off for sure," Tully said after the bar had quit trembling. In a rush to catch an early flight to Los Angeles—and a good night's sleep before Sunday's UCLA dual meet with Long Beach State—Tully took three hurried shots at 18'8¾", a height no vaulter had ever cleared indoors or out. Knocking the bar off with his 1) shins, 2) waist and 3) legs, Tully never came close.
While the pole vault was providing a rousing finale, the crowd of 9,300 got another high out of Jacobs, who was high-jumping three car lengths away from the vaulting pit and alternating world-record attempts with Tully. Making good on a promise he advanced last year, when he could not even clear the opening height of 6'10", Jacobs won this year's event at 7'5", breaking the meet record of 7'3¼" set by UTEP's Greg Joy in 1977.
March 20, 1978
Jacobs then made two attempts at 7'8¼", a height that is one inch more than the world record he held until Vladimir Yashchenko broke it with a leap of 7'8½" the next day at the European indoor championships in Milan. On both tries the 5'8" Fairleigh Dickinson sophomore knocked the bar off with his back, but it is doubtful that the crowd would have been more appreciative had he succeeded. The proximity of the two athletes in their world-record quests riveted attention, raised goosebumps and commanded dead silence as few track meets ever do. And the fact that the stars of the final act were two Americans also helped.
Which brings us to UTEP, a team loaded with runners from Kenya, which has won the NCAA team championship four times in the past five years. Last season, however, Washington State won the title by half a point over the Miners, thanks in large part to Henry Rono and Samson Kimombwa who are also Kenyan. With Rono and Kimombwa weakened by flu, the Cougars were not in contention for the team title last week; instead, the surprise challenger was Auburn. Villanova, which had been expected to be UTEP's chief rival, wound up third because of a series of mistakes that should leave it thankful for a finish in the top five.
UTEP scored 33 of its 44 points on Friday, when foreign athletes took the first five events and finished 1-2-3-4-5 in the three-mile run, won by John Treacy of Providence and Ireland. UTEP scored 16 points in the race with a second, third and fifth (team points are awarded on a 10-8-6-4-2-1 basis). In addition to the continuing excellence of foreign athletes, the day was noteworthy for the rash of bad breaks that dogged every contending team. Thus, UTEP's Emmitt Berry, hampered by a sore knee, was four feet under his season's best in the 35-pound-weight throw and scored but a single point. The Miners also lost sprinter Jerome Deal to a false-start disqualification and saw Steve Hanna fail to qualify by 1¼" in the triple jump, an event won by defending champion Ian Campbell of Washington State. An Australian, Campbell leaped 55'8¼" for a meet record. But in general, the Cougars seemed bent on giving away their title. They lost Jeff Ramsey to a false start in the 600 trials and had two vaulters fail to qualify before the ailing Kimombwa, the world-record holder in the 10,000. dropped out of the three mile after 22 laps.
For really rotten luck, however, no team was a match for Villanova. The Wildcats' first misfortune came in the fifth heat of the 600 trials when Glenn Bogue, who figured to place high in the event, was disqualified for running out of his lane on the first turn. Later that night Villanova held a 30-yard lead in a mile relay trial when freshman Anthony Tufariello, running the second leg, tripped and fell 15 yards short of the second baton pass. Bogue went out of the exchange zone to pick up the dropped stick and the Wildcats went on to win the heat, but were disqualified because of the infraction. It was indicative of Villanova's frustration that some of the Wildcats argued against their disqualification by pointing out to unimpressed officials that they had not gained any advantage or interfered with anybody.
Villanova's only break of the meet came that same day when trial heats in the two-mile relay were cancelled owing to the paucity of entrants. That eased the work load for Mark Belger, who won the 880 in 1:49.13, then came back the following day to anchor the Wildcats' two-mile relay team to second place. Belger, whose 880 triumph was his 13th straight indoors at that distance or at 1,000 yards since 1976, had been optimistic about his team's title chances before it all went smash. His hopes were not without foundation. The week before, the Wildcats had won the IC4A title. But Villanova's only other quality performance came Saturday in the 1,000 when Don Paige held off Oklahoma's Randy Wilson in the stretch to win by .01 of a second in 2:07.88.
Overlooked on most dope sheets, Auburn got 10 points Friday when Willie Smith, the meet's first American winner, repeated as 440 champion in 48.28 seconds—the exact time he had run in 1977. Auburn finished with 38 points and might have overtaken UTEP Saturday had Harvey Glance, its world-class dash man, been fit, but the repetitive demands of the trial, quarterfinal and semifinal heats in the 60 proved too much for the ankle he had sprained earlier this month and he didn't make it to the finals. The event was won in 6.15 seconds by Texas A&M's Curtis Dickey, a 225-pound running back who gained 978 yards during the football season.
UTEP's point total might also have been bigger had Coach Ted Banks selected someone other than Peter Lemashon to anchor his two-mile relay team. Because of a foul-up in registration, Lemashon was ineligible, although neither Banks nor Lemashon was aware of it. Lemashon made up three places in the last 5½ laps to give his mates what looked like a championship-clinching victory, but when his status became known, the UTEP relay team was disqualified. It then was left to James Munyala to nail down the title in the mile. He did so with a win in 3:59.81, his first sub-four-minute effort. The 25-year-old Kenyan, who has won the NCAA steeplechase three times, got an unexpected assist going into the gun lap from East Tennessee's Ray Flynn and Arkansas' Niall O'Shaughnessy, who seemed more intent on muscling each other to the outside than on running. They left room enough on the inside for Munyala to zip past both of them.
"It was my intention to try to pass on the outside down the last straightaway," Munyala said, "but there was nowhere I could go but in. This is only my third mile indoors, and I don't know the tactics all that well yet."
Munyala's victory gave foreigners seven individual NCAA championships, while U.S. athletes recovered from their slow start to win eight events. The meet hardly could have ended better for Detroit, a city with no great love for imports.