AN EXTRAORDINARY DEATH
The world of running was beset by tragedy last week. In addition to the apparent suicide attempt of North Carolina State junior Kathy Ormsby at the NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis (page 18), there was the sudden death in Eugene, Ore., on Monday of Jeff Drenth, 24, who had represented the U.S. in the last three world cross-country meets and had lived in Eugene since early 1985. Writes SI's Kenny Moore:
Jeff Drenth was a runner of diligence and boyish charm, and his death shocked his community. "He collected friends like leaves," said Scott Pengelly, sports psychologist of Drenth's club, Athletics West.
Drenth, a native of Charlevoix, Mich., had taken a morning run on Monday, done his laundry and received a massage at Athletics West headquarters. He told masseur Rich Phaigh that he felt good and joked about his subpar performance in the 3,000 meters in the Bruce Jenner track meet two days earlier in San Jose. A moment later, Drenth stepped into the rest room, collapsed and died.
An autopsy showed that Drenth's brain, lungs and heart were in perfect health. His heart was large and had been capable of sustaining 215 beats per minute, remarkable even among distance runners. Its stark absence of damage seemed to suggest an electrical malfunction, which leaves no telltale clot or ruptured vessel. For now, the Lane County medical examiner, Dr. Ed Wilson, is listing the cause of death as a heart rhythm disturbance, a judgment supported by Drenth's history of arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.
Runners of all abilities deluged the Athletics West offices with their regrets and fears. There are hundreds of kinds of arrhythmia, and it is not unusual for top athletes as well as the unathletic to have episodes of irregular heart pattern. These are usually of insignificant risk.
Drenth had had several electrocardiograms in the past, but none had caused his doctors concern. To find the cause of the electrical disturbance that led to Drenth's death, Athletics West has commissioned extensive blood and tissue studies, but these may not yield much more than is known at present, which is that Drenth's heart simply stopped.
News stories saying Drenth died "following a run" seem to imply that somehow his exercise brought on an "attack." The secretion of adrenaline during exercise can, in theory, provoke the flow of electrical current among cells, says New York cardiologist Dr. Philip Weintraub, but to assume this happened in Drenth's case is "highly speculative, impossible to prove." "Jeff would have hated his death's leading to fear of running," says a friend, collegiate mile-record holder Leann Warren. "There just was no connection. If there had been, he'd have died after the effort and exhaustion of the world cross-country race in Switzerland [in which he finished 87th last March]."
In the wake of Drenth's passing, athletes are reminded that their natural gifts come with no firm guarantee. And they will proceed with increased regard for how the best among them seem to enjoy a precarious tenure.
It's only June, but CBS's Dick Stockton has all but locked up one of SI TV writer William Taaffe's coveted Heidi Awards for worst TV commentary of 1986.
Stockton launched his misguided missile last Thursday when the Houston Rockets' Ralph Sampson was ejected from Game 5 of the NBA finals for fighting. Not only did Stockton object to Sampson's being thrown out, arguing that the importance of a big series should somehow bestow immunity on major players, but he also blamed Sampson's ejection on the Celtics' Jerry Sichting. It was Sichting who was elbowed and punched twice by Sampson.
Here's a sampling of Stockton's remarks: "A player can bait a player, can nudge a player, can make him lose his temper.... The question is, what is it all about when, whatever the skirmish is, a 6'1" backup guard gets one of the stars of the other club thrown out of the ball game?... I don't think you throw out a guy in a championship series after that kind of an incident."
Stockton has since recanted, saying that he was "premature in judging the situation" and that there was "no defense for not throwing Sampson out." Indeed, referee Jack Madden, who ejected Sampson, should be lauded for sending a clear message to NBA players that fighting will not be tolerated.
ARC + TOUCH = TWO POINTS
When we last visited Brooklyn College physics professor Peter J. Brancazio (SCORECARD, April 25, 1983), he had determined that baseball players chase down fly balls by ear as much as by eye. But Brancazio has also devoted much of his scientific attention to the shooting of a basketball. With the eight-month NBA season finally over, we pass on his shooting tips for those who might want to sharpen their game over the summer.
According to Brancazio, who studied thousands of shots and originally published his theories in the American Journal of Physics, a shot is more likely to go in if propelled softly (so it won't carom too far off the backboard or rim) and in a high arc (to take full advantage of the 18-inch diameter of the hoop). A 20-foot jumper, he says, launched at a 49-degree angle toward the basket is seven times more likely to go in than the same shot put up in a flatter, 43-degree trajectory. Backspin helps too, Brancazio contends, by slowing the ball down when it hits the rim or backboard.
So head for that playground, lace up the sneaks and don't forget your physics.
HOW NOT TO MAKE THE PUTOUT
Blue Jay second baseman Damaso Garcia responded to a tough loss recently by taking off his uniform top and cap, dousing them with alcohol and setting them on fire in the clubhouse bathroom. At the time of the incident, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, as part of a joint fire-safety campaign with the Blue Jays, had just released a Garcia baseball card with fire-prevention tips on the back.
IN THIS CORNER, GEORGE FOREMAN?
Who knows if he's serious, but last week former heavyweight-champion-turned-fundamentalist-preacher George Foreman—all 280 pounds of him—announced plans to make a boxing comeback. "I thought I wanted to retire and live the good life," Foreman told Wallace Matthews of Newsday. "But I learned—don't ever get into the position of having everything you ever wanted."
Foreman, 37, who retired in 1977 after an unexpected loss to Jimmy Young, said he has a "newfound strength" and hopes to return to the ring in October if he can trim himself down to 220 pounds—no minor task in itself. Foreman said he had been considering a comeback for quite a while and after seeing Gerry Cooney knock out Eddie Gregg two weeks ago felt certain that he could return and hold his own. "I'm not trying to say boxers today are not as good as they used to be," Foreman told Matthews. "But I'd like to see any of these young whippersnappers knock George Foreman out. George Foreman and Mike Tyson in the ring, what do you think would happen? As long as Muhammad Ali is not around, I'm O.K."
Foreman would be wise to look back at his words to SI's Gary Smith in late 1984, when coming back was the furthest thing from his mind: "Sure, I could get in shape and box now. I could be champ—isn't that what I'm supposed to say? And nine months from now you'd be embarrassed for me. I've got nothing against boxing, but you should make your million, then run and hide."
WILL IT MAKE THE FISH BYTE?
Now available for the fisherman who thought he had it all: the FishMaster computer ($73.70 and attachable to a fishing rod), which is said to beep within half a second after a strike and tell the angler how hard a particular fish fought, how long it took to catch it, how much the fish weighed and how much force was exerted on the hardest pull. The computer also informs the fisherman how many he has caught that day—which presumably will serve to discourage any later fish stories.
It's often hard to convince young athletes to concentrate on their educations; that for most of them, a career in big-time sports is a pipe dream. But the latest statistics from the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations bear out those statements.
Last year 5,112,168 high school students (one of every three) competed in sports. About a million took part in football, while 500,000 played basketball and 390,000 competed in baseball. At the college level, 292,732 men and women participated—among them 48,634 in football, 22,117 in baseball and 14,190 in men's basketball. That's less than 6% of the high school total.
Of this select group, only a few thousand will be drafted by pro teams and no more than several hundred will reach the top. The numbers suggest that roughly one of every 4,000 high school baseball players will someday start in the major leagues, one in 5,000 high school football players will start in the NFL, and one of 12,500 prep basketball players will make an NBA starting five. Those long odds are worth remembering.
A POSER WHO IS NO POSEUR
He signs correspondence "Russ Testo, Physique Artist Extraordinaire," and says his sport is posing. He prances about and flexes his pecs during a choreographed five-minute routine that mixes street dancing with bodybuilding. He stands at the unlikely intersection of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jackson.
It was Schwarzenegger, in fact, who gave Testo his big break. In 1981 Schwarzenegger needed some between-rounds entertainment for a Mr. Olympia contest he was staging, and he auditioned Testo. "He loved me," says Testo. "He put me in the show. After that, it just snowballed."
Since then Schwarzenegger's discovery has competed in amateur bodybuilding competitions in the U.S. and posed at pro events both here and in Europe. The 5'7", 170-pound Testo has performed at three Mr. Olympia contests—"It's the Super Bowl of bodybuilding," he says—and will do so again this year. He hones his talent with three hours of daily lifting and posing practice, followed by "visualization" sessions. "I just put on the headphones and see the moves in my head."
Testo, who lives in Troy, N.Y., relishes big events, but isn't above performing at the occasional Sweet Sixteen party. "Hey, I'm into entertainment," he says.
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Kern, struggling Indians pitcher: "I'm working on a new pitch. It's called a strike."
•Grant Teaff, Baylor football coach, after seeing Texas A & M's Randy Barnes set an NCAA freshman shot-put record of 71'9½": "Some cannon balls in the Civil War didn't travel that far."
•Stan Jones, Denver Bronco defensive line coach, after the team drafted USC tackle and classical pianist Tony Colorito: "I don't want guys who play the piano, I want them to lift it."