A tired, somewhat listless group of athletes from the United States last week proved themselves the finest track and field team in history before 18,000-odd enthusiastic spectators in Bern, Switzerland. The Americans tied two world records and threatened several others, though none of them felt particularly fit physically and all were geared mentally to the forthcoming Olympics.
They had had a tiring 14-hour ride on an obsolescent propeller-driven airplane from the U.S., and had spent a day sightseeing in Bern. Most of them complained of being leg-weary and flat. But Glenn Davis, the incomparable runner from Ohio, tied the world record in the 200-meter hurdles around a full curve (22.5), running on a track deadened by heavy rains. He did this on a chilly Saturday night. The next afternoon, under a bright sun and clear skies which sketched the Alps into the backdrop behind the stadium as clearly as a Swiss postcard, Lee Calhoun tied the world record in the 110-meter high hurdles, running an incredible 13.2.
All in all, the Americans broke 13 stadium records in the small Bern amphitheater which seats some 2,000 spectators and has standing room for 16,000 more. A 14th record was broken by the very strong, very consistent Polish javelin thrower, Janusz Sidlo, who whipped the U.S.'s Bill Alley soundly with a cast of 267 feet 7½ inches against Alley's 243 feet 5‚Öù inches.
Dave Sime, Duke's picture sprinter, won his heat of the 100 meters easily and confidently, and Ray Norton won his, too, but neither of them had spectacular times. Sime, a close friend of England's fine distance runner Gordon Pirie, ignored a cogent bit of advice given him by Pirie Saturday afternoon. Sime is just recovering from a heavy head cold and Pirie told him: "If you've had a cold don't exert yourself until you're completely well. You'll spread the infection through your body, it may damage your heart and you won't be fit for a month." Said Sime, "I don't run with my heart."
On that chill, faintly damp Saturday night, little Max Truex, who runs best when the weather is cold, broke the American record in the 10,000 meters by an impressive 23 seconds, returning 29:35.8 under no pressure. "I could have run 20 seconds faster," he said later. He will have to run a full minute faster to win at Rome.
Ralph Boston, who broke Jesse Owens' 25-year-old world record in the broad jump two weeks ago, had a fantastic series of 26 feet 1½ inches, 25-9, 26-2¼, 23-11, 26-8‚Öû and 26-6½. "My legs felt dead," said Boston, "and this runway isn't as fast as the one at Walnut." Bill Nieder, who earned his place on the team by breaking his own world record in the shot at Walnut, California (65-10) after failing to qualify in the Olympic trials, was well over 65 feet twice on foul puts. He won on his only fair put—64 feet 5‚Öù inches. He made that on his first trial, then fouled five straight times.
Even more cheering for U.S. Olympic hopes than Calhoun's and Davis' performances was the 3,000-meter run won by sore-footed Jim Beatty. Beatty has a severely bruised heel that he must cradle in a plastic cup inside his track shoe when he runs. "I'm out of it," he said despondently before the race. "I've lost too much time. I've just worked about a third as much as I should have." Gordon Pirie, who is favored by most Europeans to win the 5,000-and 10,000-meter runs at Rome, was confident. "I've worked harder than ever before in my life this summer," he said. "If I had been this fit at Melbourne I could have beaten Kuts." On this day he could not beat Beatty or Bill Dellinger, the U.S. second 5,000-meter runner. Pirie made a serious tactical blunder in not forcing the pace. He was content with a deliberate early pace, then found that he could not match either of the Americans in the 300-yard sprint for the tape.
Rafer Johnson, the U.S. world record holder in the decathlon, performed very impressively in a potpourri of the events which make up his specialty. His time for the 400 meters in the mile relay was 47.7, one of the fastest quarter miles ever run by a decathlon competitor.
There were, of course, disappointments. Bill Alley, still struggling to familiarize himself with the Olympic javelin, improved his best previous mark with this projectile but was still some 40 feet short of his recent world record. John Thomas failed to make 7 feet in the high jump. The cold, damp air and a pit which seemed as hard as asphalt disheartened him.
Some of the Americans are recovering from aches and pains. Rink Babka, who tied the world record in the discus at Walnut, was unable to practice his specialty for four days in New York, where it is illegal to throw a discus inside the city limits. As a substitute, he worked very hard with heavy weights and was so stiff and sore that he could not throw well at Bern.
But all cripples should be ready in Rome, the sun should be warm and cheering, the track fast.
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