Willie Banks, a second-year UCLA law student, had in the previous week taken final exams in civil rights and constitutional law and had begun studying for two upcoming tests in constitutional law clauses and wills and trusts. "I've been sitting down all week," he said wearily before Sunday's UCLA/Pepsi Invitational in Los Angeles. He obviously needed a study break. So Banks—more widely recognized as the American-record holder (57'7½") in the triple jump than as a budding lawyer—went out to the Drake Stadium jumping runway, revved up the crowd of 11,131 with his waves and claps and, on his very first attempt, hop-step-sailed an impressive, although wind-aided, 56'6". He bounded from the pit with fists held high, eager for another try. "So sweet," he said, slapping a few high-fives. "I'm onto it. Oh, it looks sweet."
Sweet early-season performances were the order of the day at UCLA, though perhaps less so than in recent years. "So far this season it's been that way," said hurdler Greg Foster. "Not so much great times as, well, good times." Yet while the outdoor season has started slowly, Sunday's meet opened with not only Banks' outstanding jumps but also with the second-longest javelin throw ever by an American, a 302-foot toss by Bob Roggy that fell only 5½ feet short of his month-old U.S. record. In eight of the 29 events athletes would turn in the world's best performances of the outdoor season, and in one, the long jump, University of Houston junior Carl Lewis would put together what could be called the best sequence ever in the event. And even as Banks joyously awaited his second jump, America's latest sprint star, the massive Jeff Phillips, was kneeling into the starting blocks, about to strut his stuff in the 100.
The 6'2", 208-pound Phillips first attracted attention while competing for Tennessee at last June's NCAA meet in Baton Rouge. There he ran 10.11 in a 100-meter semifinal and a wind-aided 10.00 in the final to place second, .01 behind Lewis. Two weeks after that Phillips won the national 200 title at the TAC championships in Sacramento, and at year's end he was ranked fifth in the world at that distance and sixth at 100 meters. Unfortunately, what drew as much notice as his clockings was the fact that, despite his blondish mustache and green eyes, Phillips wasn't a Great White Hope in the dashes. His mother, a restaurant supervisor back home in Columbus, Ohio, is white but his father, a retired building-maintenance worker, is black. "I consider myself black," said Phillips on Sunday. "I also hope I'm established enough now that I won't have to be asked about it all the time."
Over the winter, Phillips, now a phys ed graduate assistant and assistant men's track coach at Tennessee, concentrated on two nagging problems: a tendency to duck his head too low when coming out of the blocks and chronic tightness in his muscular hips and buttocks. For both flexibility and relaxation he has taken up yoga, studying under Mike Miller, a doctoral candidate in ecology at Tennessee. Not the Vols' Wide Receiver Mike Miller, but, says Phillips, "the 39-year-old Mike Miller. The guy that stretches. We call him Mr. Rubber Man."
Phillips pulled away from Houston McTear in the final 20 meters of Sunday's 100 and hit the tape in 10.20 to win by two meters. "He runs pretty good for his size," said the 5'8", 160-pound McTear, now 25 and, after several years of semi-retirement, making a comeback with something called the Banana Bread Track Club. ("Good bread, man," he says.) Left in Phillips' wake, too, were Mel Lattany, the world's No. 2-rated 100 man in 1981. "I felt real strong," said Phillips, whose physique seemingly leaves him no other choice.
An hour later Phillips was back on the track to prove the point. Of his exceptional late-race power, he says, "It's like there's somebody in the middle of the track pushing me. It's like an extra gear." And so it was that he drove ahead of a clustered 200 field in the final 80 meters, accelerating so quickly as he overtook Nigerian Olympian Innocent Ugbunike and former NCAA champ Foster that the crowd actually gasped. His winning time was 20.32—Foster was second in 20.61. "I was only worried about Foster," said Phillips. "I'd never even seen him in a 200." "That race seemed longer than what I remembered," said Foster after his first 200 in nearly two years. (Later he easily won his specialty, the 110-meter hurdles, in a wind-aided 13.25.) Said Lewis, "That's Jeffs kind of race: Just pick them off, one by one. He's so powerful, so consistent." And, on Sunday, so happy. "Everything's gone just great," he said. "Today is even my 25th birthday. I think I'll go have a good steak."
Banks, meanwhile, was busy showing the fans a good time. After fouling on his second jump, he leaped a 1982 world best of 56'11½", and then went 55'6¼", 55'10½" and 55', an excellent series even for the peak of the track season, to say nothing about the peak of the exam season. Consider that last year no other American triple-jumper surpassed 56'4" and that only three others went beyond 55'3¾". Throughout the afternoon, too, Banks was so effective a cheerleader that spectators fell into rhythmic clapping for everyone from long-jumpers to two-milers. Banks even had McTear talking about a possible change of events. "I'm thinking of consulting Mr. Banks on the jumping techniques," said McTear. "I believe he might be able to do something for me."
Lewis had already done something for himself last weekend before arriving in Los Angeles. At the California Relays on Saturday in Modesto, he had run the 100 meters in 10.00 to equal both his lifetime best and the fastest 100 ever at sea level. "I was shocked," he said. "Well, not shocked, I'm never shocked at my performances anymore, but...surprised. I didn't react as well as I should have at the start. I thought it would be 10-oh-something." Lewis had been training mainly for the long jump in recent weeks, and the only sign he'd shown of increased running speed had been the need to lengthen his jumping approach from 147 feet and 21 strides to 163 feet and 23 strides.
Lewis had decided to pass up the sprints at UCLA—he's thinking about running the 100 and the 200 and long-jumping in the 1984 Olympics—so he could concentrate on his jumping. This would be his first outdoor meet using his lengthened approach. But after his first effort, a foul, Lewis was having doubts. "Ooooh, I'm doing bad today," he said, shaking his head as he walked back to the head of the runway. Instead of jumping, perhaps he should have gone after Jim Hines's 100-meter world record of 9.95, set at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, while his sprint technique was obviously sharp.
Perhaps not. On his second attempt, Lewis abruptly ended his bad day. With a tailwind of only 0.5 meters per second, safely under the legal limit of 2.0 mps, he soared 28'3" before kicking up a cloud of sand near the far right corner of the pit. He came up nodding his head, as if to say yes, that's better. It had merely been the third-longest jump in history, behind Bob Beamon's 29'2½" world record and and a mere half-inch behind Lewis' own 28'3½" at last June's TAC meet. Lewis was satisfied with his new run-up but found fault with his technique after takeoff. He couldn't understand why he had sailed to the right. "A mystery," he would call it. Yet even though he veered off on the same heading on his next two jumps, they carried him 27'8¾" and 28'3" again. No one had ever jumped 28 feet twice in one day. "I want to make 28 a typical day," Lewis said, and, indeed, over his fourth, fifth and six leaps, Lewis had averaged more than 28 feet.
After fouling on his fifth attempt, Lewis prepared for his sixth and final try. He has gained six pounds on his 6'2" frame in the last year—"all strength," he says—and 25 since going to Houston as a 150-pound freshman; he no longer appears so fragile and light-stepping on his run-up. Now he charges down the runway, arms churning powerfully.
On his last jump Lewis barreled down the right side of the runway. He again drifted to the right, but he also soared so far that he skinned his knee on the back wall of the pit upon landing. At once a roar went up from the crowd—as did a red flag in the hand of an official standing by the takeoff board. Lewis had fouled by less than an inch. A moment later came the stunning P.A. announcement: "The approximation on Carl Lewis' last jump...28 feet, 10 inches." That was achieved with a negligible following wind. "Today proved that wind isn't an important factor, but, more important, altitude isn't either," said Lewis, referring to his pursuit of Beamon's high-altitude, "untouchable" record set in Mexico City in 1968. As Banks might say, the case has been made; Lewis' pursuit of the 100 and long-jump records—two of the oldest in track and field—can no longer be called quixotic.
Phillips' strength powered him past Foster (left) in the 200 and McTear in the 100.
Lewis was having trouble staying on the proper flight path, but still leaped 28'3".