Shortly before the start of the 800-meter final at the AAU track and field championships last weekend in Eugene, Ore., the veteran intermediate hurdler Ralph Mann was counseling a promising young half-miler from Utah State named Mark Enyeart. "With a little weight work and a couple of years' maturity," the 26-year-old Mann told the 21-year-old Enyeart, "you're going to be running really well. But right now don't expect any miracles."
Thus advised, Enyeart, a converted quarter-miler who moved up to the longer distance only this spring, pulled off the miracle of the two-day meet by outrunning the supposedly unbeatable Rick Wohlhuter from start to finish to hand the defending champion his first defeat at 800 meters or 880 yards in two years. Wohlhuter had won the AAU title in 1973 and 1974 and is the current world-record holder in the half mile (1:44.1).
Starting from the extreme outside lane, Enyeart whipped around the first turn and took a solid hold on the lead as the field entered the backstretch. Wohlhuter, who had not trained for the race as well as he would have liked, moved up quickly into second place and dogged Enyeart the rest of the way. Everyone expected the long-striding master to bolt past the rookie in the stretch, but with a remarkable demonstration of poise and courage Enyeart maintained his form, held off Wohlhuter and won by two yards in a fine 1:44.87, his career best.
Enyeart really had no business beating Wohlhuter, but in two days of competition at the University of Oregon's famous Hayward Field the unexpected became commonplace. Who would have guessed that high jumper Dwight Stones, the world-record holder, would leap 7'4" and finish third? Or that three top performers in the 110-meter high hurdles would all fall down? Or that Steve Williams, long considered the best sprinter in the world, would be soundly trounced in both the 100 and 200 meters by Jamaica's Don Quarrie?
John Powell, another world-record holder, successfully defended his discus championship, but that was a mild surprise, too, since the night before the competition the burly Powell never was able to get to sleep. That was fully in keeping with this bizarre meet. Marty Liquori, the 3:52.2 miler, skipped the 1,500 meters to run instead in the 5,000. He ran a brilliant tactical race to finish first in a meet record 13:29 flat, despite a pre-meet lunch of a peanut-butter sandwich washed down by a glass of wine, a gourmet meal that left him, Liquori said, with a mild stomachache.
Even Mann, the self-styled oldtimer who had been national champion in the 400-meter hurdles in 1969, 1970 and 1971, pulled an upset of his own on Saturday by running past the faltering defending champion, Jim Bolding, in the stretch. None of his rivals, including Mann, had been nearly as fast and as strong as Bolding in Friday's heats and semifinals. Coasting through the last yards of each of his races that day, Bolding nevertheless had been timed in 48.9 and 49.4, convincing evidence that breaking John Akii-Bua's world record of 47.8 (set at the Munich Olympics) in the final was a reasonable prospect.
And Bolding ran the first half of the final as though he meant to set a record that would last forever, blasting past the 200-meter mark in 22 seconds flat, according to at least one watch. His pace barely slackened as he raced around the second turn, but then he hit the homestretch, an oncoming wind and the ninth hurdle, in that order. "When you hit one of the last hurdles," Bolding said, "it's tough to finish strong. I came off the turn and felt that wind, and I knew I wasn't as strong as I had been on Friday." He developed a bad case of spaghetti legs near the finish and Mann came on to catch him in the last 10 yards to win in 48.7, which was, at least, a meet record.
"It's tough," the talkative Mann agreed. "After two races yesterday, you know where your head is but not where your legs are."
The 110-meter high hurdles saw two favorites fail. Guy Drut, a Frenchman with a mop of curly hair, and Charles Foster, the bald eagle from North Carolina Central, had each won his trial and semifinal easily, but in the final Drut tripped and fell at the first hurdle and Foster was leveled by the fourth. Outsider Gerald Wilson won in 13.38, another meet record. Even so, Drut and Foster fared better than 32-year-old Willie Davenport, the three-time Olympian, who was winning his semifinal when he tore a tendon between his kneecap and shin as he came off the last hurdle. "I didn't hit the hurdle," Davenport said later. "My knee gave way. I'm scared about it, but I'll be back. I'll be in the Olympics again one way or another." Maybe, but the gallant Davenport had to undergo surgery in a Eugene hospital on Saturday.
Liquori and Frank Shorter were more successful in their efforts, despite Liquori's esoteric diet. Shorter, who did not reach Eugene until midday Friday ("I was afraid I'd be tempted to run in the 5,000 if I got here any earlier," he said), was inexorable in the 10,000, striding away from his field to win by more than half a lap in meet-record time of 28:02.2, despite an insistent wind. That clocking was 18.6 seconds behind the late Steve Prefontaine's American record, but the Oregon crowd gave Shorter the longest applause of the meet, probably because Shorter attacked the race the way Prefontaine used to, driving hard all the way.
Liquori, too, echoed Prefontaine. He shot into an early lead in the 5,000 to force a fast pace for the first mile, settled back in the pack then for another mile or so as hardworking Dick Buerkle took over most of the front-running, and then went to the front again with a lap and a half to go and put on a sustained sprint the rest of the way to beat Buerkle by 15 yards. He ran his last quarter in a vigorous 56.8 seconds.
"Corny as it sounds, I thought about Pre with about 600 yards to go," Liquori said. "I think the crowd here is used to someone giving it everything and coming into the finish dead tired. If I used my usual strategy and waited until the last 150 to move—well, with the tradition here, I didn't want to do that."
Liquori, who was scheduled to meet world-record holder Filbert Bayi in a mile rematch this week in Helsinki, added, "I wanted to get a good time. It's probably the last 5,000 I'll run this year. In fact, with the Olympics coming up next year it may be the last 5,000 I'll ever run."
Meanwhile, at the high-jump pit, wondrous, weird things were happening. Stones, the best jumper in the world, overslept, arrived 45 minutes late for the competition and never got completely untracked, even though his 7'4" was the highest third-place finish ever. Rory Kotinek, his teammate on the Pacific Coast Club, also did 7'4" for a lifetime best and finished second on the basis of fewer misses along the way. And Tom Woods, yet another member of the same club, cleared every height through 7'5½" on his first attempt to win the event when Kotinek and Stones failed at that level. Woods then took aim at 7'7", half an inch over Stones' world mark. "That was the first time I've seen anybody jump at my world record," Stones mused later, after Woods missed. "It's an awesome feeling. I don't like it." Yet he appeared delighted by his teammate's victory. "Woods has always been that good," he said.
Despite the superlative group performance by the PCC trio (the teammates' best jumps at Eugene added up to 22'1½", which is a high-jump relay record, if you like to contemplate that sort of thing), the crowd gave a good part of its applause and affection to the fourth-place finisher, little Ron Livers of the Philadelphia Pioneer Athletic Club. At 5'9", Livers seemed like a midget next to his towering rivals, but he still managed to leap 7'3", or 18 inches over his head, which is probably another esoteric record.
Don Quarrie's victories over Steve Williams in the 100- and 200-meter sprints were not so much upsets as the clear establishment of the Jamaican as the best sprinter in the world at the moment. He had both skill and luck going for him in these races and was voted the athlete of the meet. His luck was evident when he got off to a fast start in his first 100-meter trial heat and continued when he survived a false start in the final (there were three in all, two by the Tennessee star, Reggie Jones, who was disqualified). When the race finally went off, Quarrie surged into the lead at 75 yards and went on to win by a half step from Williams.
"I came out of the blocks good enough," Quarrie said, "and I think I had Steve from the start. I knew he would have to come and get me. My technique is to get out and just run to the 60-yard mark, then change into my drive." In the 200, Quarrie's drive was unstoppable. Running in the outside lane, which he likes, in heat, semifinal and final, he won decisively each time. In the final he took the lead on the turn and simply ran away from everyone with an overwhelming lift through the stretch. He beat James Gilkes by three yards and Jones by five, with Williams a well-beaten fourth. The electronic timer caught Quarrie in 20.12 for the 200, a meet record but a clocking that was greeted with hoots of disbelief from Quarrie's fellow sprinters, who felt he had dipped into world-record country below 20 seconds.
The Liquori-less 1,500 seemed an anticlimax, without a true name runner in the field, but it turned into one of the better races of the weekend. Little Ken Popejoy of the University of Chicago Track Club moved to the front on the last lap and had a clear lead entering the homestretch. But veteran Len Hilton caught Popejoy near the tape to win. Hilton's time was a fine 3:38.3, Popejoy's 3:38.4, approximately equivalent to 3:55.3 and 3:55.4 miles. Popejoy's delight in winning a place on the U.S. national team was tempered by concern for what his wife was going to say. "She's on a trip in the Grand Tetons," he said, "and I can't reach her. By the time she gets back home next week I'll be in Europe. I hope she doesn't mind."
One runner who had no complaints was Great Britain's David Jenkins, who won the 400-meter dash in 44.93 seconds. He got off to a superb start, yielded the lead temporarily on the backstretch, regained it coming off the final turn and held it through the stretch to stave off Fred Newhouse. A few minutes later there was a dismaying official announcement that Jenkins had been disqualified for a lane violation, but after further consultation a jury of appeals later reversed that ruling and reinstated Jenkins as the American 400-meter champion.
"It was the best race of my life," the Briton said. "I know now I'm No. 1 in the world. I may stay here a week. I may take a holiday."
Jenkins' time was yet another meet record, one of seven in all, which wasn't half bad for a track meet that a week or two earlier seemed to be disintegrating into a farce. That feeling developed after the AAU announced its ill-advised "moratorium." The AAU wanted the best finishers in the AAU championships to run in its own scheduled international competitions. Because it was afraid that some of the top stars would refuse and go off to big summer meets in Europe more or less on their own, the AAU said it would not issue travel permits during certain periods to any athletes who qualified for the U.S. team (that is, finished first or second at Eugene) and then refused to join it, nor would it give any permits to athletes who were eligible for the AAU meet but refused to compete in it. An obvious loophole for athletes who wanted to go off on their own during the restricted periods was to compete at Eugene and then make sure they would finish third or worse.
"I wouldn't have liked doing it," Liquori said, "but I would have stopped three yards short of the finish line and stayed there."
Wisely, the AAU abandoned the moratorium idea, and the championship meet went off without a hitch. Well, hardly a hitch. There were the usual complaints, some directed at the AAU (not enough expense money), some by the AAU (demands for too much expense money). Happily, the performances outshone the squabbling.
Up where Dwight Stones is supposed to be, new champ Tom Woods tries a record 7'7".
Fueled by peanut butter and wine, miler Marty Liquori set a meet record in the 5,000.
The Striders' Don Quarrie won both sprints.
Willie Davenport's long career may be over.
Biggest surprise came when powerful young Mark Enyeart led from wire to wire to beat defending champion Rick Wohlhuter (348) in the 800.