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Original Issue

The big man who wasn't there

Martin McGrady had rapped about beating Lee Evans outdoors, but when the meet was set, he wasn't

The fastest 600 runner in the world sat at a bar in downtown San Jose last Friday night, staring moodily into a half-empty glass of tomato juice, his fourth, and trying to decide if he should get up the next day, put on a pair of short pants and run 440 yards. Now that may not sound like much of a decision to make. But when you've only got one sound leg, and the guy you're running against is Lee Evans, and you've been telling people how you can beat him at any distance, it comes a little hard. Martin McGrady sighed. "Sometimes I wish I had never set a world record," he said. "Sometimes I wish I could move to a foreign country where nobody had ever heard of me and just be Martin McGrady, the guy across the street who works in a factory someplace. That would be real nice. No more problems."

The man sitting next to him, a Scotch drinker, shook his head. "You're kidding. You think factory workers don't have problems?"

McGrady grunted. "I guess so. I know I would. I always have all kinds of problems. I make them for myself."

And he had made this latest one, and it was a dilly. All winter he had been king of the indoor meets, frustrating Evans in every 600, breaking the world record three times. Then the pair had been matched in the 440, Evans' distance, in last Saturday's San Jose Invitational. McGrady had taken a month off at the end of the indoor season and was slowly working his way back into peak form. Three weeks ago his coach, Brooks Johnson of Sports International, sent him to run with the club's mile-relay team at a small meet in Virginia.

"There wasn't much competition." said Johnson. "And he was going to run the second leg, the easiest leg. It was just a low-key workout."

The day was cold, gray, windy. McGrady felt stiff as he watched the field get ready for a 100-yard dash. Then he thought, hey, that looks like fun. He was pulling off his warmup clothes as he came out of the stands. "I want to run," he said. "Swell," said the promoter. He ran—for 30 yards. Then the hamstring in his left thigh went. Beautiful.

"I couldn't believe it." said Johnson. "No, that's not true. I could believe it. He's such a highly intelligent guy. Yet he's so naive, so simpleminded in some areas you wouldn't believe it."

Despite the injury, McGrady said he still wanted to race Evans at San Jose. Johnson told him to forget it. "Go out and try jogging," said the coach. McGrady tried, couldn't. Lang Stanley, the assistant athletic director at San Jose State, who was in charge of the invitational, called. Johnson told him the bad news. "Oh, no," said Stanley. "Are you sure?" Johnson said yes, but told Stanley to call him the Tuesday before the meet to make certain. Last Monday, hoping for a miracle, Stanley wrote McGrady a check for $413 to cover his expenses. He mailed the check and returned to his office. Ten minutes later McGrady opened the door and walked in.

Stanley stared at him. "What are you doing out here?"

"I'm here to run," McGrady said. "The leg is fine."

Tuesday, back in Washington, Johnson found a note McGrady left him, and he exploded. "I told him not to go out there, and I thought that was enough. There's no way he can run on that leg and be competitive. I can't believe it. Maybe they just got him out there for publicity."

Two days later Johnson heard that McGrady was really going to run. "Oh, boy, this is really something," Brooks said. "It's a good thing I had a good week. This would set my faith in human beings way back. They know he's injured. How can they let him run? It's impossible to believe that no matter how much they want him to run they'd expose him to that kind of injury."

Friday afternoon Stanley learned of Johnson's wrath. He was a little shaken. "Oh, no," he said, "I thought Brooks had sent him." He called Johnson and said he would scratch McGrady. "No," said Johnson. "I don't want Martin to think I'd scratch him as an act of vindictiveness. He's out there and he has to make up his own mind."

Meanwhile, Evans, unaware of McGrady's injury, was priming himself for the race. Evans has been working as a home school counselor at Silver Creek High School. When school lets out, he heads for the track. There he meets Stan Dowell, his former high school coach and now the track coach at Silver Creek. They've been working together since the indoor season. "Stan has got to be the best 440 coach in the world," said Evans. "I'm on the same program now that he gave me in high school. Some college should have stolen him a long time ago."

"Nuts," said Dowell, who used to run the 440 himself, but, by his own admission, not exceptionally fast. His trouble was a trick knee. "It was funny as hell to watch me run," he said. "I once did a 49.6. My best time ever. But during the race the knee popped out, and while I was trying to get it back in I drifted over four lanes. The officials never saw me. I wondered if I should tell them. Then I said to hell with it. It wasn't my job to watch me and see if I was running legal. If I did it in 55 I might have told them."

Before he met Evans, Dowell loved the 440. After he met Evans, he became obsessed with it. He read every book on the race, talked with anyone who had run it or had seen it run. For Evans, he put together a program coupling the training routines of Peter Snell and Rudolf Harbig, the fine German runner of the late '30s. "Harbig ran the 800 meters in a world-record 1:46.6 in 1939. His record wasn't broken until 1955, and he was 25 years ahead of his time in his workouts. I figured the guy must have known something. So we combined his theory with Snell's to fit Lee. From it he's developed a kick to come from behind so no one in the world can touch him."

"When I was in high school Stan was going around telling everybody that someday I'd be an Olympic champion," said Evans. "And I went around and told everybody he was crazy."

All winter Dowell gave Evans nothing but distance work. No speed. It wasn't easy. After each loss to McGrady, Evans would come back angry, demanding speed work. Dowell would talk him out of it. "He'd lose by a yard, by a few inches, and I knew he'd come back raging," said Dowell. "With speed work he'd overcome that easily. But then he'd be burned out for the summer, and that's where it counts. Indoors is a circus. I'd hear he'd lose, and I'd stay up all night thinking of ways to talk him out of it. Now McGrady will be ours."

During recent workouts, whenever Evans slowed, Dowell would scream, "McGrady's coming. McGrady. McGrady. McGrady." It worked, of course. "If anybody ever saw us, they'd think we were nuts," said Dowell. "Wait until Saturday. Lee is really ready. He'll smoke right past that McGrady."

Evans shook his head. "I'll bet right now he doesn't show up. He never does. He's got a tradition for chickening out outdoors. I'll be running against the clock, for the world record alone."

And so, Friday night, McGrady stared into his fourth glass of tomato juice, but he was seeing Evans and Johnson, and all the past outdoor seasons which had gone bad for him. "I wonder why I care what people think of me," he said. "I always do. Why can't I just be happy-go-lucky Martin McGrady? Why is everybody upset just because of a little trip to San Jose? Why do I care? I tell people I wish I had been born stupid, and they don't understand. Stupid people are happy because they are too dumb to worry about what other people think. If everybody were stupid, then everybody would be happy." He thought about that a minute, then laughed. "But if everybody was stupid, then nobody would be stupid. That's stupid. Ah, hell, no, I'm not going to race."

Saturday broke clear and warm in San Jose. The officials had moved the 440 up to noon for the world-record attempt. They didn't want the wind, which usually begins to stir around 2, to wipe it out. McGrady showed up in sweat clothes. "I got a pair of Bermuda shorts on underneath," he said. A photographer came over and began taking pictures of him. Evans, warming up, trotted past. "Hey, cool," said McGrady, "do you want to have your picture taken?"

"No, man," Evans snapped. "I've got to get ready to run."

McGrady's face tightened. "He'll find out where it's all at in a few minutes," he said. He began peeling off his sweat suit. He stopped, grinned, shook his head. "You'd think I'd learn," he said. "Well, Lee's got the fourth lane. That's where all the world records are set. Let's watch."

But there was no one to push Evans. The record is 44.7. Against no competition, Evans won in 45.8. He came off the track angry. "Damn that McGrady," he said. "I just couldn't psych myself up. What he come out here for if he didn't want to run?"

Dowell came over. "Baby, for a solo, that was beautiful. Just beautiful."

"It wasn't any world record," said Lee Evans.