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Original Issue

The back-seat drivers

Just as behind every successful man there's a woman, so behind the world record holder is the runner-up who pushed him. Here's how a record looks from second place

Al Lawrence is a slight, hollow-cheeked young man of 28 who comes from New South Wales in Australia. Istvan Rozsavolgyi is a painfully thin, hollow-cheeked young man of 29 who comes from Budapest. Both Lawrence and Rozsavolgyi were responsible for world records in the National AAU Indoor championships at Madison Square Garden last week (see page 20), but you won't find their names in the record books.

Lawrence, setting a pace designed to kill the opposition, pulled and then pushed Bill Dellinger to a truly remarkable 13:37 world indoor record in the three-mile. Rozsavolgyi, skinny legs scissoring in an effortlessly smooth stride, forced Ron Delany to break his own world indoor record in the mile with a time of 4:02.5.

The story behind the two men who finished behind the records is remarkably similar, because they faced very similar problems. The distance races are often won in strategic planning before the gun goes off, and Lawrence and Rozsavolgyi had arrived at nearly exactly the same battle strategies.

"I wanted to run a level race, at about 4:03," Rozsavolgyi said, through an interpreter, "and force Delany to beat that if he could. I am in better condition than I was last year, but I still find running on these thin, short indoor tracks funny, and I did not run a good race. My race went according to schedule, but I started my kick about a lap or a half-lap too early and I did not have enough left at the end to hold off Delany."

Rozsavolgyi started to open up with just over two laps to go in the race, but he was not running confidently. He gave the impression that he hoped he would not have to produce any more speed and he slowed his kick once or twice, looking back over his shoulder as Delany came on. The Irishman, running with the imperturbable self-confidence which he has gained in 35 straight indoor victories, whisked by Rozsavolgyi as the gun sounded for the last lap and won by 10 yards. Although Rozsavolgyi's tactical plan failed, it set up Delany's world record.

Lawrence, who is studying radio and television arts at the University of Houston, is an extraordinarily articulate young man. The morning after the meet, he limped carefully through his hotel lobby and dropped gratefully into a booth in the coffee shop.

"My feet are a bit painful, you know," he said. "I developed two great blisters running last night and I think they are beginning to fester a bit. But they'll be all right when I get back running on grass. I run 12 or 13 miles on grass training nearly every day. The boards are hard on your feet. They get very hot in the last mile of a race like the one last night."

Lawrence's 13:38.6, good for second only, was still more than seven seconds under Greg Rice's old world record of 13:45.7.

"My plan did not work out the way I wanted it to," he said. "I was going to let Dellinger set the pace for the first mile, then run five very fast laps to drag his speed out of him, then finish as hard as I could. I planned to do about 9:18 for the first two miles, but I went through that point at 9:09 and might have done faster except that Dellinger's time for the first half mile was a bit off. He was doing the quarters in about 70 seconds and I preferred 67 or 68, so I began to set the pace after the first half mile. I felt very good, very full of running and I was rocking along at a good steady rhythm. I would rather let someone else set the pace, and running in Australia I used to run the kind of race Bill ran last night. Hold off the pace if it is a good enough one, then come from behind. I'm really a very poor front runner, but I find I must run in front here to get the pace fast enough. Then, last night, I was ticked a couple of times on the heels running behind Dellinger with the field bunched up, and at the half I abandoned my original strategy because I didn't want to be involved in a spill. Getting out front and stepping up the speed strings the chaps out a bit and you don't run that risk of being tripped."

He sipped from a glass of milk.

"I could hear Dellinger's footsteps behind me," he said. "I was really concentrating on not hearing that band, though. I was listening for the quarter times and figuring out the pace, but I was mostly concentrating on ignoring that band. Once in Australia, in a mile race, I found myself listening to the music—a record, it was—and prancing along in time to it and ran a terribly slow race. Of course the beat was faster with this band, but I didn't want to find myself running in time to it."


Johnny Morriss, Lawrence's coach, stopped at the booth. "You got Band-aids and medicine and all you need for those feet?" he asked.

"Righto," Lawrence told him, and went back to the race.

"Dellinger is a very strong runner," he said. "I stepped up the pace in the third mile, but I could hear him at my shoulder all the time. A couple of laps from the finish, I started my kick, but he stayed right with me. It was a bit disconcerting when he passed me. There's nothing you can do, you know, if the other chap has more speed. I wanted to draw his speed out of him, and possibly I could have had I run the first two quarters faster. He is a very fine runner, though, and I don't think he has tapped his potential yet."

He finished his milk and prepared to leave.

"Nor have I, for that matter," he said. "I am really not very fast, you know, so I must drag the speed out of people like Dellinger. I think in another couple of weeks, should there be a three-mile to run, I can do around 13:30. But it was a very satisfying race. You can't really feel badly about it if you have done your best and run well and the other chap has done his best and won, can you?"