The crowd at the Long Beach Sports Arena was still settling into its seats last Saturday night when the first world indoor record fell, and from that moment on a true fan was hard pressed to find time to duck out for a box of popcorn. Before the Muhammad Ali Invitational ended, with Dwight Stones' coming-out party in the high jump, there were two more world marks, two American bests and two additional heartwarming comebacks for Olympians.
Houston McTear, who is only 22 but has been a world-class sprinter for five years, got things rolling with a 6.53 in the second heat of the 60-meter dash. McTear shot out of the blocks as though catapulted, and his lead was clear by 20 meters. Even though he eased up through the last three meters, he still beat Steve Riddick by .06 and his own world indoor mark by .01.
Half an hour later Evelyn Ashford, the star sprinter of last year's Pan Am Games and World Cup, won the women's 60-meter dash by about as wide a margin as 60 meters allows—.29 of a second. With her time of 7.04 she broke the world indoor record set by Marlies G‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áhr of East Germany in 1978 by .08.
Then it was McTear's turn again, in the extraordinary final of the 60. After two false starts, neither of them his, McTear exploded off and into the lead again. This time Harvey Glance, who won the other heat, began to move on McTear after 30 meters. Though Glance could not catch him, he pressed McTear all the way to the tape. In doing so he pushed McTear to another world record—6.38 this time—and pulled everyone else in the eight-man field to times under 6.60. Astonishingly, six of the eight fastest indoor times in the history of the 60-meter dash had been run in this one race.
Hilton Nicholson, a native of Trinidad and former runner who now coaches McTear and the other members of the Muhammad Ali Amateur Track Club in Santa Monica, wasn't as jubilant as might have been expected. "I thought it was very good," said Nicholson. "But it's nothing to what Houston can do. I think he can go 5.9." Does McTear agree? "Yes, I do."
In 1977 McTear was ranked No. 2 in the world at 100 meters by Track & Field News, but he has a history of hamstring pulls in his right leg that have beset him during the outdoor seasons. Under Nicholson, however, he has been relatively hale. Last summer McTear, Nicholson and four other Ali Club athletes competed in Europe. Instead of working out between meets, McTear wore weights wherever he went. "He walked all over Europe with weights on his legs," says Nicholson. "That was his practice."
Although all athletes worry about sustaining injuries and "peaking" too early, few can afford to skip the indoor season in an Olympic year. However, Renaldo Nehemiah, the University of Maryland junior who has the four fastest 110-meter hurdle times in history and who set five world records during the 1979 indoor season, skipped the Ali meet as he has resolved to be more selective in his indoor schedule. In Nehemiah's absence the 60-meter hurdles were won by Kerry Bethel of Fairleigh Dickinson in 7.67, but not before 29-year-old Rod Milburn, the 1972 gold-medalist at Munich, now back from the competitive limbo into which the failure of the professional track circuit cast him, had given the crowd something to cheer about.
Milburn and about 75 other former International Track Association athletes are allowed to compete against amateurs, albeit only in domestic meets, because of a recent rule clarification by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. The Ali meet was the first public appearance for Milburn and for former 440-yard world-record holder John Smith, and they were welcomed back as heroes. When Milburn jumped the gun at the start, the crowd even applauded his over-eagerness. Milburn actually took the lead at the second hurdle, but his competitive edge was too dulled to hold it. "I was surprised and overjoyed to see my lead after three hurdles and I pressed too hard at the fifth," said Milburn.
Smith, also 29, was possibly the happiest man in Southern California following the 400. After three years of frustration, of "sitting in the stands watching guys winning the 400 in 46 flat, 45 flat outdoors," of talking into the deaf ears of the governing bodies of track and field, Smith was not only a runner again, but he was also a winner. His time was 47.20, which was just .01 off the Ali meet record—after only one month of high-quality work.
Smith was with a friend when he received word of his eligibility. "I couldn't cry," he says. "I'm too macho for that. So we laughed all night." Of the three wasted years since the ITA folded, Smith said, "No need being bitter. I'll save that to use when I'm doing the last 200 in a workout. Vengeance is not mine. It's the man's upstairs."
Craig Masback was another runner who felt that he had turned a corner in his career. Masback, who finished third in Sebastian Coe's record-setting mile in Oslo last summer, is a cum laude political-science graduate of Princeton and has been pursuing a doctorate at Oxford. He spent the last year there but is now taking a sabbatical to pursue athletic laurels. "Every race is an experiment this year," he said after winning the 1,500 in a dawdling 3:45.8 in Long Beach. Attempting what for him was a new strategy, Masback made his move with four laps remaining. "I put the motors on and then waited for everyone to come up, which they did with 1½ laps to go." With 100 meters left, Sydney Maree of South Africa kicked past James Munyala and Wilson Waigwa, but he fell short of overtaking Masback. "Jumping off into the unknown with four laps to go is really something," said Masback. "I haven't won a race in a long time. It feels good."
For the second year in a row the Philadelphia Pioneers' 4 x 400 relay team won in American-record time (3:06.2, the second-best ever), but in neither year has the record counted because of the presence of Trinidad's Mike Solomon on the team. On both occasions the second-place team has also broken the American mark. This year it was USC, in 3:06.3.
From beginning to end, the 3,000 was the property of Steve Scott, the 23-year-old Californian who ran a 3:51.2 mile, finishing second to Coe at Oslo. Scott took the lead at the start and had no challengers past the 1,500-meter mark. His time was 7:45.2, an American record that broke the one set at San Diego in 1974 by the late Steve Prefontaine.
And what of the return to amateur competition of Dwight Stones? Against all odds, the AAU had decided to forgive the high jumper for being ahead of his time when he chose not to turn over his $33,633 in winnings from The Superstars competition. To achieve this absolution after being a pariah for 17 months, Stones was required to return the money, withdraw his lawsuit against the AAU, the IAAF and the AAU's Southern Pacific Association, apologize (in an undisclosed written statement) for his disrespect and promise—on pain of having to pay the AAU's legal fees—never to break the rule again.
So far, like the former ITA athletes, Stones can compete only in domestic meets, i.e., meets in which no foreigners, other than legal residents and students, are supposed to compete. In March, however, when the IAAF council next meets, Stones expects to be reinstated for international competition.
The return of Stones to competition is fascinating not only because of his flamboyance but also because his return marks the rebirth of that mutually stimulating rivalry between the 6'5" Stones and the 5'8" Franklin Jacobs. "There will be more prestige in the high jump this year," said Jacobs. "Last year I was No. 1 but I was winning meets at seven-two and seven-three. I had no incentive. Dwight is a motivator. He motivates the field. He talks a lot and he's arrogant, but in a positive way."
Indeed. Stones' mere presence at Long Beach inspired Jacobs to a winning 7'5½" leap that broke the meet record of 7'4" set by Greg Joy in 1978. Stones cleared 7'4¼" elegantly on his first attempt, but thereafter he failed once at 7'5½" and twice at 7'6¼". "I jumped exactly what I wanted to jump," said Stones. "I just need a few more meets under my belt to get back in the groove. If I'd jumped seven-three I'd really be upset. But this is the best opener indoors I've ever had."
Stones does his training on the track at Long Beach State, not far from his waterfront home, and at Ambassador College, a wealthy church school with a well-equipped health club in Pasadena, 45 miles away. Stones drives all that way two or three times a week because, he claims, Ambassador is the best jumping facility in the country. The fact that triple jumper James Butts, long jumper Henry Hines and pole vaulter Dan Ripley have also trained there gives credence to Stones' claim. But another attraction at Ambassador is Harry Sneider, a weightlifter turned coach who runs the health club and has a special understanding of and appreciation for "complex" personalities. He was, for several testing years, the trainer and confidant of Bobby Fischer, the chess genius and card-carrying eccentric.
Sneider is the central figure in a consortium of advisers to Stones that Sneider refers to as "the mastermind group." It includes a Pasadena chiropractor, an Atlanta exercise physiologist, a Long Beach track coach, a Romanian who specializes in antagonistic muscle groups, a sprint coach from San Jose and Stones' high school coach from Glendale. "There are a lot of people pushing Dwight over the bar," says Sneider.
Sneider and Stones met in the summer of 1975. "He was complaining of a bad back at that time," says Sneider. "I saw this gimpy, skinny body and asked if he'd ever lifted." After the Montreal Olympics in which he won a bronze medal, Dwight started working with Sneider. In three months the 180-pound Stones could do 550-pound quarter squats. Now he is up to 710. He can clean and jerk 230 twice and do 315-pound step-ups. He claims he can swim 100 yards in 56 flat and run 100 yards in 10.3.
All of which did Stones little good until Ron Stanko, a track promoter and lawyer from Reading, Pa., suggested that he was approaching life and the AAU in the wrong way. "I had pretty much decided to stick by my guns, to suck it up and be the martyr and all that stuff and maybe eventually win it down the line," says Stones of his efforts to force the AAU to let him compete again.
"Stanko told me I was a jerk to keep this fight up, that there was no way I was going to win this thing inside four years, and so forth."
Besides, Stones missed the sport. Furthermore, American high jumpers were "stinking up the place," he says. "In the U.S. the best jump we had last year outdoors was 7'5½".
The appeal to the AAU took months. Eventually Stones, Stanko and middle-distance runner Francie Larrieu—an old pal who had been suspended at the same time and for the same reasons as Stones but had been reinstated—traveled to Las Vegas to testify at a board meeting of the AAU. There the appeal was decided in Stones' favor.
The interpretation of the rules governing amateurs has been liberalized considerably since Stones' suspension in June 1978, and he takes it personally. "Once I was out of the sport they said, 'O.K., now that we've shut him up, we'll change the rules and make him feel like a real jerk, like the Curt Flood of track and field....' I tried to jam through a new area where we could make money and I got stung. I got nailed. But I didn't try to do it subversively. I did it right upfront."
For better or worse, everything Stones does is up front. The thing he does best is high jump, and it is good to have him back.