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On his visit to his native Poland last week Pope John Paul II kissed its soil, as he had done in the Dominican Republic. When he regained his feet on that earlier occasion the Archbishop of Santo Domingo leaned over to brush the dirt from the Pope's robe where his knees apparently had pressed against the ground as he knelt to prostrate himself for the ceremonial kiss. But there was no dirt. Aside from a little dust, the Pope's white robe remained unsmudged.

A miracle? Not at all, unless physical fitness is a miracle. The vigorous Pontiff explained that he did pushups every day; when he dropped to the ground he had supported himself pushup-style on toes and hands as he kissed the earth.


Last week at the awards banquet following the 63rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Thomas W. Binford, the chief steward of the Speedway, made a strong plea for reconciliation between the United States Auto Club and Championship Auto Racing Teams. Those are the groups that have been brawling over which should control Indy car racing. Binford said, "By the 1980 race we've got to pull ourselves together. There's no way we can go on separately."

Obviously, someone wasn't listening. Four days later, Joe Cloutier, president of the Speedway, announced that the 1980 race will be an invitational. He said that the invitations "will be automatically extended to all entrants who have entered and participated in" the three 500-mile races sanctioned by USAC (the Indy 500, the Pocono 500 on June 24 and the Ontario 500 on Sept. 2). There was no hint that any of the eight CART-sanctioned races would qualify a team for next year's Indianapolis 500.

Indy car racing requires vast amounts of sponsorship money to sustain it. If a team doesn't compete at Indianapolis itself, the sponsors simply are not interested. Thus Cloutier's proviso, if it sticks, could force the CART-aligned teams back into the USAC camp or out of racing entirely. At the same time, the edict may be viewed as a device to strengthen the fields for the races at Pocono and Ontario; at present both look weak in comparison to Indy's. Before Cloutier's announcement, there was some fear that the CART teams—which include Rick Mears, winner of this year's Indy, and third-place finisher Mike Mosley, as well as former winners Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock—would boycott those two races. Now that seems to be a practical impossibility.

"They're trying to break CART," says that organization's president, U. E. (Pat) Patrick. "It's unfortunate that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has chosen to use its power and influence as the promoter of the world's greatest auto race in what is obviously a last-ditch effort to salvage the USAC 1979 race schedule and [USAC's] viability as a race-sanctioning body."

Considering the diluted fields at every CART or USAC race run so far (the exception was Indy and that was saved from the same fate only by a court ruling), and the charges of cheating, favoritism, dirty-dealing and even rigging that have been flying since this nasty battle for control was joined, one can sympathize with Patrick when he says, despairingly, "Maybe it's a good time for everyone to get out of auto racing."


If you were home in Virginia last Thursday night watching television or listening to the radio, you already know that Ralph Sampson has decided to play basketball at the University of Virginia. Sampson's announcement was carried live from his high school gymnasium in Harrisonburg.

The first of two high school players chosen for the Pan-American team, Sampson had been the object of intensive recruiting, all of it policed by his coach, Roger Bergey, who drew up a list of 14 guidelines for the 60 schools that interested the 7'3¾", 200-pound center. Bergey said that if a college made an illegal offer, the NCAA would be notified, and any violation of his rules would mean instant rejection by Sampson.

There had been speculation that Sampson might skip college and turn pro right away, in the manner of Moses Malone, who this season was the MVP of the NBA. "I gave the pros a lot of consideration," says Sampson, "but after a while I knew I wanted to go to college."

His mother explained her son's decision: "After seeing Wes Unseld in the playoffs, Ralph felt he needed 25 more pounds before he tried the NBA."


Monticello Raceway, a harness track in Sullivan County, N.Y. with a reputation for novel promotional tactics, has found a way to capitalize on the gasoline shortage. Over the years the track has lured fans with diving mules, square dancing and bagel, wig and panty-hose nights.

Now it is giving away gas—500 gallons a week. Every Wednesday night patrons file entry blanks and, after the last race, five names are drawn. The gas is distributed according to the payoff percentages of harness-racing purses: 50% or 250 gallons to the winner—the first name drawn—25% or 125 gallons for second place, and so on down to fifth, which is worth 25 gallons. Winners must be present for the drawing, so there's no leaving early before the ninth race. More than that, the gas gift certificates are redeemable only at Lou-Pat's Friendly Service Station across the road from the track. Presumably, that means a few return trips to the races for the lucky winners.


What do you do when you're leading the North American Soccer League with a 9-2 record and have a bench as deep in stars as the Milky Way? If you're Warner Communications, owner of the Cosmos, which won league titles in 1977 and 1978, you fire the coach.

Citing "lack of agreement on the direction of the team," the Cosmos abruptly axed Coach Eddie Firmani last Friday, replacing him for the time being with his assistant, Ray Klivecka. Warner executives said the team has been playing too individualistically.

What was not said was the pressure Firmani had been under to use individuals who insist on playing individualistically. Earlier in the season the coach had bristled at the meddling of the Warner head office, which wanted to build the Cosmos into the best team in the world by adding high-priced superstars, like the haphazardly brilliant but sometimes selfish Brazilian midfielder Francisco Marinho, to the lineup. In addition, some said that Ahmet Ertegun, head of Warner's Atlantic Records division and son of a former Turkish ambassador to the U.S., had insisted on Erol Yasin, a Turk, playing in goal instead of Jack Brand, Firmani's preference.

Firmani chose not to say very much, but he was obviously stunned. At a weekend press conference Captain Giorgio Chinaglia, an old Firmani ally, became upset by the probing questions of an Italian television reporter and angrily broke the man's silver neck chain.

The Cosmos are reported to be looking for a world-class coach to step in, a man willing to put his neck on the line, it would seem.


Fans of USC could hardly feel cheated when the Trojan track team finished seventh in last weekend's NCAA meet in Champaign, Ill. After all, the Trojans had won 29 track and field championships (two indoors), and no one wants to be greedy. But this was the first spring in 19 years in which the school had failed to win an NCAA championship in any sport. Since 1960, USC has won 37 titles in six sports: baseball, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, volleyball and track.

The baseball team was particularly disappointing this season, finishing a dismal fourth in the Pac-10 southern division. Six undergraduates had opted for the major league draft instead of using their remaining eligibility, and three pitchers who didn't return had a combined 35-4 record on last year's championship squad.

Ah, well. Football will be here soon.


As part of his most recent retirement plans, Muhammad Ali made the first of a series of farewell appearances last week, this one at London's Royal Albert Hall. Three good-natured opponents sparred a total of seven rounds with the champ, who was wearing the outsized top of a track suit over his boxing trunks. But even this costume couldn't hide Ali's corpulence; he was 31 pounds over his most recent fighting weight of 221.

Ali grabbed a microphone and told the crowd how delighted he was that now he could eat all the things he once denied himself. "I haven't been near a gym since I fought Leon Spinks last September, and it's been marvelous. After 25 years I deserve to look like this. I'm in the worst shape of the whole world."


Until now, a golfer had a choice. When faced, for example, with a long par-3 hole of 225 yards with a hazard in front of the green, he could use a surlyn-covered ball which, when hit with an iron, tends to get up in the air quickly and go an inordinately long distance. When hit with a wood, it does not travel as well. On the next tee, he could switch to a balata-covered ball which may not carry as far but is easier to control. And so on through his round. Well, no more, says the United States Golf Association.

Beginning with the U.S. Open at the Inverness Club in Toledo, June 14-17, and in all subsequent USGA events, a golfer will have to use balls of the same brand model and compression that he tees off with for the entire round. The practice of switching balls is common, and, in the view of USGA President Sandy Tatum, lamentable.

"The rule is responsive to concerns that results relate to skill rather than to how many different brands of golf balls the player uses to deal with varying conditions," says Tatum.

Laudably, the PGA tour has adopted the same regulation, to the delight of most of its players. Arnold Palmer says, "I endorse it 100%. It takes something of the skill of the game away if a guy takes a different ball out for a long water hole. I've only done it once myself, at' Lanc‚Äö√†√∂¬¨•me in Paris. I was playing with Seve Ballesteros [one of the game's longest hitters]. At the first hole I used one of those balls and outdrove Seve, then hit a monster one-iron onto the green. He laid up short, pitched on and made a putt for four. I three-putted for five, and threw the ball away."


A good futures bet for No. 1 in college football this autumn, based on an early look at the schedule, would seem to be Alabama, which has adroitly avoided the Southern Cals and Nebraskas that have given it trouble in recent years and replaced them with the likes of Wichita State, Virginia Tech and Baylor. Because of the rotating Southeast Conference schedule, the Crimson Tide doesn't even meet Georgia, generally a rival for SEC honors.

Conversely, don't pick Penn State in 1981. The Nittany Lions have long been criticized for their soft schedules, but three seasons from now Joe Paterno takes on Nebraska, Notre Dame and Alabama. That may win Paterno the Medal of Honor, but it won't earn him the national championship.

Al Oerter, the four-time Olympic gold medalist in the discus, came out of retirement three years ago to try to make the Moscow Games—though not at the expense of life's small pleasures. Oerter, who lives in West Islip, N.Y., had accepted an invitation to throw at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., last weekend. At the last minute he had to cancel. Why? There was a conflict with his daughter Gabrielle's senior prom. "I had to be home to take pictures and send off the princess," Oerter explained. "She's my youngest and I didn't want to miss this."



•Johnny Kerr, former NBA player and coach, now a broadcaster: "If a coach starts listening to the fans, he winds up sitting next to them."

•Moses Malone, Houston Rocket center and the NBA's Most Valuable Player and leading rebounder: "I couldn't have done it without the Calvin Murphys, Rick Barrys, Rudy Tomjanoviches and Mike Newlins. They did a lot of missing."