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Original Issue

It was Ripley, you'd better believe it

A little-known California vaulter sets a world record in the first major indoor meet of the season

Hasely Crawford, 25, native of Trinidad, graduate of Eastern Michigan University, machinist by trade and sprinter by calling, had explored the possibilities of College Park, Md. within a two-block radius of his motel on Baltimore Avenue and had found it wanting. "This place is dull, dull," he said over a plate of fried clams, the only bright spot in a day of unrelieved waiting.

More than anything in life, Crawford wants a gold medal in the 100 at Montreal. He ran for Trinidad in Munich and qualified for the final, but he pulled a hamstring during the race and placed eighth and last. For a time he thought he could never go through the preparation for another Olympics. However, an observer suggested, unkindly, that Crawford would probably have finished eighth in that field even if he hadn't pulled a hamstring, and Crawford has smarted from the insult ever since. In fact, he has become obsessed by it.

Last Friday the 60-yard dash at the National Invitational Indoor Track Meet in the University of Maryland's Cole Field House was to be Crawford's first competition of the Olympic year, and he endured the last hours impatiently. "I don't think anybody will beat me this year," he said Friday afternoon.

By 8:30 Friday night Crawford had been beaten twice, both times by the 18-year-old who shares the world record at 100 yards, Houston McTear. In their heat, the third, McTear had shot out of the blocks so fast that the crowd of nearly 12,000 gasped in unison. Crawford, who comes from behind, gained a little when McTear let up after about 40 yards, but he never really got close. McTear said later that he slipped at the start in the final, but still he was timed at 5.9, equaling the meet record. Crawford was second in 6.0, and farther back was a crowd of world-class sprinters—Steve Riddick, Ivory Crockett and Delano Meriwether.

"They all need a race, and they need one early in order to know where they are," said Meet Director Bob Comstock. "They know we have a fast track and that the competition will be good."

Comstock spends $18,000 in travel expenses to ensure the presence of track and field's brightest lights, enough of them to make what he calls a "complete" track meet, not merely a couple of stars and a lot of spear carriers. As an undergraduate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Comstock ran the dashes in addition to playing baseball and basketball, and he coached the track team while he was a law student. Since there are virtually no results to go by from the end of the outdoor season until January, Comstock relies heavily on a network of old coaching friends for current information on the condition of the athletes he intends to invite. He describes himself as a track fan, "but not the kind that would pop down to North Carolina for a meet." He is knowledgeable, but he admits to an occasional mistake. For instance, in 1971, when making up the field for the 500, he decided not to spend any of his travel money to import Lee Evans because Evans had not run in a while and had not been doing very well when he did run. But Evans, says Comstock, persuaded him by phone. "He said, 'Bring me in and I'll even run in the fifth lane. I won't get in anybody's way.' So I did, and he ran a world record 54.4."

On the other hand, Comstock's discerning eye has turned up some good ones, such as John Carlos, whom he spotted at the Americas vs. Europe meet in Montreal in August 1967. "He ran well there," says Comstock, "but he hadn't done much before that." Carlos rewarded Comstock's prescience by upsetting Billy Gaines in the 60 the first year and running world-record times the next two.

Comstock read in a Baltimore newspaper that a Dr. Delano Meriwether had run a 9.4 100 at a local meet and invited him to compete in 1971, a bargain, as it turned out, in travel expenses and publicity. In 1974 he brought Dick Buerkle down from Rochester, N.Y. and Buerkle upset Steve Prefontaine in a marvelous two-mile race.

"If a guy runs well here," says Comstock, "he can make plans for the rest of the season. He knows he'll be invited wherever he wants to go."

Because he is a world-record holder and something of a child prodigy, McTear is good box office and therefore one of those athletes who can take his pick of meets. So can sprinter Steve Williams, half-miler Rick Wohlhuter, milers Tony Waldrop and Marty Liquori and high jumper Dwight Stones. So can almost the entire roster of Coach Tom Jennings' Pacific Coast Club, the packaged act that meet directors are usually happy to get, since a package that includes high jumpers Tom Woods and Rory Kotinek, shot-putter Al Feuerbach, intermediate hurdler Jim Bolding and miler Francie Larrieu, all of whom competed in College Park, is another bargain. And sometimes there is a bonus in the package, like 22-year-old pole vaulter Dan Ripley.

Going into the Maryland meet Ripley held the world amateur indoor record at 18'1". He had set the mark a year ago at the Sunkist Meet in Los Angeles, but the feat had hardly made his name a household word. Comstock knew, if few others did, that with Ripley and his PCC teammate Casey Carrigan in the field, plus Poland's Wojciech Buciarski, who equaled the third highest indoor vault of 1975, there was a good chance for a record. Ripley and Carrigan competed about two weeks before in the Saskatchewan K. of C. Games in Saskatoon ("The nice thing about going up there," said Ripley, "is that if you do badly, no one knows"). Ripley won at 17'9½", and Carrigan was second at 17'6¼". Furthermore, Ripley, in his attempt at 18'1¼ ", had come within a hair of succeeding. Actually, it was a forearm. Ripley is an ebullient sort. The vault had been perfect in every respect and he knew he had the record in the bag. As he sailed over the bar he made a two-fisted gesture of triumph, but he made it an instant too soon. A forearm hit the bar and he landed, well, sheepishly.

At College Park the battle came down to Ripley and Buciarski. Officials raised the bar to 18'1¼" so the two could have another try at a record. Both missed their first two attempts, and then Buciarski was out on his third.

"My first two tries were lousy," said Ripley. "Lackadaisical. I didn't get my pole out front. The same thing had happened on the first two in Saskatoon. So on the third I concentrated on getting the pole out there. I was better at the takeoff, I had good momentum on the runway and the pole was out front. I knew I had it." This time he held his forearm back long enough to land safely. Then, however, he flew into a wild, joyous victory lap around the infield, bounding over barriers, jumping pits and reclining relay runners. The six-foot, 175-pound San Jose State graduate was still grinning an hour later as he assured reporters that, yes, it was true, his highest vault as recently as two years ago had been 16'3".

Eamonn Coghlan, the redheaded, freckle-faced Irish miler from Villanova who ran third in Filbert Bayi's 3:51 mile in Jamaica last year, won the mile in 3:59.7, taking the lead with two laps to go, then narrowly holding off the finishing kick of Danie Malan, a South African running on boards for the first time.

Because of a hip injury and a poor cross-country season, Coghlan went home to Ireland for Christmas and ran cross-country and road races to build his confidence and stamina. He won them all and arrived in College Park on the day of the meet, ready for a try indoors. "If I'd lost in a fast time I would have been happy," he said, "and if I'd won in a slow time I wouldn't have been unhappy, but winning in a good time is making me unbelievably happy."

Had Marty Liquori run the mile as he did last year when he beat Prefontaine in 3:57.7, the occasion might have been different. Liquori, though, has moved on to greater distances, possibly because Bayi and John Walker seem to own the mile and the 1,500 for the time being and because, with Pre gone, there is a vacancy at 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Looking tired, Liquori won the two mile in a sluggish 8:34.4, 14 seconds off Pre-fontaine's American record, but he said the time was fine, about what he had expected. Liquori had been training 110 miles a week, and he began work on the track only a week before this meet.

With five months remaining until the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. and six until the scheduled start of the Games in Montreal, the talk was all of better times to come. McTear, for instance, thinks he can run a 5.5 in the 60 before the indoor season is over, and his coach, Will Willoughby, agrees. Of all the winners, perhaps the only one who felt he had surpassed himself was Glenn Irion, a Temple University junior who had never jumped higher than 7 feet. On his last attempt, with the bar at 7'2", Irion upset Dwight Stones who has jumped a world-record 7'6½", and 5'8" Ron Livers, who has jumped 7'4¼", farther over the top of his own head than anyone else.

Irion lay motionless in the pit for a moment after his jump. Then, in virtually a single bound, he leaped into the stands to hug his coach. Who needs the Olympics at such a moment?