Long before the law of gravity was discovered—long, that is, before the famous apple came clattering down upon the head of Sir Isaac Newton—the Greeks were breaking it. They developed such a passion for running and jumping and heaving assorted bits of Grecian hardware around the landscape that eventually they bundled the whole thing up into one cohesive affair, and so was born the sport of track and field. Probably—although here the books are a little vague—the Greeks got the idea in the first place from some long-departed ancestor who didn't necessarily consider it fun but had to do quite a bit of running, jumping and throwing back among the woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers of the Stone Age scene.
Anyway, it has been going on for quite a while and getting better all the time, and last weekend a big version of the oldest established permanent floating athletic event in the world popped up in Des Moines, Iowa. If the ancient Greeks could have been at the Drake Relays—suitably attired in their winter tunics—they would have approved heartily and been somewhat amazed at the progress of an old favorite.
The Drake Relays in action are a three-ring circus of track and field—colorful, exciting and spectacular. In planning and execution they are not much different from a dozen other similar events which dot the spring months throughout Texas and Kansas and Pennsylvania and California; they serve the dual purpose of giving local fans a chance to see the nation's finest young athletes perform and afford coaches an early opportunity to test and evaluate their boys against strong competition in a pleasant and pressure-less setting before the big conference and national meets roll around.
Last weekend, for example, to add their names to a list which already includes such as Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, Greg Rice and Wes Santee, Harrison Dillard and Fred Wolcott, Al Blozis and Fortune Gordien and a pole vaulter named Warmerdam, came the stars of 1956. There was Bill Nieder, a muscular young giant from Kansas who is the first collegian ever to put the shot over 60 feet; there was Mai Whitfield, now a student at Los Angeles State College and still, at 31, the possessor of the same flawless stride which won two Olympic 800-meter championships and next fall at Melbourne could conceivably win another. There were also Bob Gutowski, a slender, almost skinny young man from Occidental who this February became the fourth college pole vaulter in history to soar over 15 feet; J. W. Mashburn, the big, blond power runner from Oklahoma A&M who every day looks more like the next Olympic 400-meter champion; and the great relay teams from Iowa, Baylor and Abilene Christian. And on hand for exhibitions were two former Southern California stars no longer eligible for college competition but anxious to stay in shape for the important days ahead: Parry O'Brien, the burly 1952 Olympic shotput champion and world record holder, and Ernie Shelton, who has been within a half inch of the world high-jump record and is gunning for an Olympic title of his own.
And then there were Bobby Morrow and David Sime.
The Drake officials—and the good people of Iowa, who have been known to turn out 16,000 strong for this big show—were very happy to have Nieder and O'Brien and Mashburn and Gutowski and the rest. But they were especially happy to have Morrow and Sime. For despite Drake's enviable record it has never been able to solve two big problems: how to cope with Iowa weather and how to get someone to run 100 yards in less than 9.5 seconds. Of course it would have been asking too much of Morrow and Sime to solve the first; even the Drake officials have given up trying. Rain or shine, sun or snow, they cross their fingers, hope for the best and with good grace accept what shows up. If it is a beautiful weekend, wonderful. If not, well, the farmers can always use the rain. Last Saturday, after a beautifully sunny opening day during which afternoon temperature climbed to 81°, the farmers got their rain—and 38° temperatures which threatened to ruin the Drake relays entirely.
But before the meet was an hour old, Morrow and Sime solved the second problem. Each, in a qualifying heat on Friday afternoon, ran a 9.4 100.
Now there are those, even among the track faithful, who consider the 100-yard dash—particularly when teamed up with a stop watch—an inferior product of the sport. For one thing, they will tell you, it gets over too fast. Zoom—and they're gone. What kind of a race is that? They will also mention the wonderful combination of speed and stamina it takes to run a record mile; the delicate sense of timing and pace, the psychology of position, the battle of wit as well as lung and muscle. Now that is a real race. But the sprinters—they just get out there and run. Zoom. And what if the watches do say it's good? It really doesn't mean anything. In the dashes, they could throw away the clocks, it's who wins that's important, and until a guy has beaten another good one he's nobody.
To which those who like the sprints answer simply: the dashes are the most natural race a man can run. That old cave man, for example, wasn't pacing himself when a saber-tooth showed up—he was getting out of there fast. The times? Well, maybe you're right; sometimes they are misleading, but great sprinters do get together once in a while and then you have seen a remarkable exhibition, a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Bob Karnes, the 29-year-old Drake track coach and director of the relays, was a middle-distance man himself back in undergraduate days at Kansas, but he liked the dashes just the same, and last winter he made up his mind that Drake was going to have a good 100. First he sent off an invitation to Jim Golliday, the defending champion from Northwestern, who was limping around with a pulled muscle but still might be ready in time. Golliday, who gets off the starting blocks as if he were equipped with a rocket and finishes as if he had picked up another one on the way, is a coholder of the world record of 9.3 seconds, an Army veteran generally regarded by the experts as the No. 1 U.S. Olympic sprint candidate. If he isn't No. 1, Bobby Morrow is, and Karnes sent Morrow an invitation, too. A fabulous young Texan who hadn't lost a 100 since the spring of 1953, he had never met Golliday in competition but as an Abilene Christian freshman last season ran wind-assisted times as low as 9.1, turned in 9.4 with no assistance and won the National AAU 100. And then Karnes sent an invitation to Dave Sime.
Sime is a 19-year-old Duke University sophomore from New Jersey who never ran track in high school and went to college on a baseball scholarship. But he knew he could run and said so; to prove it he zipped off a 9.6 as a freshman, became the most talked-about newcomer in track with his indoor performances last winter and then, outdoors again this spring, ran 9.4 twice in the South. He had never raced Morrow, or Golliday either. In fact he had never seen them.
A DARK HORSE TO PUSH
The race had everything, even a dark horse. Dick Blair, another member of the strong Kansas team, had been flirting with sensational times for two years and only the week before served notice with an unofficial 9.5 clocking. So when Golliday, slow to mend and still limping from his winter injury, was scratched from the race, there wasn't too much disappointment. The two big sophomores appeared ready to go, and Blair was capable of seeing that they did.
The 9.4 preliminary times (Blair won his heat with a 9.5) made it almost certain that this was going to be a race to remember, and even the fact that all three runners were pushed along by 7½-mph winds (the allowable for record purposes is slightly less than 4½) didn't lessen the anticipation. That night in Des Moines—and over much of the rest of the nation as well—there was talk of a 9.3 100 or even a 9.2. And—although this is frowned upon in some circles—not since Nashua and Swaps hooked up last summer at Chicago had there been so much wagering upon the outcome of a race. The favorite was Morrow, more experienced, more tested against strong competition. "He's never been pushed," one man pointed out. "There's no telling what that boy can run."
But at least two in a position to know leaned slightly the other way. Mel Patton, who eight years before had become the first man to run 100 yards in 9.3, now track coach of the University of Wichita, had an idea it might be Sime. "I've seen Morrow before," he said Friday night, "and he's a wonderful runner. But this Sime has such a beautiful balance. He's going to be tough to beat."
Said Northwestern's Rut Walter: "I'm not a betting man, but if I were I believe I'd go with Sime. It's too bad Jim isn't able to get in on this. And I'll tell you one thing; whoever wins, someone is really going to have to do some stepping to keep those two boys and Jim off that boat to Australia. I don't think we've ever had three sprinters of that caliber in this country at one time."
But by Saturday afternoon there was no longer any talk of a record. The temperature, dropping all night and throughout the morning, was down to 40° by noon, and an hour before the race it began to pour. Sime, nervous and sniffing from a slight cold, warmed up slowly in the shelter of the Drake fieldhouse and worried about the fans. "I'd hoped we could give them a real good time," he said, "and now this has to come along."
"Well, maybe you won't have to be out in it very long," a man standing nearby said.
Dave grinned. "Just a little over nine seconds, I hope."
Across the way, Morrow, in his usual calm manner, nodded and grinned at well-wishers, shook his head with a smile when they mentioned the nice 80 weather he had left back home and shrugged when someone asked him if he was nervous. Then, a little ahead of Sime, he jogged out into the rain.
Lining up for the start, they made quite a picture, but of the eight runners the 7,000 pairs of eyes peeking from under umbrellas and rain hats in the stands were focused on only the three in the middle. In Lane No. 4, outwardly calm, 6 feet 1½ inches tall, weighing 175 pounds, bronzed and handsome, with a white slash bearing the letters ACC across his purple jersey, was Morrow. In Lane No. 6, almost 6 feet 3 inches and 185 pounds, red-haired, baby-faced and with the big white-winged D sharp against his light-blue jersey, stood Sime, impatient to get going. And in between, slight and nervous but with some plans of his own, was a runner in a bright-blue jersey with the brilliant orange letters "Kansas" across his chest—Dick Blair.
Before Starter Les Duke could get them away, somebody on the edge of the track clicked a camera shutter and off they went, Sime and Blair letting their momentum carry them almost halfway down the track while Morrow came off his blocks to jog only a few yards before turning back to try again. On the second attempt Blair—and maybe Sime and another runner in an inside lane—beat the gun and Duke called them back again. This time Morrow, who has never been disqualified from a race for a false start, merely stood up in his blocks and walked a few steps down the track.
But the third time they were off. Blair and Sime got away together, Morrow a fraction of a second late. At 30 yards Sime had pulled away to a lead of more than a yard and Morrow was on Blair's shoulder. At 70 yards Morrow caught Blair and, almost imperceptibly, began to inch up on Sime. But he didn't really get close. The big redhead, pounding along through the puddles over a surface which somehow had remained just firm enough, threw himself forward at the tape with more than two feet to spare. Morrow, losing his first race since he was a junior in high school, beat Blair by a foot. The rest of the field was far behind, and when the time was announced (9.4) and the wind (a quartering 4.4) the Drake Relays had the record they wanted. As the man said, it had been zoom—and over. But it was quite a race. In fact, only three men in history had ever done better than this big, shy, 19-year-old kid from New Jersey and none had ever done as well under such miserable conditions.
After that, the remainder of the meet was anticlimax. The weather ruined all other record attempts except that of Gutowski, who repaired to the warmth and dryness of the field house along with the other pole vaulters and, using a runway about 45 feet shorter than his normal distance, sailed over 14 feet 8¼ inches. Shelton, who also performed inside when the high-jump area turned into a quagmire, went 6 feet 8¾. O'Brien tossed a slippery shot 58 feet 7 as Neider did 54 feet 11‚Öú to win the college competition. Whitfield helped Los Angeles State to a college sprint medley championship with an easy 880 and then ran a 48.2 anchor lap, very fine considering the conditions, in a losing cause in the mile relay.
But it was the sprinters' show. After it was all over, there were those who pointed out that on another day, with a better start, it might be Morrow instead of Sime. And they might get that 9.3 or 9.2. But whoever wins, as they meet again through the month of June in the National Collegiates, at the National AAU and finally at the Olympic trials, it should be quite a series of races. At week's end the people of Des Moines unanimously agreed that either Sime or Morrow would have made a good cave man, a good Greek—and could easily make a good Olympic champion.
RELAY RUNNERS FROM ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY POUND PELL-MELL THROUGH THE IOWA MUD