When 16-year-old Canzetta Young, a junior at Beaver Falls (Pa.) High School, came to run last Friday in Madison Square Garden, maybe a handful of diehard perusers of agate type recognized her name. To most of the 13,087 fans at the AAU indoor track and field championships she was noteworthy only because she hailed from the same hometown as Joe Namath.
Yet before the long day was out, Young had closed the gap between Short Tenth Avenue in Beaver Falls and Broadway Joe. She lowered the women's world indoor record in the 60-yard hurdles in an afternoon heat, equaled it in winning the finals—both times beating Deby LaPlante, who held the former record of 7.53—cheerily dealt with a mob of reporters and was named the meet's outstanding woman performer.
In proclaiming that award, an enthusiastic P.A. announcer was so swept away he told the crowd, "Cindy might just make you forget Joe Namath." The nickname is Candy. But, whatever, Cindy-Candy Young has come a long way, baby, in almost no time at all.
So has women's track. While the sport's brightest male lights were turning in relatively undistinguished performances, the women were making an all-out assault on the record books. Women's world indoor records also fell to Evelyn Ashford, who won the 60-yard dash in 6.71, Chandra Cheeseborough, who led three women under the automatically timed world standard by winning the 220 in 23.93, and Chris Shea, who became the first woman to walk a mile in less than seven minutes when she crossed the finish line in 6:58.9. Another record may have been broken by June Griffith of Guyana and New York's Adelphi University in the 440, but the automatic timing gear temporarily went on the blink. Griffith was hand-timed in 54 flat; her world record is 54.04. In fairness to the men, more of them have been competing more frequently far longer than the women, so records are harder to come by. In addition, the 220 and the 440 are rarely contested indoors, by men or women.
March 5, 1979
On the indoor circuit the AAU championships are about the only meet in which women get any respect. Most of the rest of the meets are run by promoters whose invitations to athletes are based on their ability to lure paying customers. As a rule women don't draw. The exceptions of late have been milers Francie Larrieu and Jan Merrill. They went head to head again at the AAU, with Larrieu barely holding off Merrill in a slow 4:39.2. Just half an hour earlier Merrill had finished second to Julie Brown in a two-mile run despite identical times of 9:46.1.
In the promoters' defense, very few U.S. women are world-class competitors, let alone marquee material. The American women runners didn't win a single medal in an individual event at the 1976 Olympics, and in all track and field the only American woman world-record holder is javelin thrower Kate Schmidt. Unfortunately, at an indoor track meet a thrown javelin would come to rest somewhere in the mezzanine. The result is competitions like San Diego's Jack in the Box Indoor Games two weeks ago where there were almost no Jills.
At the AAU meet, on the other hand, the Equal Rights Amendment is already in force. National championships are decided in major indoor events for both men and women. The meet is open to any athlete who has met a qualifying standard. And Filbert Bayi. The Tanzanian world-record holder in the 1,500 has been so out of shape that he has come in last in his three indoor appearances this season. His best time, 4:14.1, didn't approach the AAU qualifying standard of 4:06. Yet over the protests of some officials, he was invited to run in New York as a crowd pleaser. Bayi responded by pleasing no one, including himself, coming in next to last and lowering his best time this season to 4:12.8, well behind Steve Scott's winning 4:01.4.
Bayi was not the only male star to falter. In fact, just two men lived up to their advance billing: hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah and pole vaulter Dan Ripley, both of whom won their events and set meet records. Despite having to bandage his left thigh in the middle of the competition, Ripley jumped 18'1". Nehemiah won the 60-yard hurdles in 6.94, capping an undefeated indoor season in which he set five world records. While he didn't set a record, 29-year-old Marty Liquori, the former miler who now specializes in the 5,000—he holds the American record at that distance—delighted the crowd with a spirited kick in the three-mile run that brought him across the line in 13:14.7 for his third AAU title. On the other hand, Houston McTear, Mark Belger and Franklin Jacobs were all upset. Jacobs, undefeated all year in the high jump, was second to Benn Fields on the basis of fewer misses. Both men cleared 7'4¾". Belger was passed at the tape in the 1,000 by Evans White of Prairie View A&M. As for McTear, he got out of the blocks first in the 60-yard dash, but he suffered a leg cramp near the finish and he was overtaken by Steve Riddick. Later in the evening Riddick threw a blistering 220 (21.7) into the middle of a 1,180-yard sprint medley relay to help the Philadelphia Pioneers set a world record of 2:02.7, and win the men's team trophy.
Cheeseborough was no less effective in helping her team, the Tennessee State TigerBelles win the women's competition. In all she ran nine races—three relay legs, plus trials, semis and finals in both the 60 and 220. She finished fourth in the shorter race. Cheeseborough has been working this season to develop a stronger finish. When she got to the starting line of the 220, however, she found that Rosalyn Bryant, who holds the hand-timed indoor world record of 23.4 in the event, was inside and thus out of sight behind her in the staggered start. "I chose then to concentrate on getting a good start," said Cheeseborough after the race. "I never looked back to find Rosalyn but I did hear her footsteps toward the end of the race." Bryant eventually faded, finishing third in 24.21, .15 of a second behind Gwen Gardner, but .02 better than the old record, which was set by Freida Nichols of Barbados and the D.C. International Track Club last year.
At the Montreal Olympics, Cheeseborough ran the 100-meter dash, finishing sixth. America's best performance at that distance was by Ashford, who placed fifth. This year Ashford left UCLA to "sacrifice a year to training" in the hope of winning a medal in 1980. She has worked on building a base of strength that will carry her through next year. To develop her calves she is running in the sand of, appropriately enough, Santa Monica's Muscle Beach. She is also lifting weights to build up her arms. "Your legs go as fast as your arms," says her coach, Pat Connolly, wife of Harold Connolly, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw. "And it's easier to make your arms go faster."
Apparently, that training is paying dividends. Ashford is a smooth, graceful runner. On Friday night Pat Connolly thought her pupil had run a slow time because she appeared tight and tense during the race. Her husband disagreed. "It just looks that way because she's using her arms like you've never seen her use them before," he said. That observation was borne out when Ashford's world-record time was announced a few moments later.
Yet despite the encouraging performances of Cheeseborough and Ashford, it is Young who lifted America's 1980 hopes the highest. Young came to the attention of track aficionados a month ago when she upset East Germany's Gudrun Berend-Waken, the world's fourth-ranked woman hurdler, in a 50-meter race in Edmonton, Canada. At age 16, with little hurdling experience or technical training, she now has a world record and a seemingly limitless future.
Young's high school coach, Karlin Ryan, admits that he is learning about hurdling right along with his star. He knows more about football, which he also coaches at Beaver Falls. In his playing days there he backed up Namath at quarterback on the Tigers' 1960 team that went 9-0. The following year, after Namath had graduated, Ryan quarterbacked Beaver Falls to a 10-0 record. "I kid Joe that I won one more game than he did," Ryan says, before adding, "but I'd trade it for some of that money."
To date Young's only real coaching in the fine points of hurdling came during a one-week session at the U.S. Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs last August. Beaver Falls High is not exactly equipped to handle world-class hurdlers. For now the 5'6", 127-pound Young practices in a tiled hallway just long enough to set up three hurdles. The fourth hurdle is a barrier indeed—a wall. Each spring when the snow finally melts in Beaver Falls and Young gets her first look at a standard 10-hurdle setup, she feels as if she is surveying a marathon course.
Last Friday night she shyly admitted, "I would like to be the Nehemiah of women's hurdles." Five minutes before her winning race, Nehemiah introduced himself and offered a pointer on how to get more speed coming over a hurdle. Nehemiah's interest seemed fitting. The reigning king was paying court to a future queen.