"The last time a big U.S. women's track team invaded Europe, the girls fell flatter than a bride's soufflé. The place was Moscow, and the tremors from that debacle were felt even in Washington. This month the girls went back, and for the first time, either indoors or out, they won an international match. Then, to prove the win was not mere luck, they repeated the victory five days later. The performances were stunning because they were so unexpected. Traveling with the American men's team, which easily won both its matches in London and Berlin, the girls were supposed to be weak. "This was going to be our building year," explained the women's team manager, Dr. Maria Sexton. "We had a good team, but nobody expected a winning one."
In the past American men's teams have tended to regard female athletes as just so much unnecessary baggage. On this trip the men learned to regard the girls with proprietorial pride, and before the meet with West Germany they presented each of them with a small ornamental key, the type you hang on a charm bracelet. The girls had started swiftly in London. Lynn Graham, who is only 17 but is already being bracketed with Russian Shotputter Tamara Press, quietly broke Earlene Brown's American record while winning at Wembley Stadium. It was several days later before anybody realized what she had accomplished with her throw of 49 feet 7¾ inches. "I knew I'd done it," said Lynn, "but I didn't think it was worth mentioning."
A lot of knowing people think Miss Graham, who measures 5 feet 10½ inches and weighs 195 pounds, can be the world record holder in three years. In the opinion of Shotputter John McGrath, she has more powerful legs and hips than Miss Press and a good, natural snap. Currently, however, her technique is practically nonexistent. A high school senior in Pasadena, Calif., Lynn says that she took up the shot and discus in September 1963 and just a few weeks ago began formal training under Olga Connolly, the Olympic discus thrower. As she tells you this, she sits comfortably twiddling her thumbs. "Everybody tells me I should be thinking about the things I do wrong, but I don't," she admitted. "I just try to do my best." And how far is that? "I'd like to throw 60 next year, and then...." Her voice trails off, a wistful look comes into her eyes, and her thumbs start to twiddle madly.
The British did not include a women's 880-yard race in London, which was probably prophetic. Marie Mulder of the U.S. won an invitation event over the distance with ease, and her time of 2 minutes 15 seconds beat the United Kingdom all-comers' record by half a second. But it was her style rather than her speed that captured the public imagination. Walter Hass, the combined team's manager, says Marie's stride is 18 inches longer than that of most girls, and it seems even longer still as she glides over the ground with a natural grace that reminds one of Herb Elliott.
A pretty, 15-year-old brunette with hazel eyes, Marie is of Dutch-Indonesian descent. She has three sisters and four brothers and comes, at the moment, from Sacramento, Calif. Recently, her father, Carel Mulder, became Assistant Chief of Medical Care for the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington. Marie was spotted at a meet by Will Stephens, her high school track coach, when she was a 14-year-old taking part in a race for the first time in her life. She did not win, but Stephens was impressed and soon had her running on his Spikettes team. Two days after her 15th birthday, Marie set a new U.S. citizens' record of 2 minutes 11.4 seconds for 880 yards. An extremely intelligent girl, she digs classical music, collects funny hats (including a fez that she wore continually in Berlin) and is a whiz at algebra.
In Germany, Marie renewed a battle with Antje Gleichfeld, who ran second in the AAU indoor championship 800 as Marie came in fourth. Gleichfeld, at 27, is a considerably more experienced competitor, so it was hardly surprising that Marie, with an irritating heel bruise on her right foot, finished behind Antje once again. Marie nevertheless clocked 2 minutes 8.3 seconds, faster than any American woman had ever run the distance indoors. Miss Gleichfeld's own time—2 minutes 7.1 seconds—was a world record.
The superior quality of American women came clearly into focus on the first night of the Berlin meet in the dramatic 760-meter relay. Barbara Ferrell, running the first leg, told the starter she was not quite ready. Failing to understand her, he fired the gun, catching her unawares. Barbara lost 10 yards but had practically made it up when she handed the baton to Valerie Carter. As Miss Carter, running shoulder to shoulder with her opponent, came off the bend into the backstretch, her hand suddenly went down to the back of her right thigh. She had been struck with a massive cramp. It felt, Valerie said later, as if someone had grabbed her leg and tried to pull the muscle away. The normal reaction of any runner faced with such pain would be to halt immediately, but rather than see her team lose the two points it would earn merely for finishing, she half hopped and half ran—screaming in agony all the way—nearly 100 meters to hand off the baton. As a result of her courageous action, the women's team had its two points and went into the second night with the match tied at 31-31—its members more determined than ever to triumph.
Not all the stars were women in the Berlin meet. Ted Nelson, a half miler from Canoga Park, Calif. who until recently was serving in the U.S. Army in Turkey, won the 800 meters in 1 minute 47.4 seconds, beating the old indoor mark held jointly by Bill Crothers of Canada and J√∂rg Lawrenz of West Germany by 2.1 seconds. A sparse 6-footer running in his first indoor season (his best outdoor time over the distance was 1 minute 48.2 seconds last summer and he finished seventh in the first Olympic trials), Nelson was voted the outstanding male athlete of the meet, while Miss Gleichfeld received the female award. The second night, Mike Larrabee, the Olympic Gold Medal winner, set a new 400-meter indoor record of 46.8 over his distance. If Larrabee had not run the previous night (in a relay) he believes he could have gone faster. "At 31," he said, "I'm getting old."
But it was back to the women and, more specifically, Janell Smith, for the fourth and last record set in Berlin. In London, Miss Smith had already run a faultless 600-yard race, bursting from the start to take the lead and never relinquishing it. A 17-year-old blonde, with blue eyes and creamy complexion, she comes from Fredonia, a small community in Kansas. In Tokyo she set an American record of 54.5 in the 400-meter semifinal. Her time on the Berlin track was better, 54 fiat, beating by 1.6 seconds the world indoor record set by Australia's Judith Amoore in the U.S. this winter. Janell ran as fierce a race as she had in London, leading from the start, floating in the middle and finishing with a kick.
As a girl who runs, Miss Smith feels she is an oddity back home in Kansas. "I'm afraid when I go to college next year, I might be looked down upon because I'm an athlete," she said in Berlin. Apart from running, she likes dancing and pop music (her current favorites: The Temptations and The Supremes) and reading Nevil Shute. Her mother sometimes wishes she had taken up the piano, but Janell's only obvious music talent is the lyrical quality her voice takes on when she recites her training schedule. "In the summer," she explained, "I train twice a day, in the morning for an hour and in the evening for about two hours. In the winter I train 1½ hours or so after school. On the first day I do six or seven 110s, the second day three or four 220s, the third day two or three 330s, the fourth day two 660s, the fifth day two or three 880s, the sixth day a long-distance run on the track or a cross-country run over the roads and hills. And the seventh day I do eight or nine 60s and practice starts and floating. It's real important to be relaxed."
Janell Smith's schedule should be set to music forthwith and sung by all girls who want to relax and break records with charm.