An American team composed, in essence, of the best natural track and field men anywhere is in Moscow to compete against the meticulously polished, carefully nurtured athletes who represent Soviet Russia. The two-day event in the 104,000-seat Lenin Stadium is the first of four international dual meets to be held in the next two weeks between the U.S. and European track and field teams, and by the time the Americans get home they probably will be wondering what's so tough about an Olympic year.
It's not only the Russian men who have a chance of avenging two earlier defeats by the U.S. (127-108 and 126-109)—the Polish men conceivably could win also. Only Great Britain and West Germany, the latter competing without the East Germans, who teamed with them at the Olympics, are sure to lose to the U.S. The reason for this upsurge in the level of foreign track competition is nothing startling or new—it is a simple combination of studious development of technique and unceasing diligence. These qualities are epitomized in the best known of all the European athletes and the one who has surprised the U.S. the most—Valeri Brumel.
No American high jumper, whether you measure technique or results, performs as well as Brumel (see opposite page). John Thomas, whose physical attributes should enable him to beat Brumel by three inches, probably never will. He has lost to the Russian four times, including the Rome Olympics.
Why? Says Brumel: "The thing you have to understand is that I have been working very hard at this jumping—longer and harder than Thomas. You may not have heard of me until Rome, but it has been a long time for me."
Brumel jumps quite differently from Thomas. He approaches the bar faster, plants his left foot harder, lifts higher. While Thomas almost loafs up to the bar and seems to float over, Brumel blasts his way up and across.
"It is a matter of speed," Brumel says. "The most important part is the run. The run must be perfect, otherwise the jump will be nothing.
"In America they concentrate on jumping, on the parts of the jump. We work on running. I run all the time in training—sprints. I do the 100 meters in 10.7 (equivalent to a 100-yard dash in 9.8). The higher the jump, the more speed necessary, and the more strength. Like a broad jumper it is with me. The last stride is low for maximum push off the left foot. I start near the upright because I need the whole bar. I jump along the bar—this gives me time to perform the mechanics of the jump. Thomas jumps over it—up with his leg and then he starts down."
Clicks and a grunt
Brumel's careful, concise analysis of the anatomy of jumping is typical of all the European athletes whom the Americans will meet on this exciting, if too rushed, tour of Europe. The European runners and jumpers study their events exhaustively because they must have encyclopedic knowledge of them in order to beat the Americans.
"You never see an American track and field coach with a camera in his hand when we go to Europe," a U.S. coach said three years ago when our first team went to Moscow. "But when Parry O'Brien put the shot there you couldn't hear him grunt for the click of the Russian coaches' cameras."
That was, of course, true. Study a Russian shotputter today and you find echoes of O'Brien in his every move.
In Moscow the U.S. will win the quick, explosive events, as it did in 1958 and 1959. But the team will lose the long events—the events in which exhaustive training makes a difference and explosive energy is discounted—for the Russians are dedicated to this tiresome expenditure of energy, the expenditure needed to develop precisely the swing of an arm needed throughout the 30-minute trek of the 10,000-meter run.
The U.S., then, should win every race up to the 5,000 meters in Moscow, with Jim Beatty and Dyrol Burleson continuing their personal duel in the 1,500-meter. In the field events Ralph Boston, undoubtedly the world's best broad jumper, must beat Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the second-best. Russia's Vitold Kreer is unbeatable in the hop, step and jump. The high jump is almost certainly theirs, the pole vault in dispute. We are sending two youthful vaulters to face their first international competition.
With the retirement of Rafer Johnson, one spectacular high point of the previous Russian-U.S. meets is sadly gone. The decathlon duels between Johnson and Vasili Kuznetzov were something very special. Now Paul Herman and Dave Edstrom fall heir to Johnson's role, with slight chance of success.
The Moscow meet should be a photo finish. At Stuttgart two days later the U.S. faces a West German team whose strength is in the sprints and hurdles. Less trouble is expected there. It is too early in the season for the late-starting European trackmen to have reached their peak, but late enough for the German team to have lost two of their best men—Armin Hary, retired after a knee injury, and Martin Lauer, hospitalized with a leg infection. Nor can much be expected from a third, Carl Kaufmann, who is hampered by a thigh injury. Give the Germans a relay on the strength of faultless baton passing, give them the hammer and the javelin on the basis of experience versus our third-string, watered-down field men—and you have a 16-4 victory for the U.S.
No rest and no reserves
The British—not to be confused with the Empire, which includes the likes of Herb Elliott—have little team depth. In London on July 21 and 22 the British must count on the distance events and hope for a good showing from Shotputter Arthur Rowe, or face a bad beating.
By the time the U.S. team gets to Warsaw on July 28, it is going to be travel-weary and competition-weary, too. There it must contend with seasoned performers on their home grounds. The best of them, Marian Foik, might even surprise America's world record-holder, Frank Budd. The Poles will surely be capable and could be formidable. The Warsaw meet may well turn out to be as close as the one in Moscow
The U.S. team has no reserve talent on which it can call in these meets, the first three of which occur within seven days. It is a palpable impossibility for any runner whose race covers 1,500 meters or more to compete effectively so often. Traveling with the U.S. team, for some reason or other, are seven American Amateur Athletic Union officials, and by the time the team has covered the 9,000 miles to Warsaw it may wish it had two fewer officials, and two more runners. It is this type of programming that led nine American track and field men who qualified for the team to refuse to make the trip, a decision that will cost the U.S. a few badly needed points.
The American women's team that is competing in the dual meets is about the same as its predecessors and no cause for alarm to the foreign ladies. None of them can stay within an impala's stride of Wilma Rudolph—and Vivian Brown, her teammate from Tennessee A & I, is not far behind Wilma. The U.S., alas, has no other sure winner in a women's event. Since the Russians, however, score the women's events with the men's events in arriving at a meet total, we can expect to read that the U.S. was soundly beaten.
For that matter, any way you score it, the U.S. could still lose. The opposition is tough. For an idea of just how tough, examine the chart at right.