The power of the Olympic Trials, the emotion that has made them sometimes more compelling than the Games themselves, has always resided in their final, unavoidably cruel demarcation of the nation's finest athletes from the merely superb. So harsh is that division that we must leave it to the athletes to settle it themselves, in head-to-head competition, because what panel of official selectors could make these choices with a clear conscience?
Yet the onlookers at the Olympic Track and Field Trials, which commenced a nine-day run last weekend in Eugene, Ore., were justified in wondering what sort of emotion there can be in the selection of an Olympic team that will attend no Olympics. The answer was plenty, although by determinedly insisting upon the style and language of past Trials, the officials created a logic that seemed to shimmer in and out of focus and that kept several of the country's best from competition.
The early event that produced truly Olympian occurrences was the pentathlon, fired as it was by the two best American women ever to take on the one-day, five-event test of 100-meter hurdles, shot-put, high jump, long jump and 800-meter run. One was Jodi Anderson, 22, of the Naturite Track Club of Los Angeles. Already the national record holder in the long jump (22'7½"), Anderson has been working at the pentathlon for 2½ years under Coach Chuck DeBus. A junior majoring in physical education at Cal State Northridge and possessing an interest in sports medicine, Anderson took the past semester off to prepare without compromise for the Olympics and then, after the loss of the Games, to try for the American record. "She doesn't need a personal record in any event to get it," said DeBus before the start of the Trials. "She just needs to be consistent."
The record she sought has belonged since 1974 to Jane Frederick of the Pacific Coast Club, who raised it to 4,708 points a year ago in Gotzis, Austria. At 28, Frederick has been competing in the pentathlon for 15 years. Her last defeat by an American came in the 1972 Olympics. Yet it has been only in the past few years that she has come to acknowledge that her sport is foremost among her interests. A woman of many dimensions, she is an artist, gardener and seamstress and is but a dissertation away from a Ph.D. in the comparative literature of 19th century Italy. She lives in a Santa Barbara, Calif. bungalow amid four cats, ferns and Vivaldi chorales, training with perhaps the consummate coach of multievent athletes, Sam Adams. But during the last year, while her devotion increased, she became strangely brittle and unlucky. Bruised ankle bones kept her from finishing the Pan American Games pentathlon. Colds, muscle pulls and a bruised colon, suffered in a swimming accident, kept her from competition prior to the Trials this year. Her feet seem too delicate for the stresses her 5'11", 165-pound body places upon them; she must soak them in ice water after every workout.
June 29, 1980
The Monday before the Trials she mishit the board on a practice long jump and felt a twinge in her left hamstring. Adams prescribed nothing but rest until competition began last Saturday. Thus on the first morning of the Trials she was nervous, misplacing her participant's pass, not recognizing friends. "God, just let me get the hurdles out of the way," she said, "and I'll be better."
By contrast, the much smaller—5'5", 125 pounds—Anderson was bouncily confident. "Running the pentathlon hurdles is easy," she said. "The pressure is off, because I'm usually the fastest." She was that in the first heat, winning by nine yards in 13.85 seconds on the automatic timer. Frederick was in the third heat. As she warmed up, her tender hamstring "went like a rock." Frederick knew better than anyone the long odds against nursing such an infirmity through a whole pentathlon. "I wanted to compete so much," she said later, "I didn't have the courage not to start." To Frederick's surprise the leg held together through a solid, clean hurdle race, which she ran in 13.93, less than a 10th of a second slower than Anderson. However, the automatic timer had failed during the second heat. That race had to be clocked by hand, which yields times a 10th or two faster than automatic clocking. To be fair, hand clockings had to be used for the hurdlers in the other heats. Frederick had been caught in 13.8 by hand. But the real beneficiary was Anderson, who was given 13.5. "Remember, though, to break the record you have to use the automatic time," said DeBus.
They went to the shotput. DeBus had set down a list of goals for Anderson that would result in a score of 4,743 points: 13.7 in the hurdles, 43'9¼" in the shot, 5'11" in the high jump, 21'11¾" in the long jump and 2:08.3 in the 800. Anderson had surpassed the first, and now she got the second with a personal record of 44 feet on her first throw. Frederick, tentative and off-balance, fouled twice. Down to her last put, she nestled the shot against her neck and let her instincts take over. "I just remember waking up in the front of the ring, having thrown. Some drama, huh?" she said. The shot fell to earth 47'8½" away, giving her a 25-point lead over Anderson. Frederick stepped from the ring with eyes raised in relief.
In the high jump, Anderson worked her way up to 5'10½" with only one miss. "If she gets this, she's in very good shape for the record," said DeBus. "I told her, 'This is the last pentathlon of your life. This is for history.' That's because next year they add two events, the javelin and 200."
Frederick had scattered quite a few weak jumps in with her good ones. At 5'10½" she missed her first two tries. "I'd rather she made it," said DeBus, "to spur Jodi on." Anderson had barely missed her second try. "It's there," said DeBus. "It's there."
On her third attempt, Frederick slipped over, leaving the bar trembling but in place. Anderson was galvanized. "As soon as Jane made it, my adrenaline just flowed," she said. She cleared cleanly, to a shout of "I told you so" from DeBus. Neither athlete could go higher, so they concluded three events still 25 points apart, 2,781 for Frederick to 2,756 for Anderson. Both are fine long jumpers. Thus the contest seemed certain to go down to the 800.
Frederick had tended her injured hamstring through three events, although it was the reason she had been erratic in the high jump. But now, as she warmed up for the long jump with little pop-ups, sharper pain signaled real danger. She received permission from the officials to talk to Adams—no competitor is permitted to receive coaching once an event begins. "I'm 28 years old," she said. "I have to think about that." Adams nodded and left the decision to Frederick. Then he watched as she slowly walked to the long jump official, touched his elbow and whispered that she was withdrawing from the competition. "I think that may have been the toughest decision she has had to make in her athletic career," said Adams. "And I think she's right. If she tears a hamstring here, she's finished for the year."
Frederick sought out Anderson and told her she couldn't continue. "I hope you do 23 feet and break the American record," Frederick said. "I want you to do it. I want you to do your best." Then she walked to the far end of the field, sat behind an equipment shed and let the tears come.
Anderson blithely jumped 21'8¼". "When Jane dropped out, I was surprised," she said, "but I didn't have time to feel sorry for her. Things like that make you think and make you slow down, because, you know, you win automatically. I was in the competition to break her record. I was sure I'd beat her, too. When I heard the 21'8¼", I was pleased. It was my best ever in a pentathlon."
Frederick at last went to the medical tent and got some ice for her leg. Then she sat on the edge of the track. "It's filling up with blood and starting to ache...," she said. Her mood seemed one of resignation alternating with shifting, sharp thoughts. "I did so well there for a while. Good hurdles for the first race of the season. And that was the first time over a high jump bar in competition in almost a year. I would have had a good score. I have to be happy." But Frederick is a woman for whom potential is nothing if not fulfilled, so the anguish was not to be shed even through understanding. "I want the world record in September," she said. "And I just can't get carted out of the long jump pit anymore. It's silly. When you're older you're supposed to be more responsible, be a good example."
Would she have continued to compete, she was asked, if this had been a real Olympic Trials?
"I don't know. I might have taken one careful pop and then tried to lope through the 800. Four years ago I would have gone on."
Stiffly, she made her way into the stands and to Adams, where she got a hug and some bantering technical talk. "I'll be fine now," she said. "What's Jodi need in the 800 for the record?"
"2:07," said Adams. The best ever run in a pentathlon was 2:09.4 by Ykaterina Smirnova of the U.S.S.R.
"She can do that."
"Depends on how bad she wants it."
Frederick called encouragement to the waiting, pacing Anderson, drawing a couple of astonished looks from spectators. "Why shouldn't I cheer for her, even if she might not do it for me?" she said. "How can you mind if somebody else does well?"
Anderson started quickly but then was passed by Linda Waltman of the Texas T.C. "I had bad butterflies," Anderson said later. "I don't like 800-meter running because I hurt so bad afterward. I was telling myself to-force myself to do it. After the first 200, I felt that I was really going to do well."
Waltman hit the 400 in 63 seconds. Anderson was past at 64. With 300 to go she accelerated, leaning into it, driving with her arms. She gained on Waltman, but at the top of the home stretch she began to tie up. "Somehow my level of fitness kind of won out over the adrenaline and my dreams," she said. "I can run 2:07 fresh, but not after four other events."
Yet still she battled, straining and fierce. And suddenly Frederick was on her feet with the howling crowd, shouting. "Now she knows how it is, dammit. It's hard! You want 4,708, you work for it!"
Anderson fought all the way to the finish, which she reached in 2:11.42, giving her a five-event total of 4,697, counting her bonus for hand timing. Waltman had finished in a pentathlon 800-meter world record of 2:09.3, and she needed it to bring her to third with 4,191, just two points ahead of remarkable Thousand Oaks, Calif. high school senior Marlene Harmon, Anderson's Naturite teammate. Marilyn King of the Millbrae Lions Club was second with 4,199, thus making her third Olympic team.
As the top three took the victory stand and received their roses, Anderson leaped again and again in unrestrained athletic joy. "Now I'm the best woman athlete in the country," she said. "I'm so proud of myself."
As Frederick stood again and applauded, these two seemed inescapably bound, each in her place in sports' eternal juxtaposition of success and temporary ruin. They were both Olympians in that moment, one in performance, one in bearing, both by example. Together, they and the thousands of knowing, moved spectators lifted these Trials toward the pinnacle they have always reached.