In a few hours he would run his mile and lose, rather badly, and Tony Waldrop, the quiet blond youngster who had come down out of the hills of North Carolina to win nine straight sub-four-minute miles, was saying that if such a thing did happen he supposed a lot of people would be surprised, but he wouldn't be among them. He laughed and said nothing that had happened to him lately had convinced him he was not mortal. "I enjoy winning," he said, "but so do all of the people I'm racing against, and only one of us can enjoy it at a time." And so, he relaxed.
Not far away, in another wing of the motel on the outskirts of Modesto, Calif., Ivory Crockett, a sprinter who would run his 100 and win, paced his room and wondered what it would take to convince the world that he really was its fastest human. Two weeks earlier the little IBM marketing representative from Peoria, Ill. had run 100 yards in 9 seconds flat, something no man had ever done before; yet that world-record performance had been labeled a fluke. "A lot of people expect me to be blown out today," he said, the words pouring out in a rush, "but it's not going to happen. I'm going to win because I have to win. And after today there are going to be a lot of believers in Ivory Crockett." And so, he paced his room.
The suspect sprinter and the marvelous miler would have opposition. The organizers of the California Relays had gone out of their way to load their races with a long ton of talent. "They didn't forget anybody," said Crockett, dryly. He would have to face Steve Williams, the 9.1 sprinter from San Diego State; Reggie Jones, the 9.2 ace from Tennessee; Jones' 9.3 teammate Jon Young; and such fine sprinters as Don Quarrie, Larry Brown and Mark Lutz.
"Who have I got?" asked Waldrop when he arrived in Modesto late Saturday afternoon, only four hours before his race. He had spent Friday night at a motel in San Jose, the hometown of his girl friend Terry Anderson, a miler, and they had driven the 60 miles to Modesto with a friend Saturday afternoon.
"Well, for openers," he was told, "there's Hailu Ebba, the Ethiopian from Oregon State. He's run 3:57.8. Then there's Paul Cummings from Brigham Young. His best is 3:56.4. There's Len Hilton, the AAU champion, and Wilson Waigwa, from Kenya and UTEP. And somebody said Daine Malan might skip the half mile to take a shot at you. They've all been under four."
Waldrop rolled his eyes upward. "I wish I hadn't asked."
The night before, while Waldrop was relaxing in San Jose, Crockett restlessly prowled the halls of the Modesto motel. At ten o'clock he settled down long enough to have half a glass of beer in a dark and noisy cocktail lounge. He sat, but he was not still. His words came in staccato bursts. His hands fluttered without pause. And every now and then he would whiz his chair backward, jump up, sit down again and drum his feet on the floor.
"Those sprinters are in a world of their own," said John Smith, the 440-yard world-record holder who is now a professional. "Everything they do is a sprint. Even their eyeballs are going 9 flat."
Smith opened a newspaper to the sports section and handed it to Crockett, who read a few lines by candlelight and then slammed the paper to the floor. "I don't want to read that garbage," he snarled. He had set his 9-flat world record on May 11 at Knoxville, Tenn. The newspaper story implied that clokers in Tennessee could not be trusted, that Crockett, who is always quick out of the blocks, had probably jumped the gun and that, in any case, it was unlikely he would ever run 9 flat again.
But then, the 5'7", 145-pound Crockett has never really been appreciated. In 1969, as a freshman at Southern Illinois, he beat John Carlos in the 100 in the National AAU championships, but they said Crockett won because Carlos had to run in Lane 8. Crockett won the AAU Nationals again in 1970, but they said that was because Carlos pulled up lame. When Crockett was clocked in 9.6 in the 100 meters at the NCAA championships in 1972, the officials decided no one—at least not Crockett—could run that fast. The world record is 9.9 and the time was corrected to 9.9 but "wind-aided," which meant it could not be sanctioned as a record. That technicality almost blew Crockett's mind.
"But I think the 9 flat has turned it all around for me," Crockett said in Modesto, a grin sprinting across his face. "Until then, no matter what I did I had never been invited nowhere. Nobody ever invited me nowhere except to Drake and Kansas, and I'll keep going there until I die. But now that I run the 9, I get invited to Modesto and maybe to other places. Running that world record really felt good. The only other time I felt good was when I was 18 and beat Carlos in the AAUs. And I felt good when I got married."
A track shoe representative came by and asked, "What can I do for you?"
"You can give me some golf shoes," Crockett said.
"Yeah, and some football shoes. I think I'm ready for pro football. There's a guy in New Orleans who is smaller than me. He runs between guys' legs. I've always had two dreams: to play football and to sing. Everybody knows I can't sing."
Crockett went to work for IBM last August and now for the first time can compete without financial worries. He was married in 1971, and the next few years were monetarily rough.
"I was always concerned about my wife," Crockett said. "She hated it before when I had to leave for meets because she had nothing to do. Now we have a car, some nice clothing, money in the bank. Now she can enjoy life, and a lot of pressure is off me. I thank God now that He gave me a good job. I feel so secure and relaxed now. And IBM, they hired me before I broke the world record. They had confidence in me. When I came to work after setting the world record they had a sign 18' long across the windows of the building: IVORY CROCKETT WORKS HERE AND WE ARE PROUD. Wow! The chairman of the board congratulated me. Even before that they thought I was super, that I was a good salesman. They always remember that I am a person, that I am Ivory Crockett and not just a number."
At noon on Saturday, Steve Williams arrived from San Diego. The most recently deposed world's fastest human quickly showed that he, too, remembers Ivory Crockett as a person. He was disgusted because many people were refusing to accept his rival's world record as legitimate.
"I feel sorry for him," said Williams. "People don't believe in him and they should. It's sort of sad. People say to me, 'Hey, it's a fluke.' And I say, 'The man did the job, and he did it fairly.' I just have to go him one better."
Williams was not sure he was ready to go one better in Modesto. The previous week he had worked hard in a conference meet and had come out of it with a slight muscle strain in his left thigh. He refused to talk about it.
"My head's together," he said. "I just hope my body is. Today I want a clear-cut win or loss. I don't want any excuses. Not from me. I don't like guys like Borzov, the Russian, who cop out after they get beat."
The 100 went off at 6:32 on a broiling, muggy evening, three-quarters of an hour before the mile was to be run. Tom Moore, who was both meet director and starter, cast a suspicious eye at Crockett as the runners got into their blocks. Moore, who has the reputation of being the slowest gun in the West, said earlier that he would keep a very close watch on the new world-record holder. Later, he offered an apology of sorts for the remark. "I didn't mean to say he jumps the gun," Moore said. "I just meant he is an excellent anticipator of when it goes off."
When it went off, Crockett burst away in a superb start. Ten yards out he had a two-yard lead on Williams and was still pulling away. But Williams, who never starts well, began to burn, and at the 80-yard mark he had come within a lash of the flying Crockett. And that was the way they hit the tape. Both were timed in 9.2 on the dirt track. On a faster, Tartan surface they might have done 9 flat.
A few yards past the tape Crockett, knowing he had won, leaped into the air, whirled and screamed, "Way to go! Tell that to the writers!" He said later he wished he hadn't done that. Somebody asked him if he thought his victory was an upset. Crockett shook his head and sighed. "What's an upset? Every time Henry Aaron hits a home run, is that an upset?"
Then it was time for the mile. In the stands Dave and Lee Cummings were ready. Their son, Paul Cummings, a 20-year-old junior at Brigham Young, had run his 3:56.4 early in the year but had done nothing that impressive since. "We're hoping to see Paul finish second," said Cummings, a schoolteacher. "That other fellow is going to win, of course."
When the other fellow, Waldrop, began his final warmups he decided he did not like the way his legs felt. Nine straight sub-four-minute miles, including a world-indoor-record 3:55, are impressive, but they can be taxing, too. In his last race before Modesto, Waldrop, fighting a cold, ran a 3:59.8 that kept his string alive but left him exhausted. "I was really glad to see the finish line," he said. "Usually I jog a mile and a half after a race, but I was too tired that day."
The mile began slowly, with Len Hilton taking the lead and Waldrop a few steps back in second place. "There won't be any world record today," Hilton had predicted. "We don't have a rabbit to take us through the first half in 1:57. I don't see Waldrop leading from the front for a record, and I don't see him doing it off a slow pace."
Hilton led the field through a 61.4 first quarter and the public-address announcer urged the runners to step it up. Halfway through the second lap Cummings went to the front, with Ebba second, as Hilton and Waldrop dropped to third and fourth.
Cummings took them through the half in 2:01.9, the three-quarters in 3:01.8. Everyone, including Cummings, was waiting for Waldrop to make his big move. "I made my move on the third lap," Waldrop said later, "but no one saw it. I didn't go anywhere. When I reached down for my kick, there wasn't any. My legs were sluggish. I run for fun but sometimes I say to myself, 'What are you doing out here?' This was one of those times."
The last lap was a duel between Cummings, who never gave up his lead and who was still wondering when Waldrop would come roaring past, and Ebba. Cummings finished strongly to win in 3:57.7, with Ebba seven yards back in 3:58.6. Well behind them was Hilton, who passed Waldrop in the last 10 yards to finish third in 4:04.6. Waldrop was fourth in 4:05. "I just didn't have it," Waldrop said. "I felt flat. I've felt like that before, so it doesn't bother me. Maybe it will tomorrow when I wake up and realize what happened. Maybe I'll finally begin to feel pressure, because I know I'll have to come back next time."
In the infield after the race, Cummings bent his thin body forward, placed a hand on each knee and sucked in deep drafts of warm steaming air. Sweat had plastered his black curly hair to his head. "I came here to win," he said finally, and then he smiled. "But that was just in the back of my head. I think Tony was down a little today. He'll bounce right back."
Cummings' father came out of the stands and walked across the grass, stopping silently, almost shyly, a few feet away from his son. A small boy was with him. After a while the father said to a reporter, "This is Paul's brother. He is one of 13 children." To Paul, he said: "You stunned a lot of people."
"I stunned myself," said Paul.
"You look a lot stronger this year," his father said, "You don't look as thin as before. Of course, we only see you every six months."
Cummings nodded and said he had put on a little weight. Then he told his father he would not be able to compete in the AAU championships in June because of a summer construction job he had in Green River, Utah. "It pays $6.25 an hour and I can't afford not to take it," he explained.
"Paul's a good son," Dave Cummings said. "With 13 children I can't help him any. He has a full scholarship, but he works to pay his own way on everything else. He makes his own car payments." He turned back to his son. "You were real good, Paul. It was a five-hour drive here from home, but we just had to see you run. I was hoping you'd finish second, you know, to that other guy. You sure surprised a lot of folks."
Paul grinned. "Yeah, like me."
His mother joined the small group. She hugged her son, then stepped back, studied his face. "Oh, you've got a cold sore on your lip," she said. "Use Neosporin. That will clear it up."
The father looked at his wife and smiled. "She's not much of a track fan," he said.
Proud Crockett's stirring win in the 100 forced track experts to give him his due at last.
Easygoing Waldrop's string of sub-four-minute races ended in a lusterless fourth-place finish.