Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vol. 1 No. 29 Monday November 26, 1956

Yesterday was an off day. The competition continues today with the finals in two field events, the pole vault and the javelin, the heats of the 5000, rounds one and two of the 200 and the final in the 800.

Actually the prelims were held Friday though they went unnoticed by me. It was then that the most dramatic moment of the event took place. Bob Richards, the overwhelming favorite, missed his first two attempts at 13-1. On the first attempt he hadn't check the position of the standards, which were too far forward, causing him to hit the bar on his way up. He cleared by a foot on his second jump, but a gust of wind pushed his pole into the bar. One more miss and he is done. This time he waits until the wind has stopped gusting and clears by a foot.
If you thought the long jumpers and runners hated the condition of the runway and track, this was nothing compared to the vaulters, who detest their runway. The continuance of excessive wind adds to their angst. George Mattos says, “I expected better at the Olympics”. To emphasize how bad the conditions are, let me get ahead of the story and state that only four men got over 14'.
With the bar at 14-3+, the remaining competitors are Richards and Mattos with no misses and Bob Gutowski and George Roubanis of Greece with one miss each.
Let's take a moment with Roubanis at this point. As the Greek flag bearer, he was the first to enter the stadium in the parade of athletes. He is extremely familiar with his American competitors as he attended Occidental where, along with Gutowski, he was coached by Payton Jordan. He has recently transferred to UCLA. His place in vaulting history is assured by his use of a “revolutionary glass pole. Made by a fiberglass concern in California, the dull yellow pole can be bent to a 90 degree angle without breaking and possesses tremendous snap.” Yeah, well, we'll see how that works out.
With the bar at 14-5¼, Gutowski takes two tries to clear and falls behind Richards who clears on his first try. Mattos misses on all three attempts, so when Roubanis clears on his second attempt, the medal winners are decided, except for the who gets what medal part. The bar is now set at 14-7¼. Richards and Roubanis both clear on their first attempts, but Gutowski needs three tries and falls to third. On to 14-9 1/8 we go. No problem. Everyone clears on the first attempt. The bar is raised to 14-10 3/8 where Gutowski and Richards clear on their first tries, but Roubanis misses all three and settles for bronze. Both Americans miss their first tries at 14-11½, but Richards clears on his second attempt and then watches as Gutowski misses twice more and it is over. The good reverend, satisfied that his day's work is done, declines to attempt further heights.
Richards is quoted as saying, “The track was slow. There was no speed or spring in it. And on top of that the wind was shockingly bad. It cut across at an angle and was difficult to estimate.”
The subject then turns to Roubanis' pole. Mattos, who had planned to retire, says he will stick around and give the fiberglass pole a try. Gutowski is intrigued. He will use the fiberglass pole and says he is aiming for 16'. Not Richards; he is retiring.

Familiar names dominate the opening round. Twelve heats with two qualifying. Germany's Karl-Friedrich Hass, better known as a 400 man, wins the second heat in 21.4. Trinidad's Mike Agostini takes the third heat in 21.6. Andy Stanfield runs 21.5 in the fourth race. The seventh race is won by Thane Baker in 21.4. 100 champ Bobby Morrow loafs home in 21.8 to win the ninth. The day's fastest time belongs to Pakistan's Abdul Khaliq 21.1.

5000 HEATS
Three races with five qualifying. The first race sees WR holder Gordon Pirie running away from the pack with a 2:39.5 kilo only to slow drastically and finish in 14:25.6, allowing Yugoslavia's Velisa Mugosa to come along side at the finish. They hold hands as the cross the line. Other qualifiers include American record holder Bill Dillinger and Russian Pyotr Bolotnikov. The second and third heats are more fun for the fans. Australians win both. Allan Lawrence beats a disinterested Vladimir Kuts in 14:14.6 as Lazlo Tabori (“the 25 year old Czech born Hungarian with the wicked smile”), Derrek Ibbotson and Germany's Herbert Schade also qualify. Albie Thomas, his best days still ahead of him, runs the day's fastest time, 14:14.2 to win by 15 seconds over a Kenyan runner, Maiyoro Nyandika. Chris Chataway eases in fifth. The final will be held two days hence.

It takes 216' to qualify for the finals. All three Americans do so easily. Defending champion Cy Young
has the leading throw of 245-3, bettering his Olympic record by three feet. Young has been throwing well in practice including a 261 footer, but twisted his ankle five days before. His ankle is taped and he says that will cause him to throw flat footed. Bennie Garcia and Phil Conley are 9th and 12th at 233-6 and 224-8.
Through three rounds of the final Januz Sidlo of Poland has a commanding 13 foot lead with a throw of 262-4. In the fourth round, Norway's Egil Danielsen, who will have no other throw over 239', ends the competition with an astounding world record of 281-2½. No one is close. Sidlo is second while Tsibulenko of the Soviet Union pulls the bronze at 260-10. This is the first meet in which three men have bettered 260'. The Americans are a disappointed lot. Conley and Young are 10th and 11th at 228-9 and 225-2. Garcia fouls three times. Young said, “I hate to pass out of the track picture this way. When I think of all the time and effort I put into this campaign only to have it end this way, I could choke myself. I'm going to hang up my javelin and grow walnuts from now on.”

Four heats, three qualify. In the first race Khaliq edges Agostini, both 21.1. Americans take the next three races: Stanfield 21.1, Baker 21.2, Morrow 21.9. The semis and finals are tomorrow.

Lining up on the curved line near the start of the curve are the eight finalists: Emil Leva of Belgium, Tom Courtney, Arnie Sowell, Audun Boysen of Norway, Mike Farrell of Great Britain, Derek Johnson of Great Britain, Bill Butchart of Australia and Lon Spurrier.
Two false starts (Leva and Johnson) and they are off. Courtney takes advantage of his position near the pole and leads around the curve. On the backstretch Sowell takes over and passes 200 in 25.1. He holds the lead around the curve and down the straight, completing the first lap in 52.8 with Courtney, Boysen and Johnson in close attendance. There is a significant gap to the remaining four. Sowell is hoping to set a fast pace and “burn them off”, but it isn't happening. 600 goes by in 1:20.4 as Courtney pulls alongside. Around the turn they go, shoulder to shoulder, but it is not an exclusive US race. Boysen and Johnson are right there. As they enter the final straight, they are fighting not only fatigue, but a strong, hampering wind. Sowell begins to fade, opening a gap for Derek Johnson who is running the race of his life. He comes up to Courtney's shoulder on the inside. Then, miraculously, he edges past the American champion. Could this be the upset all England is hoping for? For a moment that appears to be the case. But wait, Tom Courtney isn't Tom Courtney for nothing. Painfully he pulls even. The two run shoulder to shoulder 30 meters from the finish. Perhaps the wind played a part. European editor R.L. Quercetani thinks so. “By then the adverse wind obviously began to tell, and Courtney, taller and squarer than his British rival, finally won with a desperate driving throw at the tape. Boysen edges the fading Sowell for the bronze. Farrell beats Spurrier for fifth “as Spurrier stops” (?). There is photo of the finish. Spurrier has half a yard on Farrell with 10 to go. Courtney's time is 1:47.7. Johnson is 1:47.8. Boysen edges Sowell 1:48.1 t0 1:48.3. Farrell and Spurrier are 1:49.2 and 1:49.3. What of Leva and Butchart you may ask. No times are given for them. This is common in these games. Those past 3rd, 6th, 8th or 9th, depending on the race, are not given a time. Apparently Australian officials lack funds for stopwatches.
Courtney says, “It is the greatest thrill of my life. I just threw my life into the race, but 30 yards from the tape I seemed to run out of steam. I thought Johnson had me. I moved out of my lane 50 yards from home (indeed, the photo shows him in the third lane as he finishes) because I wanted to have a clear run. Usually I am able to explode about 150 yards from home, but not this time.”
Johnson adds his voice to those complaining about the track. “It is a disgrace – the Olympic Games should never be held on a cinder track as bad as this. This is the worst track for top level competition I have ever run on. The track is far too soft. It is murder running behind another competitor; the cinders are thrown right at you.”
Sowell, who was on crutches last August after playing basketball and spraining his ankle, (Wait a minute, you made the Olympic team and you were playing basketball? Basketball? What is wrong with.........Oops, that was outloud wasn't it? Sorry.) said, “I tried to set a fast pace to kill them off, but all I succeeded doing was to kill myself off.”

As the lights of Melbourne come on, we trudge out of the stadium, warmed by the knowledge that tomorrow we will see the semis and final in the 200, the first round of the highs, heats in the steeplechase and finals in the discus and hop-step-jump. Until that time.

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