Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

V 5 N 45 Pre, We Hardly Knew Ye by Paul O'Shea

May 30, 2015 will be the fortieth anniversary of Pre's passing.    This piece was written and  sent to us by Paul O'Shea and has appeared in Cross Country Journal.  Many thanks for allowing us to use it, Paul.

Steve Prefontaine
January 25, 1951-May 30, 1975

Pre, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Paul O’Shea

To give anything less than your best, he famously said, was to sacrifice the gift.  It was an ethic Steve Prefontaine shared with us to the end of his brief life.
In the spring of 1975 I was riding under the Hudson River on a PATH train linking New York City with Hoboken, New Jersey, reading a newspaper. Buried in a sports news summary I came across these sentences: American distance runner Steve Prefontaine is dead, killed in an automobile crash in Eugene, Oregon.  Prefontaine was 24 years old.  
One of America’s greatest distance runners was gone. I was shocked, devastated by the news.
In a few weeks the international track and field community will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of the athlete who defines “iconic.” Commemorating that May 30, 1975 tragedy and honoring his memory, it’s fitting to ask: what made Steve Prefontaine the legendary “Pre”? Why does his name still resonate after all these years?  What can today’s runners learn from the way he never gave less than his best, never sacrificed his gift?  
Growing up in lumberjack Coos Bay, Oregon sports were the ticket to popularity, but Prefontaine was too small for football so he began running with the junior high team. At Marshfield High School he went out for cross country and discovered his life’s mission. As a sophomore he was an early success, placing sixth in the state meet.
“Ferociously competitive” as Olympian/author Kenny Moore would later describe him, Prefontaine twice was state cross country champion and broke the national high school two-mile record by seven seconds with 8:41.5. That got Frank Shorter’s attention who was then at Yale—the time was about the same as Shorter’s PR.
Following graduation Pre entered the 1969 AAU three-mile in Miami and qualified for the US national team, finishing fourth behind Gerry Lindgren. At 18 he was on his first international tour. That summer he ran 5,000 meters in 13:52.8, placing third in the U.S-Europe meet.
Jeff Johnson, a Track and Field News photographer, remembered seeing him for the first time after hearing about those high school performances.  At the AAU, on an elevator in the athletes’ hotel, Johnson talked briefly with “this little kid.” Later he noticed him hanging around the elite runners, apparently eager for autographs. The next day Johnson was focusing on the boldface names on the starting line--and there was the little kid, standing among the Sequoias, ready to race in his Marshfield uniform. “My God, that’s Steve Prefontaine!”
Before running his first collegiate race he’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a headline that read, “America’s Distance Prodigy.” Forty college teams pursued the Coos Bay wonder, but the hardheaded coach at the University of Oregon was a reluctant suitor.  Bill Bowerman didn’t recruit runners.  They applied for admission.
To be sure he wanted the precocious Prefontaine, but the Ducks’ leader was loath to chase the athlete who would have been the No. 1 pick in any distance runner draft.  Finally, Bowerman sent Prefontaine a handwritten letter that would transform the sport, the University and its historic Hayward Field.  For the next several years an irresistible force met an immovable object, each bending a little, but only centimeters.
In four years Steve Prefontaine won three Division I cross country titles and four consecutive three mile/5,000 meter track crowns.  He ran his best mile in 3:54.6, then just three-and-a-half seconds slower than the world record.  Bill Dellinger, who had succeeded Bowerman as coach, recalled that Pre never missed a workout or a race.
When we think of Pre we remember the biggest test of his career, the l972 Olympic 5,000 meter final in Munich, held four days after the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s terrorist attack resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
Those thirteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds he gave us, a painting that will forever hang in our memory, revealed familiar, obstinate ways.  It was the kind of race he hated, a typical championship shuffle. After a lollygagging two miles in 8:56, impatient Pre went to the front, having told the world that he would run the last mile in four minutes. “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”  
The 21-year-old led for the next two laps, then Finland’s Lasse Viren attacked with 800 meters left. In third, Pre counterattacked on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, but Viren regained the lead with 400 meters remaining.  Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Prefontaine gave chase but the Finn won going away, winning his second gold medal of the Munich Games. Viren had run 4:02.
Running the last mile in 4:04 Prefontaine was spent and lost the bronze at the finish line when Ian Stewart of Great Britain surged past. It was one of the great competitive distance races in track and field history.   
After the race, incapable of holding back emotionally, the American warned David Bedford, the UK’s 10,000-meter world record holder: “I’ll see you in Montreal and I’ll kick your butt.” Indeed, had Pre lived, he would have been a favorite to win the 1976 5,000.
The post Olympic years were ones of great achievement and personal challenge.  He set nine American bests including a 27:43.6 in the 10,000, just five seconds over the world record.
Now that he was no longer on scholarship there was a struggle to make a living. To survive he lived in a trailer, shopped with food stamps.  He tended bar where he was a regular patron, until the disapproving Bowerman shut him down.
A fledgling professional track association offered a $200,000 contract, but he rejected the offer in order to retain his “amateur” standing.  Bowerman and one of his former milers, Phil Knight began collaborating on a business that would become Nike, provider of all goods athletic. Pre sent the early Nike shoes to runners he had met, including Bill Rodgers. At first he was paid in shoes, then earned $5,000, the first athlete to sign with the company. Nike called Pre its National Public Relations Manager.
Off the track Pre pushed the pace in civilian life, too. He challenged the sport’s governing authorities, the AAU and the International Olympic Committee. Before track and field became a professional sport, he believed athletes should be paid openly, rather than under the table as was then happening.  The AAU’s per diem was three dollars.
He started a running club at the Oregon State Prison. For more than four decades the program has helped inmates cope with their incarceration. Limited to 150 prisoners, there is a four-year wait to get into the group.  He also volunteer coached at a local junior high school.
The legend grew as he won races with characteristic intensity:  “Most people run a race to see who’s the fastest.  I run a race to see who has the most guts.” Showman, hero, rebel, we remember Steve Prefontaine because he displayed front running courage.  He fed off the crowds. Spectators cheered his warm-ups.  He was spirited, cocky, even charming. He was a hero for his time, and remains a star to thousands of young runners today, who see the movies and documentaries, read the books and news stories, watch his races on film.
Accessible and immensely quotable, his words live on in interviews and anthologies: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints.  I like to make something beautiful when I run.  I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’  It’s more than just a race, it’s a style.  It’s doing something better than anyone else.  It’s being creative.”
There was nothing false or contrived: “How does a kid from Coos Bay, with one leg longer than the other win races?  All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small Pre.’ ‘You’re not fast enough Pre,’ ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve.’  But they forgot something.  I HAVE TO WIN.”
And then the man with the exceptional talent ran the last race, crossed the final finish line.
During that day Steve Prefontaine did the ordinary things that made him such an extraordinary individual.  He went for an eye-opening run (six miles at six a.m. was the regimen), and prepared for the early evening meet at Hayward in which he faced several leading Finnish runners he had invited to this country, though Viren pulled out before the meet.
When Pre won, looking back over his shoulder, defeating Frank Shorter in the second fastest American 5,000 time, it was just two seconds off his personal best. For the 35th time he was victorious on the Hayward track, losing only three races, each a mile in distance. Over his career he started l53 races, winning 120. At one point he held seven American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
Bowerman said, “He had just begun to reach maturity when the show was over,” never having won an Olympic medal or broken a world record.
Later that May 29 evening the Oregon and Finnish runners threw a party.  Moore and Shorter remember Pre had three or four drinks before calling it an evening just after midnight. He left telling his parents who also were at the party, take care driving home.  Pre dropped Shorter off, drove down Skyline Drive, swerved into a rock at the side of the road, possibly having been run off the road by another car.  His treasured butterscotch MGB convertible flipped and he was trapped under the car. Four hours after winning, he was dead.  The police measured his blood alcohol level at .16, above the legal limit at the time, though his family and friends did not believe he was in danger.
Pre’s death stunned the world.  Four thousand people attended a Hayward Field memorial service a few days later. Kenny Moore, one of our sport’s finest writers said: “All of us who now say, ‘I had no idea how much this man meant to me,’ do so because we didn’t realize how much we meant to him.  He was our glory, and we his.”
A roadside memorial was constructed a few feet from where he died; fans visited Pre’s Rock, a stone with a picture of Pre. There you’ll find medals from races, running jerseys, shoes, newspaper clippings, flowers, contributed by athletes and fans, a commemoration of his life, a connection that will echo for decades to come.
Often compared with actor James Dean, who also died at 24 in a traffic accident, Prefontaine drew immense numbers of supporters to the austere Hayward stands over the years.  His life story was the subject of Disney and Warner Bros. movies, and several documentaries including the treasured DVD, Fire on the Track, which contains rare footage of races and interviews with teammates, coaches, family and friends. On the twentieth anniversary of his death, Fire was broadcast on the CBS network before the l995 Prefontaine Classic meet.
Another essential source is Tom Jordan’s biography, Pre, The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (Rodale, l977, 1994, 1997).  The Prefontaine Classic is one of the IAAF’s Diamond League fixtures on the international track and field circuit.  Jordan is the Pre Classic meet director.
What made “Pre”?  Jordan, in his book captures the runner’s essence: “Pre’s story…is about an individual who in an incredibly short span of time helped instigate the end of amateurism, set the tone for a brash company that became the Nike colossus, and inspired generations of American distance runners by his complete commitment to wringing everything out of what he called ‘the Gift.’”
Sadly, I never saw him run. Still, his is a gift that keeps on giving.


Paul O’Shea has followed the sport for more than fifty years.  After retirement from a career in corporate communications he began contributing to Cross Country Journal and other track and field/cross country publications.  He resides in Northern Virginia and can be reached at Poshea 17 @Aol.com.

 I saw him run once in person, at the USA vs. Pan-Africa meet in Durham, NC in the 1970s.  He ran a 5K against Mirus Yifter among others.  With 2 laps to go Yifter took off in a full sprint so Pre went with him.  After 300 meters of that and 500 meters yet to go, Pre broke and surrendered to Yifter, unable to sustain that pace.  As he crossed the finish line with one lap to go Yifter left the track, thinking the race was over, having miscounted his laps.  Pre revved it up again, winning the race with Yifter unable to continue.  What was amazing to me was that someone actually broke Pre, but it was only because of a miscounted laps problem.

   The next day Yifter ran step for step with Frank Shorter in the 10K on an extremely hot day.  Both took off with a lap to go.  Shorter ran 57 but lost by 6 seconds.  Yifter ran 51.6 for the final lap and 22.6 for the final 200 meters, faster than the final 200 meters of the 400 meters that day by John Smith.  What an amazing meet and series of races. Bill Schnier

I  never saw Pre run, however my thoughts about him go to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.  Many felt this one would have been Pre's Olympics had he lived, but that can only be wishful speculation when so many things can happen to runners who are favored in big meets.  The only thing we can be sure of was that had he lived and had he been fit in Montreal, the finish of the 5,000 would have been even more spirited that it was with Viren turning back Quax, Hildenbrand, Dixon, Foster, Polleunis, Stewart and the others.  One of the many highlights of that games was the  Opening Ceremony and the hommage that the Canadians seemed to pay to Pre by selecting the last runner carrying the Olympic torch into the stadium to have the name   Stephane Prefontaine.  Hardly a coincidence I'm certain.   Others may have run faster, others may have won more prestigious races, but no one who ever bought a ticket to see Pre run ever felt cheated on the price of admission.    GB

Monday, May 25, 2015

V 5 N 44 Comrades Ultramarathon this Weekend

A reminder came today that this coming weekend is the 90th running of the Comrades Marathon,
a double marathon in South Africa.  The race is limited to 23,000 entries.  Current registration is
over 22,000, so there's still time for you procrastinators to get in and get down there to the starting

This info came from Neville Soll, an old Oklahoma teammate who has run this race three times with
the experience of a quarter miler,  half miler under his belt.  

See this website for info but also a well documented history of the race.   

Hi George
Trust that you are well.
Just as a matter of interest it is the 90th running of the Comrades Marathon this Sunday. This 90km (51miles) is the greatest ultra marathon is the world. It was first run in 1921 with a handful of runners competing. This race has grown by leaps and bounds There are 23000 entries for this years race. In South Africa most people who take up road running end up doing this race. It has such a tradition and is the aim of most road runners to try it at least once. I have managed 3
I have attached the website for this race as it could be of interest to some ultra marathon nuts. Also in the web site is the history of the first race. It is a great sporting event and the full race from start to finish is broadcast with most of the country tuning in to watch.  The winner will complete the race in about hours 30 minutes. The cut off time is 12 hours. The bulk of the field finishes in 11 to 12 hours.

V 5 N. 43 Interval Training in Hanoi

Yesterday we posted a list of men and women athletes who perished during wartime.  Some were in the service of their respective countries, some were innocent civilians, some were victims of ethnic cleansing.  This morning I received this piece by Jon Epperson, one of our regular readers commemorating men from the US Air Force Academy who were interned in North Viet Nam during our long conflict with that Southeast Asian nation.  Jon reminds us of the things that happen when people are imprisoned by their enemies.  Rarely do good things happen once a person becomes a prisoner of war.  The eye for an eye mentality of the human condition takes over, and the one who may have inflicted the suffering now becomes the victim.  It's something the powers that be forget to remind us of when they ask their citizens to go somewhere to fight for what is deemed right.  As you read through the article, you will see the track and field connection.

Today I also remember a friend, Dr. Giovanni Balletto,  who was interned as a civilian for 6 years by the British in WWII in Kenya.   He was a skilled mountain climber, and while in prison at the base of Mt. Kenya, he and two other alpinists scrounged food and made climbing gear, broke out of the prison and climbed Mt. Kenya and raised an Italian flag on one of its peaks.  Then having nowhere to go from there they broke back into their camp and turned themselves in.  It made one of their six years more memorable than the others, I'm sure.  That story can be read in the book  No Picnic on Mt. Kenya by Benuzzi.
Phil Neisler and George Brose
Pneumonia Downs, Norman, OK running repeat 220's

Jon's piece also reminds me of one of my teammates at the U. of Oklahoma,  David Phillip Neisler, from Ft. Smith, Arkansas who died on his first SE Asia mission with the Navy as an aircraft carrier pilot.  According to records, the catapault bridle on his plane separated prematurely as he was taking off and the Phantom F4D went into the ocean off Viet Nam.    Phil was trapped in the cockpit. The other crew member managed to eject and was rescued.    I remember seeing Phil on ROTC Tuesdays wearing his class A's on his way to drill.  A really handsome guy, and in my 20 years old naivete not realizing that uniform had already sealed his fate.

David Phillip Neisler

So here is Jon Epperson's salute to those men who served, survived, and to those who died.

Richard Mach (Western Michigan University ) sent this in after reading the above postings.

Geo -

Wrote this tiny piece for the celebration a year ago last October around the 50th anniversary of the back to back Div I team championships Western won in cross country.  The center piece is John Fer.  May have sent this to you earlier, but don't believe so.  He transferred from USC after at least 2 years there I recall and started all over again in the rigorous program @ the Academy so this guy was, like the Aussies often were who were coming over to compete in our nation's colleges, a few years older which did give them -- and him -- some advantage.  After the fall races, John won the NCAA 10,000 m race outright the following spring.
Here's what I prepared.


During this period in American history, we, as a country, were enmeshed in a far off war that soon enough invaded our living rooms every night on the news.  As athletes who competed against the service academies — all three - but especially the AFA, with which we traded venues each year in cross country and they were invited to the WMU indoor Relays in late winter, our trajectories intersected those of athletes who were going to go on to war after graduation.   One story especially is telling about the times then.  In 1962, Reid, Hancock, Bashaw, Green, Tom Martin myself and another flew into Denver the night before and spent a restless night at 6900 ft elevation @ the academy — our bone marrow trying desperately, on very short notice, to make much more hemoglobin.   The next morning coach warned us about the plebes, who were clustered at the start/finish line found @ midst of what proved to be a most daunting figure 8 four mile course, as to their not so polite inquires if we’d like an oxygen tank.  

At the gun, there on the Academy’s Eisenhower Golf Course nearly 7 grand above sea level, the race went downhill for the first mile running in the foothills away from the front range of the Rockies.  At the mile I was 7th or 8th in 4:2The leader was about 4:18, a then 25 yr old cadet named John Fer, who was the following spring to win the NCAA 10 K championship.  We circumnavigated the bottom of the “Eight” and proceeded uphill almost immediately along a tightly winding path about  250 m long through a forest of scrub pine. Upon exiting, Fer was gone.  Out of sight.  Never saw him again.  At the middle of the figure eight, the halfway point, a plebe -- seeing that I was — by then — nearly green — asked if I’d like a peanut butter sandwich.   Then it was another lung busting mile uphill toward the front range before the top of the eight and then that last mile downhill -- quads burning -- to the finish.   At the finish, Air Force’s #2 guy was 9th.  Score:  20 to 43. Next time I saw John Fer was 11 yrs later on television getting off a plane of POWs @ Clark Air Base  shot down over N. Vietnam 6 years earlier. And still a stanch defender of our country.   And of John McCain, his cell mate at the Hanoi Hilton

Sunday, May 24, 2015

V. 5 N. 42 World Class Athletes Who Died in War

Olympians who died in war

Every Memorial Day we publish this list to honor those who fell in war and who were also Olympians.  A complete list of all Olympic sports, not just track and field, is shown here.  This list is from the website Sports-Reference.  I once found another site that referred to 4 or 5 previous winners of the Tour de France who died in WWI.  We all know that a foundation in sport and experience in high levels of competition is no guarantee to a long, happy life.  Previous wars involved more people from all walks of society.  Now our government has found a way with the all volunteer army, to promote military adventures without calling on the whole of our young population to be sucked into the program.  So far fewer contemporary athletes making great salaries are tempted to be on the front lines.  A few exceptions, like Pat Tillman have turned their backs on the big bucks and served their country.   Many could probably not find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map.  So thanks to those young guys of the past who stepped up to the plate when their country called,  some but not all of those being Cliff Cushman, Foy Draper, Charley Paddock who didn't make it back and those like Mel Pender, Louis Zamperini,  and Ted Williams  who did come back.

I've looked for some other articles of a similar nature.
This one appears today in The Independent on British footballers and cricketers who perished in WWI.  It is an amazingly high percentage of international level sportsmen.

British Athletes who died in WWI

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

V. 5 N. 41 A Not So Chance Meeting Between Two of Our Contributors

A Not So Chance Meeting Between Two of Our Contributors

Our blog has on occasion brought people together over the years.  Some were former teammates who had lost touch, some gatherings were  with people who had never met.  The case in point is an example of the latter.  Earl Young (Abiliene Christian University)  and Pete Brown (University of New Mexico) had competed on the same fields of honor back in the early 1960s, but never against each other in the same event.  However through a number of circumstances they were able to get together for lunch the other day.  Many of you probably remember Earl from his winning a gold medal on the 4x400 at the Rome Olympics in 1960 as well as his many great 440 races for Abiliene Christian College (now University).   Few of you would remember Pete who was a better than journeyman half miler (1:52)  for the Lobos.  Both men have provided photos and stories for this blog over the years.  Pete even sent us the whole set of 1963 Track and Field News journals  to use when working on that year.  Here are Pete and Earl's description of that meeting and a few more photos.       For years Pete ran a very successful historical tours business focusing mainly on US battlefields all over the world.

A few years ago  Earl was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant, and  thanks to that donation he is still around to tell his story.  You can read more about how he is working to help others in the same predicament.  Earl Young Website    Perhaps amongst the several hundred people who will read this story all over the world,  someone will take the opportunity to become a donor.

They both gave us permission to put this info on our blog.  GB

Pete Brown and Earl Young

Here I am at lunch today with Earl Young. He competed for Abilene Christian out of San Fernando HS. A member of the class of 1958, he ran the 440 PR of 49.6 at age 17 that year. One year later in Abilene he moved it down 3 full seconds to 46.6 and the next year won gold in Rome in the  4x400 relay (with Glenn Davis, Otis Davis, and Jack Yerman).

We both agreed that had Adolph Plummer submitted himself to rigorous training and with today’s facilities he would be the greatest who ever ran the event and own the world record. We’ve never seen anybody better than Plummer; Earl buys in 100%. Plummer beat Earl a couple of times in college in some big races. Earl won his share against Adolph and it was a memorable rivalry in the early 1960’s.
Adolph Plummer

Bobby Joe Morrow (3xOlympic Gold medals in 1956) came out to San Fernando with Coach Oliver Jackson and recruited Earl Young. His HS time was pedestrian, but Jackson saw something he liked in a photo of Earl and went after him; a good move. Local colleges turned up their noses at him.
Oliver Jackson and Earl Young in Rome
At 6’4” and 170lbs, Earl still has the same measurements he had in college. His relay split in Rome on a dirt track was 45.9. He’s a wonderful man; a Christian gentleman who will have a glass of wine now and then. He raises awareness of blood cancer (which he survived thanks to a bone marrow transplant in 2011) in his retirement and lives in a high rise just north of downtown Dallas. You don’t make the cover of Sports Illy for nothing. He was damn good and I think Adolph will agree.
Winning teams at Rome: Germany 3rd, US 1st, and West Indies Federation 3rd

Earl’s website is well worth watching, especially his video: www.EarlYoungsTeam.com  A bone marrow donor saved Earl’s life 4 years ago and he’s giving back many times over. Anyone who can spread the word on Earl Young’s Team should consider doing so.

 I ran the 880 in a number of meets when Earl was running the 440 and 220, but never met him until today.

Pete Brown

Here was one of the epic races with Adolph Plummer. The crowd must have been close to 12,000, although it was announced as much smaller. The crowd wanted a faster time, and really had no idea how good a time that was back in 1962 on a slow cinder track.  (46.6)   You two had some amazing duels.  Pete

Editor's note:  Pete won the 880 that night in 1:53.2.   

Great commentary……Earl was really special and ran for a hell of a coach, Oliver Jackson, who I got to know.   His name, as well as Earl’s, resonated and I have not thought about either of them in perhaps approximately 50 years.   Wayne Vandenberg

Hi Pete ... Found the article on the ACC-UNM Dual Meet... What an eye opener this track meet was for a skinny little Sophmore 2:02 880 runner .. Had no idea humans could run so fast.. had no idea track teams could be so strong.. had no idea anyone could run a 1:53 880 .. 
  Web Loudat

Sunday, May 10, 2015

V. N 40 May, 1965

MAY 1965

On May 8 four world records are set, one a near certainty, two are pleasant surprises and the fourth a total shock.
Before we get to that day we need to update the world record in the shot put. Our last report had Randy Matson breaking Dallas Long's WR by an inch and a quarter at 67-11¼. Surely he would cross the 68' barrier soon. Well, yes and no. As far as the record books are concerned, he skips 68 feet entirely, for on April 30 in a triangular meet in Austin, Texas, he throws 69-0¾, increasing his record by an incredible 13 inches. He also throws the discus 195-10½, breaking Bill Neville's college record. Wait a minute, didn't we just report that he had thrown 201-5? Yes, we did and yes, he did. However it seems that an awkwardly worded rule has erased that record.
Matson, Discus
this is only 4 sec. long, watch fast
Matson's 201-5 throw indeed went that far, so what's the problem? Well, it seems that the discus landed at a spot four feet higher than the ring from which it was thrown. Even those of us who sat in the back of the room in hopes we wouldn't be called upon can figure out that if, indeed, the discus landed higher than the spot from which it was thrown, the distance would be shortened and no advantage gained. One would think so, but the rule reads that a throw can not be submitted for a record if the incline is more than 1/1000 (think one inch in a thousand inches). The wording doesn't differentiate between an upward incline and a downward incline. An incline is an incline and if it is more than 1/1000, the mark can't be submitted. This was the rule in 1965. We aren't capable of making stuff like this up. Sorry, Randy.

(This reader would contend that with that standard of measurement required by the world governing body, no record up to this date in 1965 could have been acceptable by any standard of civil engineering known to man since perhaps the Egyptians put down the pyramids.  Maybe you surveyors or mall developers could correct me on this assumption, but I just do not believe any athletic field was ever layed out and maintained to that degree of precision. Land sags and heaves over fairly short periods of time.  Therefore there should not have been a WR in any of the long throwing events if that standard of levelness were required. GB)

A couple of Randy's throws from that period
That fully discussed, let's jump a week ahead to the matter at hand. The scene is the Southwest Conference Championships at College Station, Texas. Randy Matson, the world record holder in the shot put at 69-0¾, steps into the ring. When he exits, he has increased his record a jaw dropping foot and a half to 70-7. That this is the greatest record in the history of the sport is not up for discussion. In a month he has raised the world record 2' 9” or 4.06%. He is currently 6'7 ¼” better than the next best shot putter in the world. He credits his improvement to weight lifting that has enabled him to gain 50 pounds since high school.
On this same day, 1660 miles to the west, the West Coast Relays are being held in Fresno. The gun is up for the 440 relay in which the world record of 39.9 is held by the Australian national team. The crowd is anticipating a tight race among New Mexico (40.3), Cal (40.3) and San Jose State (40,4). This is what they get and then some.
Wayne Herman puts San Jose State in the lead at the first pass, but because Stanford makes a great pass from Eric Fische to Dale Rubin, the Indians have the advantage down the straight. Rubin makes an efficient pass to long jumper Bob McIntyre who holds a slight lead at the final exchange to Stanford's only national class sprinter, Larry Questad. Once again the Indians execute a perfect pass and Questad can't be caught. Stanford's best time this season is 40.8. They were given no chance to win but that is less a surprise than the time, 39.7, a new world record. Questad wins the 100 later in the evening in 9.3, but Frische is a 9.5 guy, Rubin a 9.6 and the best McIntyre has run is 9.8. Individually they don't stack up with the competition, yet with perfect passing, the job gets done. San Jose State and New Mexico take second and third, both in 40.1, with Cal fourth in 40.4. A 440 relay record is nothing new for coach Payton Jordan.
In 1938 he ran on the USC team which lowered the WR to 40.5.
Western powers Oregon State, Brigham Young, UCLA and San Jose State are taking each other on in the distance medley. Mike Gibeau of San Jose gives the Spartans the lead at the end of the 880 leg with a 1:49,5 split, but UCLA's Dennis Breckow is just inches back in the same time. Bob Frey gives the Bruins the lead with his 47.8 leg, but loses ground to BYU as Bob Tobler brings the Cougars to within three yards with his 45.7. UCLA's German import, Arnd Kruger, runs his 1320 in 2:58.3 to lead BYU's Bob Richards by six yards at the final pass, but Pete Mewett's 2:56.9 is the fastest split and brings his Beavers into contention. Although BYU's Bob Delany surprises with a 4:00.1, UCLA's victory is not in doubt. Bob Day runs an easy looking 3:58.4 to salt away the victory with a world best 9:34.0. BYU is second in 9:36.2. Oregon State, with Morgan Groth running a disappointing 4:07.8, falls back to third at 9:44.6, barely holding off Stanford's Paul Schlicke who runs 4:06.0 to finish in the same time. These are the top four times in the country this year.
The Bruins were set to take on Oklahoma State in the two mile relay, but Bob Day suffers a cramp and they scratch, leaving the Cowboys without significant opposition. Surprising LA State has the lead at the first exchange, but then OSU's John Perry breaks the race open with his 1:47.5 and now it is the Cowboys against the clock. 
Lower Right, Jim Metcalf and Tom Von Ruden
Tom Von Ruden does his job with a 1:49.3 and even though Dave Perry, recovering from strep throat, can do no better than 1:51.0, they break Villanova's record by six tenths in 7:18.4.

This is how Jim Metcalf who ran first leg of that race for OSU remembers the events.

"The reason LA State, I thought is was San Diego State; anyway, the reason they had the lead was that I had trouble runinng fast times solo as a soph. I had run 1:52+ lead off at Kansas or we would have broken the record. at Drake, I ran 1:50 and change because Ohio University ran their third best guy, a 1:49 man, first ,in hopes of getting a lead, then their second guy who was slow could finish even with John and then they had Barry Sugden and Darnell Mitchell who had been on the US national team.
I beat their guy about 5 yards and and by the time John got thru with their second guy the race was over.... and we held them off with Dave being ill.
At Fresno, Hig convinced a buddy of his who was coach at LA State to run his anchor man lead off so I would have someone to run off of. He ran1:49 and I ran 1:50.7...their other three guys were just average. that is why they had the lead after the first leg."

They weekend of the big relay meets, Penn, Drake and Mt. SAC disappoints in comparison. At Penn the biggest news is the high school triple jump record of 49-5 by Bob Beamon of Jamaica High. Smog and 90 degree heat are negative factors at Mt. SAC, but Ed Burke supplies the highlight by beating world record holder Hal Connolly by four inches in the hammer throw with a personal best of 221-2.
Cold weather and a damp track are obstacles at Drake, yet Baylor and Southern put up marks that defy the conditions. After Ohio University takes the first section of the sprint medley in 3:17.7, just two tenths off Oregon State's collegiate record, Baylor erases the Beavers from the record board in the second section, running 3:17.0 on the strength of Rex Garvin's 1:47.7 anchor.
The Jaguars of Southern dominate the sprint relays, winning in 40.5, 1:23.2 and 3:06.5 with the latter being the fastest mile relay in the world this year. Two weeks later they lower that mark to 3:05.7.
Clarence Robinson with his coach Hugh Hackett, a local HS football and track coach in Albequerque; came to UNM as head track coach in 1958
The best mark of the big relay meet weekend belongs to New Mexico's Clarence Robinson who used the Drake long jump runway to record a leap of 26-9¾, equal to third on the all time list.
Remember last month's report of Jim Ryun claiming the high school mile record at 4:04.8, a mark inferior to his 3:59.0 of last year which didn't count because it was achieved in open competition? No need to fret further about this injustice. In the Kansas state meet he passes the 1320 in 3:02.0 then turns on the afterburners for a 56.3 final lap and a high school record of 3:58.3, also the fastest time in the world this year. One wonders what he can do with competition.
Ryun's HS race May 1965 3:58.3

Speaking of national high school records, there is a new one in the long jump where Johnny Johnson of tiny Pacific Grove HS in California jumped 25-4¾ to better the mark of Oscar Bean by ¼ of an inch. Oh, remember that Beamon kid who set the TJ record? He's second at 25-2.
There are intriguing circumstances in the game of musical coaching positions that seems to be going on. In an earlier report we told you that Kansas assistant, Bob Timmons, Jim Ryun's former high school coach, was going to Oregon State as an assistant and would replace Sam Bell who would become the new coach at Cal at the end of the season and that Ryun would be joining Timmons in Corvallis. Now we read that San Mateo College coach Berny Wagner will be the new Oregon State coach and that Bill Easton, the respected long time coach at Kansas, is being fired. Could this all be related somehow? More news as it becomes available.
(If anybody wants to reopen this can of worms, they can send a comment via the comments section below.  I think I know the story, but it is pretty touchy amongst those who were in Lawrence in those days and the succeeding years.  Maybe this is a journalistic cop out, but I'll wait a few weeks before telling the story as I have heard it. GB)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

V 5 N 39 61 Years Ago Today

How A Track Event Influenced Our Lives

Few need be reminded of today's anniversary of the first sub four minute mile.  This brief (5 min.) documentary might clear the cobwebs.   Also an interesting comment from Phil Knight how the Empire Games mile between Bannister and Landy  later that year changed his life.  Thanks to Tom Ratcliffe for sending this our way.
Brasher, Bannister, Stamfl, Chataway
Need we say more?
Empire Games Mile Vancouver 1954

George and Roy

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

V 5 N 38 A.C. Gilbert

Here is a question for our readers of a certain age,  say born before 1950.

What Olympic Champion may have influenced your childhood before you even knew about track and field?  Does the name  Alfred Carlton Gilbert ring a bell?   How about  A.C. Gilbert?

How about the pictures below?

Gilbert was the 1908 Olympic Pole Vault Champ who went on to found the A.C. Gilbert company which probably sold your dads a chemistry set, an American Flyer train set, an Atomic Energy set, or most likely an Erector set.  All you geniuses who became engineers, chemists, or nuclear physicists, or train brakemen,  may have an olympic champion to thank for pigeon holing you into your careers.  None of this worked on me except perhaps in a negative way.  I had the Erector set, a chemistry set, and maybe even the Atomic Energy set and I became a mediator.    How I found out about this story is almost as interesting.   My colleague Roy Mason just bought me a subscription to the newspaper  'Funny Times' and in perusing my first copy in the chapter  News of the Weird, I found the following:

"For a brief period in 1951 and 1952 , an educational kit called the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, was for sale in the US even though i came with testable sample of four types of uranium ore and three different radiation sources (alpha, beta, gamma) .  A surviving copy  of the kit has been on display recently at the Ulster Museum in Belfast , Northern Ireland, but the radioactive materials had to be removed before the kit cold be shipped to Belfast.  (The kit had failed to sell well; kids apparently prefered the company's erector set).  So , Roy, your kindness was repaid in spades with this new posting.

Further below is an article I found in the Old Yale website talking about Gilbert's storied past.  I think the only thing we made with the chemistry set were stink bombs and maybe a little gunpowder.  Saw a few titrations go from blue to red or visa versa.  I do remember peering into the spinthariscope in the atomic energy lab and seeing flashes of radiation as I lay in bed at night.
Gave me other things to   ponder besides girls.

The spinthariscope was invented by William Crookes in 1903.[1][2] While observing the apparently uniform fluorescence on a zinc sulfide screen created by the radioactive emissions (mostly alpha radiation) of a sample of radium bromide, he spilled some of the sample, and, owing to its extreme rarity and cost, he was eager to find and recover it.[3]Upon inspecting the zinc sulfide screen under a microscope, he noticed separate flashes of light created by individual alpha particle collisions with the screen. Crookes took his discovery a step further and invented a device specifically intended to view these scintillations. It consisted of a small screen coated with zinc sulfide affixed to the end of a tube, with a tiny amount of radium salt suspended a short distance from the screen and a lens on the other end of the tube for viewing the screen. Crookes named his device from Greek σπινθήρ (spinth´ēr) "spark".

Renaissance man

From Olympic athlete to inventor of the Erector set.
Judith Ann Schiff is chief research archivist at the Yale University Library.


A. C. Gilbert, in 1944, poses with a Ferris wheel made from his most famous invention, the Erector set. View full image

A century ago, a Yale medical student named Alfred Carlton Gilbert won a gold medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. He would go on to become enormously successful -- as neither an athlete nor a doctor, but as an inventive manufacturer of educational toys. His New Haven business became renowned for Erector sets and American Flyer model trains.
Of slight build at 5' 7" inches and 135 pounds, Gilbert developed himself into an outstanding athlete. For two summers during high school, he attended the School of Physical Education in Chautauqua, New York. Its director, J. W. Seaver, also headed the Yale Gymnasium, and he recommended that Gilbert eventually get a Yale medical degree to prepare for a top job as a physical education director. Gilbert first enrolled at Pacific University in Oregon; as a freshman, he was captain of the track team and quarterback of the football team. In 1904, after a single year of college, Gilbert, 20, entered medical school.
While at Yale Gilbert set two world records in the pole vault, once soaring 12' 8". But at the London Olympics, which were marred by international discord and disagreements over judging, he ran into difficulties. Most pole vaulters set their poles in a hole in the ground for stability; Gilbert had been one of the first to adopt this method. Vaulters in England, however, used a spike at the end of the pole, and the English judges ruled the use of a hole illegal.
Gilbert nevertheless set an Olympic record at 12' 2". Yet the judges declared a tie because, in a heat, E. T. Cooke of Cornell had cleared the same height. In his autobiography, The Man Who Lives in Paradise, Gilbert noted that this was "the first, last, and only time in Olympic history that a performance in a heat in the pole vault counted equally with performances in the finals." Cooke refused the gold medal; the Queen presented it to Gilbert.  This may not be true as Cook is reported to have lost his gold medal in Dayton, Ohio during a burglary.
It was also reported elsewhere that he got a lot of grief from the British judges as he was 
competing simultaneously in the 'broad jump' and wasn't allowed to take all of his jumps
and ended up in fourth place in that event.
Edward Cook
After the Olympics, Gilbert returned to Yale to finish medical school. As he was no longer eligible for Yale athletics, he put more time into magic. He was an accomplished performer and while at Yale had put on magic shows in clubs from Boston to New York. Now, he and a partner set up the Mysto Manufacturing Company, concentrating on magic trick boxes. Gilbert's Yale professors tried to persuade him to stick to medicine and use his deft magician's hands for surgery. But business boomed. In 1910, Gilbert opened a magic store in New York City.
During his train commutes, Gilbert observed the electrification of the railroad through the erection of steel girders to carry the power lines. He thought "how fascinated boys might be in building things out of girders." Thus began the Erector set. In 1911, he cut out the first girder patterns in cardboard. His girders fit together more securely than existing construction sets, and the motors he included for action made his toy unique. Gilbert introduced Erector in 1913 at the New York Toy Fair. He placed eye-catching ads in national magazines, headlined with his personal slogan: "Hello Boys! Make Lots of Toys!" In 30 years, he sold 30 million Erector sets.
Gilbert started one of the first radio stations in the country, broadcasting the first infomercials (for his toys). He increased sales through Gilbert books, clubs, and contests and by opening the Gilbert Hall of Science in New York.
Throughout, Gilbert kept his passion for athletics. In 1928, he sponsored and hosted the first national sports radio program, on which he interviewed Babe Ruth and other greats. He served as advisory coach at Yale for 30 years, helping to develop what he called the "Yale dynasty in pole vaulting." He also served on many Yale and national athletic committees, and he managed the 1932 and 1936 U.S. Olympic teams.
The A. C. Gilbert Company closed six years after Gilbert's death in 1961. Today the five-acre complex in New Haven, called Erector Square, provides studios for dozens of artists. The Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut, displays A. C. Gilbert products. MIT's website calls Gilbert "one of the most multi-talented inventors of all time." The Smithsonian Institution's Palace of Progress on the Internet includes two Gilbert artifacts: a 1936 Chemistry Outfit for Boys and the prototype of a heart pump, which Yale surgery professor William Glenn and his student, William Sewell Jr. ’50MD, built in 1950 -- with an Erector set.

A.C. Gilbert
all round stud

Sports Reference wrote the following account of the event.

Five competitors broke the Olympic record, and two more equalled the former
record. The Americans, Alfred "A. C." Gilbert and Ed Cook shared first place at
12-2 (3.71) with Archibald and Söderström tieing with Charles Jacobs (USA) for
third. The closing stages of thecompetition were considerably delayed as they coincided 
with the dramatic happenings at the finish of the marathon. Because of the time factor, the 
officials decided against holding jump-offs for first and third places and, in an unusual decision
, two gold and three bronze medals were awarded.

For the last time in Olympic competition, the "climbing" technique was permitted
although it remained legal in England until 1920. Among their numerous protests,
the Americans argued about the fact that there was no pit or hole in which to plant
 the pole and also that there was no sandpit or bales of straw to break the
competitors falls. This protest was understandable as the organizers were
definitely behind the times in these matters as these facilities had been provided
at the two previous Olympic Games.
Edward Cook was a fine all-around jumper and hurdler. He won the IC4A long
jump in 1908 and 1909, the AAU pole vault in 1907 and tied for first in the AAU
pole vault in 1911. Gilbert spread his athletic talents even farther, winning the
1905 Yale gymnastics championship and was intercollegiate wrestling champion
in 1906. Gilbert earned an M.D. degree from Yale but never practiced medicine. He
 later made a fortune as president of the toy company that bore his name and
manufactured Erector Sets, American Flyer electric trains, and other popular 

Our friend Phil Scott knows more about Ed Cook and will probably fill us in with
more detail after he sees this post.   Cook coached for a long time in Oakwood,
Ohio, a Dayton suburb aswell as spending part of his life in Chillocothe , Ohio,
where farmed and was a banker. His gold medal was stolen in a burglarly
from his home in Oakwood.  This contradicts the report in the Yale site
that states Cook refused to accept the medal.

P.S.  Phil says to add a  22' 11" broad jump to the performances on one day for Mr. Cook
in his comments below.

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary...