Bobby Morrow, his dark, handsome face gaunt and bony from hard work and worry, fitted his spikes carefully against the starting blocks in the finals of the 200-meter dash at the National AAU meet in Bakers-field, Calif. He thought fleetingly of the three gold medals he had won in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, then settled himself grimly to try for a sixth-place finish in this race. He had no hope of winning; but sixth place would qualify him for the Olympic trials a week later and a chance to make another American Olympic team.
The night before, Morrow had failed to qualify for the finals in the 100 meters. He had finished far back in a trial heat, running dead-legged and slow. Afterwards he walked back the length of the course, his head down, picked up his sweat suit from behind his starting blocks, then walked alone out of the stadium to the practice area. He looked tired and beaten and through.
"I don't know," he said then. "I just haven't got it. My legs feel gone. I haven't worked hard enough, I guess. It's not the same as it was. I run a few 300s and I know I should run another one but there's no one there to push me and I take a shower instead. I just haven't got the desire I had."
He pulled his sweat pants on slowly, his face serious, almost sad.
"I'll try again in the 200 tomorrow night," he said. "I'll keep on trying to the last gun. But I don't think it's there."
Somehow, though, some of the old magic that once made Morrow the finest sprinter in the world came back to him. In his preliminary heat in the 200, he finished second, but he ran easily and he made up ground down the stretch. He grinned tentatively at the small knot of well-wishers who surrounded him after that race. He didn't say anything.
In his semifinal he finished third, coming with a rush in the last 60 yards. His grin was a little wider now. He walked restlessly up and down the infield while he waited for the finals, and he stopped briefly by the stands to talk to Oliver Jackson, his coach during his undergraduate days at Abilene Christian. Then he went out to his blocks and set himself as he has a thousand times before. Most of the field had beaten Morrow at one time or another this year and most of them must have felt they could beat him again.
At the gun Morrow was off ahead, the long experience in big races standing him in good stead. But Ray Norton, as clearly the best in this field as Morrow had been in 1956, pulled away as they hit the curve, unleashing a wonderful burst of speed. Others moved ahead, too, but Morrow, running desperately, came on again at the finish and placed fourth.
As the runners trotted back toward the judges, a curious thing happened. The crowd ignored Norton, who had run a really beautiful race. The applause was for Morrow.
Hard road back
He went back across the field with his head up this time. He met Oliver Jackson and grinned happily.
"I guess I'll cancel my plane reservation," he said. "I think I've got it back. With another week to work, I may make it."
If he does—and that is still a distinct long shot, considering the quality of the sprint field he faces in the Olympic trials—Morrow will be only one of many Olympic veterans who have come back. Bobby reached his peak with the narrowest of margins to spare. Most of the others who performed brilliantly in the AAU meet timed their conditioning better. But for nearly all, the struggle to return to the exuberant speed and strength of youth was unbelievably hard.
Glenn Davis, the Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion, won his event in 50.1 seconds, running powerfully and hurdling with the clipped efficiency that makes each hurdle seem only a longer step for him. He's a leaner Davis than he was in 1956 but he seems stronger, and maybe, by the time he gets to Rome, faster.
"I thought I had lost my speed," he said. "I worked and worked and worked and it wouldn't come. You can't believe how tough it was. I thought for sure it was gone. But this is a bigger challenge for me than it was in 1956. I didn't want to quit, and one day—boom—there it was. I ran a 51 flat. I knew it was back and I'd be all right."
Davis has been fortunate in that no annoying injuries hampered his training this year. But then most of the veterans, nursing themselves carefully into condition, managed to avoid the muscle pulls and strains which often slow the uninitiated.
"We have one big advantage that comes with experience," said Al Cantello, the stocky, 29-year-old marine lieutenant who won the javelin throw with a cast of 271 feet 9 inches. "We know our bodies. We know how long it takes to recover from an injury. We don't rush into competition."
Harold Connolly, who has a particular fondness for the hammer circle at Bakersfield because he set his world record there in 1958, hit 224 feet 4½ inches on his second throw, then forgot the wisdom of experience. He was throwing with a sore back and the long throw was an obvious winner, but he had to try once more. On his third throw he tore a muscle. He still expected to compete in the trials, but he would not be able to work out at all.
"I got greedy, I guess," he said. "I like this ring so much. I thought maybe I could set another record."
All in all, nine AAU records were broken and one tied as the old men of the track world let themselves go, but the only world record was set by a youngster, 19-year-old John Thomas, in the high jump. Thomas, who has made the 7-foot jump a cliché, cleared 7 feet 2 inches under the most trying circumstances. A gusty, fitful wind jiggled the crossbar between jumps, and he had to stand for long minutes, waiting for the wind to die down. He cleared the bar on his second try, brushing it very lightly with his trailing leg, then lay in the sawdust and watched it bounce gently a few times. Finally it fell. The judges first ruled the jump a good one, but they were correctly overruled by Pincus Sober, the meet referee.
Thomas said only, "You mean I got to do it again?" He resumed his vigil with the wind, staring impassively at the bar, his arms dangling loosely, his long body relaxed. When he jumped this time, he was at least two inches over the bar. "That's enough," he said after that one. He bent to take off his jumping shoes, and as he knelt he laughed suddenly and joyously and shook his head at the wonder of it all.
The oldest qualifier at the AAU meet was a gentleman who was a track athlete before Thomas was born. Fortune Gordien, an Olympic discus thrower in 1948, finished seventh to Al Oerter, the 1956 Olympic champion. Oerter looked better than ever, and Gordien watched him wistfully.
"I'm glad to get to the trials," he said. "At 38, it's hard. I know just what to do, but it takes a long time to get ready to do it. I wish I were Oerter's age again."
GLENN DAVIS, 1956 400-METER HURDLES CHAMPION, COMPLETELY REGAINED HIS OLD FORM AND WON HIS SPECIALTY WITH EASE
FORM CHART FOR OLYMPIC TRIALS, FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, JULY 1 AND 2
Top three in each event qualify for Olympic team. All events except 5,000 meters will be telecast, live and on tape, over CBS-TV on Saturday, July 2 (5 p.m. to 7 p.m., EDT).
SPRINTS: Ray Norton, in good health again and with best top speed in world, should win both 100 and 200 meters. Charlie Tidwell, with good acceleration, top speed near Norton's, will be close. Dark horses: Paul Winder, Dave Sime, Les Carney, Bobby Morrow.
400 METERS: Heavy favorites are powerful Ted Woods, NCAA champion, and Otis Davis, AAU winner. Wide-open race for other spot. Dark horses: Willie Williams, Vic Hall, Dave Mills.
800 METERS: Ernie Cunliffe, who sets killing early pace, Jerry Siebert and Tom Murphy, who prefer fast finish, are clear-cut favorites. Dark horses: Jim Cerveny, Lou Merriman.
1,500 METERS: Dyrol Burleson, with wonderful strength, driving finish, should win over Jim Grelle, who can't finish quite as hard. Dark horses: Ed Moran, Bobby Seaman, Bob Holland, Archie San Romani Jr.
5,000 METERS: Jim Beatty, with best speed, strength, finishing kick, is class of field. Bill Dellinger, AATJ champ, rates second to Beatty, with Max Truex, off AAU 10,000 showing, third. Dark horse: Bob Soth.
3,000-METER STEEPLECHASE: Erratic Deacon Jones, with fast 8:49.7 at Compton, is favorite, but determined, well-trained Phil Coleman is a strong threat. Improving Tom Oakley could surprise. Dark horses: Charley Clark, George Young, Ike Matza.
110-METER HIGH HURDLES: Old, bold campaigner Lee Calhoun, a flawless technician, at peak for trials. Faces great challenge from Hayes Jones, faster off blocks, slower over hurdles. Dark horses: Willie May, Chuck Cobb.
400-METER HURDLES: Glenn Davis, back at best, has too much speed, skill for competition. Eddie Southern, strong Dick Howard should take other places. Dark horses: Cliff Cushman, Josh Culbreath, Rex Cawley.
SHOTPUT: Bill Nieder, the strongest, Parry O'Brien, most experienced, and Dallas Long should edge Dave Davis for Olympic places.
DISCUS: Al Oerter has been most consistent of long throwers, will be challenged by Rink Babka, just attaining great form of last year, Dick Cochran, Bob Humphreys. Dark horses: Jim Wade, Jay Silvester, Jack Ellis.
JAVELIN: World Record Holder Al Cantello is back in top physical shape, should win over consistent Bill Alley. Dark horses: Gary Stenlund, Phil Conley, Jan Sikorsky.
HAMMER THROW: Top-heavy favorite Hal Connolly has speeded up spin, looks better than ever, but strained back winning AAU. Al Hall rates over Ed Bagdonas, Bob Backus. Dark horse: Tom Pagani.
HIGH JUMP: John Thomas set world record in AAU meet, could go higher in trials. Charley Dumas, Joe Faust, Errol Williams are best of others.
BROAD JUMP: No clear favorite in crowded field, but Greg Bell, Joel Wiley, Irvin Roberson, off experience and past marks, seem best. Dark horse: Ralph Boston.
POLE VAULT: Don Bragg, strong man of the vault, should edge Bob Gutowski, Jim Graham, J. D. Martin. But any one of four could break world record. Dark horses: Ron Morris, Aubrey Dooley.
HOP, STEP & JUMP: Surprise U.S. record (53 feet plus) by Ira Davis in AAU makes him possible winner in Rome. Willie Sharpe, Kent Floerke other favorites to make team. Dark horses: Herman Stokes, Luther Hayes.