In its final makeup, the U.S. Olympic track and field team is a curious patchwork. It has men the breadth of Discus Thrower Al Oerter, who weighs 270 pounds and looks as if he could stop the 5:18 express with a stiff-arm, and man-children like 120-pound Gerry Lindgren and 130-pound Tom O'Hara, who if they were not competing as qualified distance runners probably could make a strong case for half price at the ticket window. It is a team of soldiers, students, teachers, marines, engineers, bankers, mechanics, loners, extroverts, hypochondriacs and gastritis sufferers. It is made up of large, earthy veterans like Parry O'Brien, 32, who has won medals in Rome, Melbourne and Helsinki, and pink-eared rookies like 17-year-old Jim Ryun, who just recently discovered that if he runs 1,500 meters fast enough he can lam right out of Kansas on the weekend.
It is a patchwork of styles. Bob Hayes runs 100 meters like a man trying to punch an invisible opponent, Distance Runner Bob Schul and Sprinter Henry Carr are the perfect runners one illustrates how-to textbooks with. And it represents a variety of training habits. Rex Cawley runs the 400-meter hurdles faster than any other man in the world but just now found out about it, because he never self-trained more than 300 yards at a clip, and if he even gets near a hurdle more than once every two weeks he feels overworked. For this he has been accused of being singularly lazy by his friend Mike Larrabee, but Larrabee has since adapted Cawley's low-key approach to his 400-meter run with astonishing results. Gerry Lindgren, on the other hand, ran 210 miles a week, a total of 1,680 miles in the eight weeks preceding the final trials.
For these three, anyway, their systems are precisely O.K. They and others not much like them became the 1964 U.S. Olympic track and field team last weekend, our representatives to Tokyo in October. Trials that began in red-hot New York in July and cut the field to little more than a hundred were completed in cooled-off Los Angeles, where the two-day finals drew only 37,536 to the Coliseum. They were almost anticlimactic, though they should not have been, and they fell short of being entirely satisfying entertainment. Assured the Tokyo trip, not all those who had won in New York were eager to put out. The meet consequently lacked general excellence. The self-assured Schul, for example, cooked up a dead heat with Bill Dellinger as the two sped down the straightaway ahead of the pack at the finish of the 5,000 meters.
But there was also the quadrennial display of emotions by exhilarated men who had wondered if they could make the team and did and by heartbroken men who had figured to and did not. Probably the most heartsick of all was Jim Grelle, the old campaigner and former Olympian, who has done as much as any runner to raise American standards in the distances. Reaching desperately for the finish in the 1,500 meters, easily the most exciting event of the meet, he apparently had salvaged third, when on his outside came 17-year-old Jim Ryun, his head rolling as if ready to topple off onto the track. But it was Grelle who toppled. Abruptly aware of the danger, he lunged at the finish and sprawled headlong—a futile fall, for Ryun had edged him out.
When all the sadness and joy had been taken care of, a coach with half an eye for track could look on it and say that it was a good team, so good that the rejects and left-outs would have made almost any of the other 92 teams that will be in Tokyo. This is the best collection of track men the U.S. has ever brought together—which should not be news either, because it figured to be.
There were few surprises in the final trial, except that Ralph Boston did not land on Laguna Beach on one of his soaring long jumps. The 1960 gold medal winner landed instead 27 feet 10¼ inches from point of departure on one jump, or seven inches better than the world record of archrival Igor TerOvanesyan of Russia. Because of the wind at his back—"I saw that little fan twirling in the wind gauge and knew it was going too fast," said Boston—no record could be claimed, but Boston, who twice before had lost record leaps because of wind, got one anyway in Los Angeles. With that fan twirling just a bit slower, he did 27 feet 4¼ inches, one inch farther than Ter.
Larrabee, who is 30, and teaches algebra (and should be home in bed right now watching over the ruptured pancreas a playful judo wrestler rendered him), tied the world record for 400 meters. "Dying" halfway through the race, Larrabee suddenly found life and said he felt as though he were floating as he first passed Ollan Cassell, then caught Ulis Williams on the last turn and held him off to win in 44.9 seconds. Larrabee's wife, Margaret, laughed and cried and said she was so happy because Mike's mother promised she would take them both to Japan if Mike won.
Cawley, 24, made the last impressive contribution to the meet when he won the 400-meter hurdles in 49.1 seconds, beating Glenn Davis' old world record. Afterward he said he had a "very definite feeling" that he could pare it down to 48.5 if he could continue working hard at not working too hard.
Not all favorites won
Surprises otherwise were more or less limited to Willie Davenport, who beat—and therefore qualified with—Hayes Jones and Blaine Lindgren in a rather slow 110-meter high hurdle; Jay Silvester, who beat Al Oerter in the discus (both under 200 feet); and Paul Drayton and Dick Stebbins, who outstripped Hayes and Carr in the 200 meters.
In a meet like this there is enough heartbreak to register on a seismograph. Every contestant cherishes the belief that he will, if his start is good and the tides are right, qualify as an Olympian. Opinion is divided as to how the thought affects the candidate. "There is more pressure here than there is in the Olympics," says Boston. Hayes, who could not sleep for thinking about the trucks going by on the freeway outside his dormitory window the night before the meet, admitted he had "the worst butterflies ever." On the other hand, there was Schul: "You can't get too excited about this meet when you've already been assured the trip to Tokyo."
Major upsets, nevertheless, were at a minimum. The most prominent victims other than Grelle were Jim Beatty, once the most feared long distance runner in America but now 29 and too busy with his government work in North Carolina to train seriously, and Peter McArdle, recently the country's best 10,000-meter runner. Beatty was given a special dispensation to compete in the 5,000 meters in Los Angeles after dropping out of the New York race—he was still recovering from an injury then—but he finished fifth in L.A. "You cannot," said Schul of Beatty, "expect to do in a month or two what others need a year for, not in this kind of competition."
McArdle, the New York bus mechanic who at 34 can count the possibilities for future Olympic participation on his right forefinger, if that, developed stomach cramps after a mile of the 10,000 meters. "When you get a stitch like that," he said, "it goes right down to your leg and all you can do is slow down." Gripping his side, his eyes sunk back in his head, McArdle continued on, bobbing along beneath his absurd German bicycle cap, which protects his bald top. Ultimately he was lapped by the marvelous Lindgren, the young upstart with the happy grin and a voice that sounds like a leak in a steam pipe. But McArdle finished. He always finishes. A writer asked him if, when the pain was severe, he did not feel the urge to quit the race. "I don't quit," said McArdle. Fortunately, he added, he had a premonition about something like this and had the foresight to qualify in the marathon, which gets him to Tokyo but does little for his chances to win a medal. He does better in the 10,000.
Another no-quitter was 25-year-old Air Force Sergeant Darrell Horn, who jumped against Boston despite a muscle knot on his left leg the size of a pound of mozzarella. "The greatest show of courage I've ever seen," Boston said. "If I could have done anything to help him, I would have." Unhelped, Horn finished fifth.
Bob Hayes, previously the victim of a leg-muscle pull, made his first start since June 21. He had missed the trials in New York and the U.S.-Russian meet and had done little to stay in condition beyond running pass patterns with the Florida A&M football team. He had gained weight (he does not admit it) and a fiancée, a Miami girl named Barbara Milton (he broadcasts it). Barbara stayed in Miami, so only the weight showed in L.A.—mostly in Hayes's powerful thighs, which even before he put on pounds had the appearance of Civil War cannon. Still, he ran the 100 as fast as he—or any American—ever did, 10.1 seconds, and came back the next day to challenge Carr in Henry's specialty, the 200-meter. Carr was off. He had one of his rare bad days and finished fourth. "I don't know what happened," said Carr, crestfallen and fearful he had blown his Olympic berth, though he had won in the trials in New York. "I'm sick." As it turned out, the U.S. Olympic Committee decided wisely that Carr was still the best man for the job. Hayes was scratched in the 200 and left to run in the 100 and the 400-meter relay.
In all, only six of the 17 winners at Randalls Island repeated in Los Angeles. Boston, Hammer Thrower Hal Connolly, Shotputter Dallas Long, Schul, Triple Jumper Ira Davis, and Dyrol Burleson in the 1,500 meters. Burleson, an uncanny stretch driver, bided his time near the rear of a bunched pack for three-quarters of a mile and only made his bid when Tom O'Hara briefly took the lead. Suddenly O'Hara was seeing bodies stream past him and at the head of the stretch was tucked in behind three—Grelle, Burleson and Archie San Romani. Forced outside, O'Hara could not catch the fast-closing Burleson, but he did pass Grelle as San Romani faded and Ryun took third.
The team now passes into the hands of Coach Bob Giegengack and his staff and moves into pre-Olympic quarters in Walnut, Calif. Who is Bob Giegengack besides a man with three Gs in one name? He has been the head coach of the Yale team for 18 years and is a man with an agile mind, a persuasive manner and a distinctive way of answering questions: he challenges them. He is a believer in the nonvisual, right-to-left-hand baton (he calls it the bayton) pass, which he is in the process of teaching his relay prospects. He is a coach sensitive to an athlete's problems (he calls them pwoblems) and knows when to let well enough alone.
"What do you teach?" he challenged. "They've been taught. Their coaches know more about them than I could learn in a few weeks, so there is no changing them now. You drop a subtle hint or ask a wrong question—like, 'Why do you hold your foot like that?'—and you have to have a geranium in your head. You can throw a guy right off the beam, make him worried stiff.
"It's like this boy I had at Fordham in 1940 or '41. He had the quickest start on the team, and we decided to find out why. We got him aside and said, 'Joe'—that was his name, Joe Nowicki—'Joe, do you start with a jazz step off your left foot or do you just swing your right foot over?' He said he wasn't sure, but the next race he'd check it out. Well, the next race they fired a starting gun and Joe just stood there. He didn't know which foot to start off with.
"Came time for the IC4A meet and Joe was back on the beam. He got his usual good start and won the race, and one of the boys came running over to me and said, 'Did you catch it, Coach, did you catch it?' I said, 'No, and I don't want none of you guys asking him about it either.' "
Giegengack says his staff will answer all questions, advise and hear all problems, personal, real and imaginary, and, most important of all, keep their cotton-picking hands off the best track and field team in the world.
Schoolboy Ryun (4), his left foot flying over line, takes third place from stumbling Grelle (6) as Burleson beats O'Hara in dramatic 1,500 meters.