Del Davis, a junior majoring in mathematics at UCLA, watched in wonder last Friday afternoon as the high jump unfolded at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at BYU in Provo, Utah. Davis had drawn the 22nd spot in the field of 22 jumpers, all of whom had made the qualifying height of 7'1½" two days earlier. He made 7'2½" on his first try after passing the opening height. But 18 others cleared the height or passed. And now, even before his first attempt at 7'3¼", 15 men had made that height. Davis' personal record was 7'4". But he sensed that the coming hours were to be special. He went to UCLA Assistant Coach Bob Larsen, who works with the Bruin jumpers.
"Can I pass?" Davis asked. He knew that even if he made it, the competition would be settled at a much greater height. It would be of no advantage then to have cleared 7'3¼".
"But 7'4" is as high as you've gone," said a dubious Larsen.
"Let me pass and I'll guarantee you 7'5"," said Davis.
June 13, 1982
Larsen nodded, and Davis passed.
Across the field, Milt Ottey was startled. Ottey, a sophomore at Texas-El Paso, is a Jamaica-born Canadian from Toronto. Having finished second to Navy's Leo Williams in the last three NCAA high jumps, two indoors and one outdoors, he burned to win this one. "I thought that was crazy, passing at his lifetime best," he said. "Then I got scared because he made 7'5" on his first jump."
But eight jumpers cleared 7'5", including Ottey and Williams. The bar went to 7'6". Ottey made it on his first try. So did Brent Harken of Washington State and Davis. Williams cleared on his second attempt, Jeff Woodard of Alabama on his third. Five men over 7'6". In the 1980 Olympics, in which Gerd Wessig of East Germany set the world record of 7'8¾", the field had been pared to four at the same height.
The bar went to 7'1¼", equal to Dwight Stones's American record. Ottey, who is only 5'10", sailed cleanly over on his first try.
Williams' first jump was heartbreakingly close, his left calf brushing the bar off after he was over. "As high as the thing got," he said, "it didn't look any higher." Williams consulted with Navy Coach Al Cantello and then missed again, as did Harken and Woodard. "Lord, give 'em all credit," said Cantello. "They're giving the best they have." But one by one Williams, Harken and Woodard went out. If Davis missed once more, Ottey would win.
Davis ran at the bar. His approach is a seemingly gentle glide, which makes his final spring so astonishing. He cleared by an inch and a half, to pandemonium from the 2,000 fans who had stayed on, rapt in the golden mountain evening.
Davis bounded out of the pit and looked across at Ottey. The next height would be 7'8", but as their eyes met, both jumpers knew they would pass. Ottey was ahead on fewer misses. If they cleared no more heights, he would win. That didn't matter to Davis because after 7'8" the next height would be 7'9¼", a world record. "I was amazed to be there," Davis would say. "I'd thought I'd be sitting back at the end of the day watching Milt try for the world record."
"You were," Ottey would reply. "And then I watched you."
There was a lengthy wait while the height was confirmed by a flock of officials. "They've got the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir out there measuring it," growled Cantello, who knew the moment couldn't wait.
Finally everyone was ready. Ottey stood under the bar, and the crowd gasped, because the bar was an inch less than two feet over his head. He raised his arm as if to salute it. He couldn't have touched it without jumping. "It's sheer arrogance," whispered Cantello, "looking at that height, to think anyone could make it."
Ottey stripped off his warmup jacket and ran to his mark. He had tried this height once before, in the Western Athletic Conference meet in May. "I was shaky there," he said afterward, "with tears in my eyes. Here I was calm." His first try had the height, but he came down on the bar.
Davis made his approach in perfect silence. He brushed the bar off with the small of his back. It was replaced. Now shadow covered the apron and pit, but the bar still shone in the last sunlight. Ottey surely jumped 7'9" on his second try, but the bar was¼" higher and he took it down with his calves.
That was as close as either would come, the moment having faded with the setting sun. The two men sat together afterward and recalled their jumps and laughed in happy athletes' intimacy. "It hasn't sunk in yet," said Davis, of the fact that he was now the co-holder of the American record. "You sure can jump up here."
That was affirmed the next day when SMU's Keith Connor, who is British, leaped 57'7¾" in the triple jump, the second-farthest in history.
The foundation of these performances was the glorious Wasatch mountainside on which rests BYU and its brand-new track. At first glance, the track's color suggests a vivid pool. Indeed, until its white lines were added, several sea gulls, those cricket-eating birds so cherished in Utah history, tried to dive into its be-yond-the-reef blue. "Too bright to call it Dodger blue," said Stanford Coach Brooks Johnson. "Too dark for UCLA blue. It must be Mormon blue."
As in, say, noses. BYU prohibits tobacco, alcohol and caffeine on its campus, as well as "intervisitation," which means not a religious seizure but men in women's dorms and the reverse. There is also a conservative dress code. The arrival of more than 700 athletes uninstructed in these rules created some odd scenes. UCLA women's Assistant Coach Bob Kersee was reduced to tossing pebbles at his athletes' windows to signal a team meeting. Last year's AIAW javelin champion, Sally Harmon of Oregon, heading for a swim in the recreation pool, wearing a two-piece swimsuit with shorts over the bottom, was stopped by a lifeguard, a member of "the morality squad," as she later put it.
"He said, 'Don't you have a one-piece?' I said no. He said, 'Is your bottom half fairly, uh, modest?' I said, 'Uh, it's kind of risqué, actually.' He asked if he could look. I pulled my shorts down, and down, past the hipbone, which seemed to disturb him, and finally we came to this little string. I was so self-conscious by then that I offered to keep my shorts on. He said thanks. In fact, I wanted to wrap up in about five towels." Undaunted, Harmon threw a personal best of 186'6", but finished third behind Karen Smith of Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo (206'9") and Oregon teammate Lynda Hughes (191'9").
In Provo the NCAA was trying a grand experiment. College women were in the meet for the first time, the NCAA having wooed and won them from the AIAW by sheer animal magnetism—that is, money. Few objected to that, but with the women adding 17 events to the program, something had to be done to streamline the meet.
The NCAA rules committee did two things. It threw out the traditional awarding of points to the first six finishers in each event and replaced it with a system giving points through 12 places. But scoring through 12 places is hard when most track races have but eight runners in the final. So the rules committee added consolation finals.
The aspect of the new format that caused apoplexy among the coaches was how the finals, consolation and otherwise, were to be reached. There would be only one qualifying round in each race. Heat winners would advance to the championship race. Fair enough. But the other places in the real and consolation finals would be filled on the basis of times in the heats, as in collegiate swimming championships. "But in swimming the conditions are stable," said UCLA Coach Jim Bush. "On the track the wind shifts constantly." Thus when once consigned to the consolation final, the best an athlete could do was ninth place, even if he set a world record.
In March, at the NCAA indoor meet, the coaches voted 53-7 against this system. But come June and Provo, there it was. How could this be? "The rules committee," said Indiana Coach Sam Bell, his tone hitting a pH of about 3.5, "obviously isn't listening to the coaches."
The athletes did as they always do—they adapted—and the cutthroat heats made for the most spectacular two days of qualifying in NCAA history. Meet or collegiate records were broken seven times. Mike Miller of Tennessee took .10 from Clancy Edwards' 200-meter meet mark with a 20.15. Nebraska's women's 4 X 100 relay team, anchored by Olympic bronze medalist Merlene Ottey of Jamaica (a third-cousin of Milt's), broke Tennessee State's collegiate record by .01, with a 43.67. All this in the preliminaries.
Alas, as if to underline Bush's qualms, a cold, wet storm front lashed Provo on Saturday. Five finals were won in slower times than the heats. Washington's Rob Webster won the consolation 800 in 1:47.21, for ninth place. David Mack of Oregon was the champion in 1:48.00. "Explain that to the people in Seattle," said Bush.
But the athletes had largely escaped the dangers of the format. The meet was more memorable for the number of sentimental occasions it produced. For example, the day after Mack's win, he watched his fiancée, Florence Griffith of UCLA, take on Merlene Ottey in the women's 200. Ottey, who had won the 100 in a windy 10.97, was off well and had a lead going into the stretch. "Then I just started going faster and faster," said Griffith. She caught Ottey with 30 yards to go and won by .07, in 22.39. Her congratulatory hug was still going on at the meet's end.
Griffith's win clinched the women's team title for UCLA, which had been bolstered by 32 points from Jackie Joyner. She won the heptathlon with 6,099 points (becoming the second American over 6,000), was second in the long jump and ran on two third-place relay teams.
Improbably enough, Mack and Griffith were outscored by a second betrothed pair, Houston's Stanley Floyd and Tennessee's Delisa Walton. First they ran anchor legs on winning relay teams, Floyd helping Houston's 4 X 100 team to an NCAA record 38.53, and Walton holding off Florida State's Marita Payne to win the 4 X 400 for Tennessee by a yard in 3:28.55, three seconds better than the collegiate record.
On Saturday, before the men's 100, Floyd was edgy. "I had the jitters," he said. "Delisa comforted me, settled me down." Floyd then ran away from Tennessee's Willie Gault and Miller to win in 10.03. The wind, which was rising, blew perpendicular to the track, so was measured below the legal limit. "It was a PR," said Floyd, "and I know I was lucky with the wind."
Delisa wasn't. Her individual event, the 800, was run in the worst of Saturday's storm. Her teammate, Joetta Clark, led for the first 500, with Walton on her shoulder and 1,500 winner and defending 800 champion Leann Warren of Oregon in fourth. "It rained and stormed so hard I started to stop," said Walton. "I couldn't even see." But off the last turn the wind was at her back and she put her quarter-miler's speed to work and won going away, in 2:05.22. Floyd found her in the press tent. "This will be one NCAA we'll always remember," he said. They will be married on June 26.
If the smooth course of romance wasn't to one's taste, this meet also offered fraternal love. Brothers had never won events in the same NCAA meet. (Although in 1944, Ross and Robert Hume of Michigan tied for first in the mile.) In Provo, Oregon's 6'5", towheaded Dean Crouser, a junior, won the discus on Friday with a throw of 207'5". The next morning he watched his 6'2", blonder brother, Brian, an Oregon freshman, throw the javelin 274' 8" to win by 11 feet from Washington State's Laslo Babits. "You don't want to go setting barriers for yourself," said the precocious younger Crouser. "Other people do that enough for you." Then he sent Dean into the shotput. Illinois' Mike Lehmann led with a throw of 68'4¼". Before his fifth throw, Crouser paced. "Your body is just your mind's instrument," he said later. His mind played his body just well enough, the shot throw landing at 68'4½". The family Crouser had its third title.
A concluding sentiment was provided by the grandest fixture that NCAA championships have ever known. On Friday, Tanzania's and UTEP's Suleiman Nyambui won the 10,000 from teammate and countryman Gidamis Shahanga in 29:03.54. It was the fourth year in a row he won at that distance, giving him 14 NCAA titles in outdoor and indoor track and in cross-country. "I especially wanted to win the fourth 10,000," he said, "because the only other runner to win four [the late Steve Prefontaine of Oregon, who won the 5,000 from 1970 to '73] was a good friend. He taught me running in Europe in 1973 and had shoes sent to me in Tanzania. I carried him in my mind, a model for myself. He was a good guy, that man."
On Saturday Nyambui came back in the 5,000, run in the wet 44° chill following the storm. It wasn't his weather. "It was terrible," he said. "The rain makes me stiff. I can't breathe right. It's like something is pressing in on my chest." He ran away from Washington State's Peter Koech in the last 200 to win in 13:54.09 and was shivering violently almost before he began his 15th and last NCAA victory lap. "I'm proud of myself," he said. "For my own titles, yes, but I was thinking more about helping the team." This he did, his 15 points in the 5,000 boosting UTEP over Tennessee by 11, 105-94.
As Nyambui prepared to leave the track, the clouds lifted enough to allow a view of the new snow the storm had left on the mountains. He gazed as well at the streams of departing athletes and trainers and coaches. "It's so cold," he said, cheerfully. "It makes it easy to say that it's time for all of this to end."