Six-year-old Bucky Cox of Lawrence, Kans. is one of the cult figures of the running boom. Last summer Bucky set a record for 5-year-olds by running a marathon in Junction City, Kans. in 5:25:09, a race in which 32 older competitors dropped out because of 90°-plus heat. In the fall Bucky clocked 4:59:26 in the Mayor Daley Marathon in Chicago. To his fellow runners and to the ubiquitous TV crews that showed up to film his races, Bucky was proof that, yes, everybody is running these days.
Now Bucky is being recast by some people in almost Dickensian terms. Runner's World magazine says in its March issue that it will no longer publish records for marathoners under 12 "because of the extreme stresses, mental and physical, [the distance] places on a young child." The magazine buttresses its position with a guest editorial by Edward O'Connell, former president of the Road Runners Club of America, who expresses alarm over Bucky's training regimen and calls the nurturing of young marathoners "potentially a new form of child abuse." And in Bucky's hometown, University of Kansas Track Coach Bob Timmons has rejected the boy's application to run in the Kansas Relays next month. Noting that high school trackmen aren't allowed to race at distances greater than three miles, Timmons says, "I don't see how, logically, you can keep a high school runner out but let 6-year-old Bucky in."
Bucky's trainer, Ray Foster, a research associate in the university's Bureau of Child Research, practices "positive reinforcement" on Bucky, rewarding him with nickels. "Some people equate reinforcement with bribery," Foster says. "I would equate it with bribery if we pushed him to do it. But he has said he wants to race." However, when Bucky himself is asked whether he enjoys running, he replies: "Sometimes, and if I complain, I don't get my nickel."
Psychologists disagree about the emotional effects that a rigorous distance program might have on children. Physicians disagree about the possible consequences for the cardiovascular system. There is somewhat less disagreement on the potential hazards to bone development. Evidence on the phenomenon known as Little League elbow suggests that youngsters who throw too hard too soon risk injury, not only to muscles, but also to growing bones. Many physicians say that running a marathon poses similar dangers. One of them, Dr. Anthony Daly, the chairman of the AAU Sports Medicine Committee and a U.S. team doctor for the 1980 Olympics, says flatly, "Bones in young children are too soft and tender to be subjected to 26 miles of pounding."
HERE'S THE CALL AT HOME...OUT!
Like a lot of busy people these days, Chicago Cub Second Baseman Ted Sizemore leaves a recorded message for phone callers when he's not at home. Sizemore says on the recording, "It's the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, there are two outs, and I'm up. Here's the pitch: there's a grounder to third, the throw is to first, and I'm out. That's right, I'm out...."
Remember Clark Graebner? Star of the 1968 U.S. Davis Cup team, national clay-court champion, a finalist at Forest Hills? Well, Graebner is now playing platform tennis. Last year Graebner and doubles partner Doug Russell reached the finals in five of seven tournaments, won two of them and were runners-up to Herb FitzGibbon and Hank Irvine in the overall standings. This season the pair has won four tournaments and will be top seed at this week's national championships in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Graebner is considered one of the game's best volleyers, and his return of service is something to behold. Even more gratifying is his behavior. In tennis, Graebner was known for throwing his racket and hitting balls at linesmen. In platform tennis, he is relatively mild-mannered. "It's not an emotional game for Clark," says his wife Patti. "It was something for him to take up when he stopped playing tennis regularly. But it's not his life."
FURRED & FEATHERED
Cheerleaders don't always dress the way they once did, as close students of the Dallas Cowgirls and their imitators well know. Now, that other stalwart of the sidelines, the costumed mascot, is dramatically altering its appearance, too. Mascots used to dress as wildcats, tigers, or whatever their teams happened to be called, but that was before such nicknames as Mariners, Astros and 76ers came into vogue. Obviously, something new in the way of mascots was needed. Hence a recent proliferation of furred and feathered creatures, seemingly inspired by Sesame Street's Big Bird.
The best known of these fanciful characters is Chicken Man, who wears a Day-Glo costume and clowns with fans at San Diego Padre games. Introduced five years ago in a promotional stunt by radio station KGB in San Diego, Chicken Man has become a celebrity, as has Phillie Phanatic, a birdlike creature that made its bow in Philadelphia last summer. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos will introduce similar characters at next month's home openers, and the Philadelphia 76ers—the phenomenon is not confined to baseball—boast a month-old, slightly jive mascot that wears dark sunglasses. The 76er creature is being named in a contest that has already drawn 20,000 entrants.
The Phillie, Expo and 76er characters are all the handiwork of Manhattan toy designer Bonnie Erickson and her partner, Wayde Harrison. They are negotiating with other interested pro teams, and Harrison says, "The characters are succeeding because they're cute, nonthreatening, and appeal to all ages."
The new mascots are ideal for merchandising tie-ins; a Chicken Man doll and calendar are on the market, and The Philadelphia Inquirer runs a comic strip based on Phillie Phanatic. The characters also lend themselves to confrontations like the much-ballyhooed one that took place last season when Chicken Man accompanied the Padres into Veterans Stadium, where he cavorted throughout the game with Phillie Phanatic. Even Philadelphia's crusty manager. Danny Ozark, was impressed. As he said afterward, "It looked like a bleeping circus out there."
The late Avery Brundage believed that there was room in the Olympic movement for two Chinas—both the tiny one on Taiwan and the great big one on Asia's mainland. The People's Republic of China disagreed and in 1956 bolted the Olympics, vowing not to return until the Taiwanese were expelled. The world's most populous nation has been an Olympic exile ever since.
But Taiwan hasn't always had things its own way, either—especially lately. In 1976 Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose country had long since recognized and traded with mainland China, refused to let the Nationalists compete at the Montreal Olympics under their preferred name of Republic of China, and the Taiwanese went home. Since then, the mainland Chinese have been quietly eroding Taiwan's support in amateur sport, to the extent that 11 of the 26 international federations that make up the body of Olympic competition now recognize Communist China as the sole Chinese sports authority.
Ever since Peking began playing Mister Nice Guy to the West, a concerted Olympic thrust on its part has seemed likely. Two weeks ago, at the International Olympic Committee's headquarters in Lausanne, Sung Chung, secretary general of Peking's All-China Sports Federation, presented a petition to rejoin the Olympics to Lord Killanin, Brundage's successor as IOC president. Sung said his country wanted to compete at the 1980 Winter and Summer Olympics. His assistant, Ho Chen-ling, indicated support for a combined Chinese team—an idea Taiwan has previously rejected. "There is only one China," Ho said. "It is not a question of exclusion of Taiwan, but rather a choice before the IOC of what belongs to whom."
Surprisingly, Sung accepted Killanin's suggestion that officials from both Chinas meet and thrash out representational differences. Such a meeting would be the first acknowledged one between Nationalist and Communist Chinese since 1949. However, Shen Chia-ming, president of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, called the offer "an insidious trick."
It may well be a trick, and a clever one at that. The decision to talk now rests with Taiwan, which could wind up riding its high horse right out of international sport. The IOC will meet in Montevideo April 5, and Killanin makes no secret of his desire to get Communist China back into the Olympics. Last month Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-p'ing said that mainland China might wish to bid for the 1988 Games. Considering the scant interest that other nations have been showing in hosting the Olympics, that can only enhance its position in the eyes of the IOC.
Any lingering doubts that there is a certain compulsion among horseplayers were dispelled once and for all the other night at The Meadows, the harness track near Pittsburgh. In what amounted to an unplanned sociological experiment, pari-mutuel tickets were given away for the asking. That was the good part. The bad part was that winning tickets couldn't be cashed. Thus, the crowd of 5,000 was betting strictly for fun.
The surreal situation arose at the opening of a meeting at which the track was scheduled to unveil its new $1.56 million computerized digital wagering system. Just two hours before the first race, officials discovered that the tote board didn't work, forcing them to cancel betting. But they decided to go ahead with the nine-race program and to let patrons go through the motions of placing bets, thereby familiarizing everybody with the new system. All a bettor had to do was go to a window and tell the clerk how many tickets he wanted.
Although the tickets everybody was holding were worthless, to all outward appearances it was business as usual. Bettors exchanged hot tips. They cheered the favorites. They cursed the drivers. They watched the monitor. They talked about "getting even." They fretted when complicated bets held up lines at the windows. To be sure, many people who normally bet $2 were now "buying" $1,000 and $5,000 tickets. But not all of them, as this exchange suggests:
Bettor: Box the two, three, four, five, six and seven for me.
Clerk: How much?
Bettor: Two dollars. What do you think I am. rich?
The NCAA has a rule that no more than two teams from any conference can be selected for its basketball tournament, and some people don't like it. However, few critics have been quite as intemperate as Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, who a few weeks ago talked about organizing a boycott of the NCAAs in protest. Admitting that Maryland had "a very tough road ahead" to reach the tournament, Driesell said at the time, "We've been gypped out of it before, and we might be gypped out of it again."
The boycott went nowhere, and as Driesell feared, Maryland didn't make it to the NCAAs. Instead, the Terrapins went to the NIT, where they were eliminated last week by Ohio State, 79-72. Afterward Driesell declared, "I don't want to make it sound like an alibi but I've said all along that the ACC tourney takes a lot out of your teams."
The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is grueling, which may or may not be why Clemson and Virginia were also subsequently eliminated from the NIT, while North Carolina and Duke were upset in the NCAAs—all within a span of 36 hours. In any event, Driesell's postmortem did sound like an alibi. Big Ten teams also were drained, none more so than Ohio State, which had been tied for first place in the conference until it lost two games during the final week to drop to fourth. But, all things considered, Driesell's remarks after his NIT loss to Ohio State were restrained. At least he didn't say he was gypped.
THEY SAID IT
•Stan Morrison, retired University of the Pacific basketball coach: "If you hang in there long enough and grit your teeth hard enough, your orthodontist bill will go up."
•Bob Hope, after a round of golf with George Meany: "He plays just like a union man. He negotiates the final score."