Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Saturday, April 29, 2017

V 7 N. 29 Harold Keith at Penn Relays 1928

Harold Keith

Last weekend I spent several days renewing friendships with old track team members at the University of Oklahoma.  We sat in a new (to us) stadium complex and froze our backsides watching modern day Sooners performing on the same geographical coordinates where we all had plied our trade and dreamed our dreams 55 years ago.  In that gathering of former athletes were lawyers, doctors, a federal judge, an advertising executive, and pharmacists, coaches, politicians, oil men, and teachers.  Few  of us could have matched our times and distances with  today's class of  athletes unless we had been born fifty years later and had the training knowledge and facilities and coaching available in this more enlightened age.

In our conversations, the name, Harold Keith, came up several times.   Mr. Keith was the sports information director at the university for many years.  He was said to have created more All-American football players with his pen than the football coaches did with their clipboards and whistles. When we were freshman at Oklahoma, the track coach of that time, Bill Carroll, (1949 NCAA pole vault runner up) would tell some of us that we had been selected to spend a few hours each week in Harold Keith's office doing whatever task was needed.  This usually consisted of going through all the Sunday newspapers from around the Big 8 Conference and clipping any news story written about or mentioning   Oklahoma University sports teams.  The first day in the office I walked in and his secretary told me to go in back and do whatever Mr. Keith needed.  I had to step  over newspapers and clippings strewn across the floor and immediately began picking them up.  Harold polltely told me not to bother, as that was his Monday morning filing system.  I was to go through those papers and start clipping.  It soon became evident that this was an important room to spend my free time in, because those papers gave me access to information about all the people I would be running against for the next four years.  Apart from the monthly issues of Track and Field News everything I needed to know was in that office.  This was forty years before the internet, track blogs,  Flotrack and instant communication with the rest of the world.
Harold had run track for the Sooners back in the 1920's and modestly mentioned a few things about his career.  I believe at that time his name was still on the locker room wall  as holder of the 2 mile steeplechase record.  He told me about running in the state high school track meet away from the stadium track due to flooding.  Instead the meet  was run on the north oval of the  campus.  He never mentioned his other accomplishments, like being the author of 17 books, winner of the Newbury Award in literature, being president of the American Sports Information Directors,  being in the Helms Foundation, and certainly not being the Penn Relays steeplechase champion of 1928.  When he won that event it was the first time he had even seen a steeplechase setup.   It all came about, because his distance medley team had been forgotten about and not brought out to the track by Penn Relays officals in time to start their race.  To make up for missing their race, the four Oklahoma runners were allowed to enter the steeplechase, and Harold won it, and two other Sooners got 4th and 5th place.

Special thanks to Pete Brown, Plano, TX and U. of New Mexico without whose knowledge and love of our sport, this story would still be sitting on someone's shelf.  GB

Below you can read the account of that race from the Stanford Daily  of May 8, 1928.

At the Penn Relays
The two outstanding features of the Penn Relays, held last Friday and Saturday at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, under atrocious weather conditions, were the remarkable sprinting of the famous Charley Paddock, of California, and the performance in the 3000-meter steeplechase of Harold Keith, of Oklahoma.
Paddock, in running 175 yards in 17 2-5 seconds, set perhaps the most phenomenal record of his long and illustrious career, as he not only ran in better than even time on a track ankle-deep in mud, but had to swerve to one side to avoid trampling on forty or fifty spectators, who fell onto the side of the track where he was running when a part of the south wall of the stadium gave way while the race was in progress. Keith, who with three other Oklahomans, owes his entrance into the steeplechase event to a misunderstanding, had never seen or heard of such a race before last Friday, and not only took the hurdles and the water jump like a veteran, but outraced some star cross-country runners who knew what it was all about. Keith's winning time of 10 minutes 9 4-5 seconds is about half a minute slower than Willie Ritola's winning time at the Paris Olympics, but the Oklahoma boys have gone back home with the avowed intention of building a steeplechase course and practicing up on the event. Paddock has been criticized because he did not stop running when he saw
the wall crash about fifty yards in front of him, and go to the assistance of those who had fallen. He told me after the race that his first reaction was to stop—that the race was "off" • —but that the pounding feet of his competitors urged him on. Anyway, by the time he could have slowed down and turned around, all the fallen spectators would have been picked up by the many officials, athletes, and others who lined the other side of the track.

Here is Harold Keith's obituary from the February 25, 1998  News OK website.  There are some very good details of his running career as a Masters athlete as well as the Penn Relays steeplechase win.

NORMAN - Harold Keith, an award-winning author and a pioneer in turning the publicizing of college athletes and sports into a respected profession during his 39 years at the University of Oklahoma, died Tuesday evening at the age of 94.
Keith died of congestive heart failure at Norman Regional Hospital. He was admitted to the hospital Wednesday. Services are pending with Primrose Funeral Home in Norman.
Keith was born in Lambert, Oklahoma Territory, April 8, 1903, and attended school at Watonga, Victoria (Texas), Joplin (Mo.) Lambert and Northwestern State before getting his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Oklahoma.
He was a champion distance runner at OU before then-football coach and athletic director Bennie Owen hired him as "sports publicity director" in 1930.
Keith helped convert the job from that of "tub-thumper" into a dispenser of information - and assistance - to the ever-growing media.
Keith was founder and served as president of the College Sports Information Directors of America and received its prestigious Arch Ward Award in 1961.
Keith received OU's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Citation, in 1987.
He received a Contributions to Amateur Football Award from the Oklahoma Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
He was inducted into the sports information directors sector of the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.
On the latter occasion, he said, "I accept this honor on behalf of all the college sports information directors I've worked with through the years. We belonged to a group that rarely gets decorated for anything. We were too busy decorating others. It was our job."
Keith, who was nicknamed "Grantland" (as in famed sportswriter Grantland Rice) by ex-Sooner basketball coach Bruce Drake, wrote two books on OU football, "Oklahoma Kickoff" covering the early years of 1895 to 1920 and "Forty Seven Straight!" chronicling the record victory streak compiled by Bud Wilkinson's teams from 1953 to 1957.
But most of Keith's 16 books were of the non-sports, fiction variety and aimed at younger audiences. His first, "Boys Life of Will Rogers," was published in 1936. His 1940 book, "Sports and Games," was a Junior Literary Guild selection in 1940.
Four other books won national honors: the 1957 Newbery Award for "Rifles for Watie;" the 1965 New York Times Best Book Award for "Komantica;" the 1974 and 1978 Western Heritage Association's Wrangler Awards to "Susy's Scoundrel" and "The Obstinate Land;" and the 1974 Western Writers of America Spur Award to "Susy's Scoundrel."
The prestigious Newbery Award is given for the nation's best young adult book of the year. The book is still assigned to junior high students in many states, and Keith still corresponded with students who discovered "Rifles for Watie" each year. His Newbery Medal is on display at the Norman Public Library.
Six of his books were reprinted by Levite of Apache of Norman. "Komantcia" was followed by a sequel, "The Sound of Strings," published on Keith's 90th birthday. Publication of an existing, unpublished manuscript, "Chico and Dan," is planned on his 95th birthday in April.
His contributions to the state's literary heritage were honored with induction into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and presentation of the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for the Book in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Keith was just as proud of the "awards" he won running, which he loved equally with the University of Oklahoma, writing and barbershop quartet singing.
Keith ran the mile anchor leg on the all-victorious Sooner medley relay team that swept the Texas, Rice and Kansas Relays in 1928. The team was favored in the ensuing Penn Relays but didn't run.
Keith explained why: "When we came out for the race, it was raining hard so they told us to go back under the stands and they would come get us. They forgot us and when we came back out, our race was half over."
Coach John Jacobs' frustrated runners decided to enter an unfamiliar event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Keith won it. Two other OU runners finished fifth and sixth.
Keith also was Missouri Valley Conference indoor mile and two-mile champion and won the mile in the Kansas City Athletic Club meet.
He remained a runner after graduating. He won the Oklahoma AAU cross-country in 1945. He broke the U.S. Masters national records for men 70 and over in the two- and three-mile runs in 1973 and bettered the 10,000-meter record in the same age group in 1974.
During many of his years at OU, Keith "ran the section" or farther every day.
He continued to run until a serious Achilles tendon injury reduced him to jogging "only" a mile daily around Owen Field.
"Not very fast," he said. He was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia.
He is survived by a son, John, of Las Cruces, N.M., and a daughter, Kathleen, of Houston, and also four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. BIOG: NAME: UPD:

Excellent piece, George. I didn’t know, or remember, all that about Keith, though I read his memoir.

I worked for Keith too, though rarely in the office. My job in the fall of my freshman year was to accompany one of the photographers covering OU’s home football games and keep notes for him (there were no hers in the press box at the time) .

There was a very rigid process for tracking the game. I was given a form on which to record data for each and every play, so the photographer could have details for his caption for each image and edit efficiently.

As I remember, I had to record: the type of play, the time, the down, the yard line from snap to finish, penalties, and the primary players involved. The form had to match up with the footage. Frankly, it was a rather stressful assignment.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

V 7 N. 28 The Passing of Tom Fleming R.I.P.

Leading the pack #106
at Springbank, Road Races, London, Ontario about 1976

Ned Price informed us of the passing of Tom Fleming.  Here is the USA Today article
by Paul Schwartz.

Tom Fleming USA Today

Fleming had an incredible an incredible series of sub 2:20 marathons in the 1970s.  Finished seocnd at Boston twice and twice won the NYC marathon.  He was sixty five years old.  He had a heart attack while coaching his school team in New Jersey.

George Roy Steve

Monday, April 17, 2017

V 7 N. 27 Two Photos from Boston Today

These two photos were taken today of the men's and women's lead packs in Natick, MA at the 7.9 miles mark by our new friend Ned Price.   Ned took the pictures of the University of Chicago Track Club in our previous post over 50 years ago.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

V 7 N. 26 A Treasure from Chicago

April 16, 2017

One of the truly fun aspects of writing this blog comes when we find, stumble on, or get handed to us some rare, seldom seen photos or revelations of behind the scenes shennanigans and other things recalled by those who lived them.  Last week a gentleman in Framingham, MA, Ned Price contacted us and said he had some photos from  the good old days of the University of Chicago Track Club of which he was a member during his time there as an undergrad.  Ned now resides at the seven mile mark of the Boston Marathon and will be out there tomorrow to watch that event.

One might be reminded that this famous track at Stagg Field where many NCAA championships were contested in the 1920s and 30s had a more nefarious history.  Under the main grandstand was the site of the Manhattan Project where the world's first nuclear reaction was carried out in the early 1940s during the development of the first atomic weapon.  Today the stands are gone, and a statue is there to commemorate that event.

On a lighter note Ned related a story of how Ted Haydon, the coach of UCTC,  was pranked by his athletes during a meet inside the Fieldhouse.  Ted was set up ready to start a one mile event not knowing one of the club members had climbed up into the steel rafters of the building on a catwalk immediately overhead.  When Ted fired the gun to start the race, all the runners stood still, and at the same time the prankster overhead dropped a chicken carcass onto the track at Ted's feet.  The idea was that Ted had brought down the chicken with his starting pistol.   The chicken was probably served up at Harold's Chicken restaurant down the street after the meet.

These remarkable photos center around the UCTC taken by Ned and/or friends.  The first shows Ned outside the University of Chicago Fieldhouse with UCTC weightman Jim Brown  followed by a shot from an indoor race in the fieldhouse.  Then comes  a good picture of Gar Williams and Phil Coleman two UCTC members of the day  Williams was a well known road racer and Coleman represented the US several times as a steepler and also could run a pretty good mile.  Thereafter we have  a series of photos from 1962 at the time the University of Chicago hosted the USA Poland dual meet.   We can't identify the individuals in the group of Polish runners, but under the picture are mentioned their probable names based on who represented Poland in distance races in that meet.

This was the first international meet I ever witnessed.  I had relatives in Lombard, IL  and drove up from Dayton to stay with them and see the meet.

We hope that Ned can find some more pictures to send our way, and if he does we will pass them on to you.
Jim Brown, UCTC Weight Man with Ned Price, our photographer and storyteller.
Behind them the fieldhouse where many an indoor practice and
meet was held.

Bill Reyes (fart left) and Arne Richards #122  two stalwarts of
Midwest road racing in the 1950s and early 60s.

Gar Williams and Phil Coleman

John Gutknecht and Pat Traynor (both men now deceased)
prior to the  1962 US Poland dual meet at the
University of Chicago
Gutknecht was a  College Division runner, what we now call Division III,  from
Ohio Wesleyan who made the US team at 10,000 meters that year.
Traynor from Villanova was an NCAA champion steeplechaser and third placer in the National AAU meet in 1962,
 but he ran the 800 in the dual meet and came third in 1:51.5.

Members of the Polish team running on the Midway at U. of Chicago.  This meet was held just
three months before the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In the stands at the meet in Chicago there was more
Polish spoken than English due to Chicago's large Polish community that was very much in evidence.
I don't think anyone defected, but the guy in the back might be a KGB man.

Poles from another angle,  on the Midway on UC campus.
Probable names are Edward Szklarcryk (3:46 1500), Lech Boguszewicx (14:11 5000)
Jerzy Bruszkowski (1:50  800), Edward Motyl (9:06 Steeple).  We have no idea
which one is which.

Roger Sayers practices handing off to Paul Drayton coming onto the backstretch.
Sayers ran for the University of  Nebraska at Omaha and was the brother of Gayle Sayers, University
of Kansas and Chicago Bears football legend.

UCTC Coach Ted Haydon in a lighter moment
Keith Forman, U. of Oregon practicing at water jump.
Forman would finish 3rd in the Steeple.

Pat Traynor covering a  waterjump although he would run the 800 in the dual meet.

Max Truex and Jim Beatty doing run throughs several days before the
US Poland dual.  Truex was second in the 5000 in 14:08 and Beatty won the
1500 in 3:41.6.

Paul Drayton and probably Ray Saddler (Texas Southern U.)  on the ground.
Drayton ran the 4x100 relay and was second in the 200 to Marion Foik (POL).
Saddler ran on the 4x400.
In reading your comments, a mild caveat.  Enrico Fermi was among the nuclear scientists who actually preceded the Manhattan Project although he was heavily involved with it later.  He created the world's first nuclear reactor in late 1942 with his Chicago Pile I under the Stagg Field stands.  I've always thought of the Manhattan Project as the work done at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos from 1942-46.

Gar Williams was a National AAU marathon champion sometime in the 1960s.  Phil Coleman, after  his great running career, I believe was head track and field coach at the University of Illinois.

As I remember, Peter McArdle, a trans-planted Irishman, won the 5,000 in the USA vs Poland meet.  Does that fit with your memories?  McArdle was pre-maturely bald and he looked to be 20-30 years older than his actual age.  As I recall he had a fine career running for the NYAC, was on the 1963 Pan Am Games team and the 1964 Olympic Team.  He retired from the sport and took up running again later in life only to die of a heart attack while out training one day in Van Cortlandt Park.

Take care,

Tom Coyne

Really enjoy all the UCTC poop......Keep em' coming. Arne Richards was a friend and kept in touch/paid visits to me and Dick Trace. Struggling through the last few miles at Boston in 1966, I looked around to see a thin figure in a WKTC singlet on my tail. It was Arne and he beat me. 

Steve Price

Here is how we reported this meet five years ago.
A week later, Jnne 30, July 1 to be exact, the teams meet in Chicago. This is the precursor for the Russian dual meet three weeks off. There is no doubt the US will win, but there are questions to be answered in several events.
The first day is a disaster for the Poles. The US goes 1-2 in all but two events, the 5000 where Max Truex and Charlie Clark run 2-4, and the high jump which Gene Johnson wins at 7-0½, but John Thomas can only clear 6-9¾ and loses second on misses. Long and Gubner throw 63-9 and 63-5 for a four foot margin over the best Pole. Remember Al Hall's upset of Hal Connolly in the hammer a week ago? Well, maybe that wasn't such an upset. Hall does it again, 214-11 to 211-2. This is the most competitive field event of the meet as the Poles throw 208-11 and 207-10. The most competitive track event also takes place the first day. Witold Baran of Poland takes the lead on the backstretch of the 1500 only to have Jim Beatty go wide on the turn to pass him and Cary Weisiger nip him at the tape. Beatty 3:41.9, Weisiger 3:42.5, Baran 3:42.7. The least competitive race from a team aspect is the 110 hurdles where Jerry Tarr once again edges Hayes Jones on the run in, 13.6 for both. They put on their sweats and warm down while waiting for the Poles who finish in 14.9 and 15.3.
The second day provides some solace for the visitors. They sweep the javelin and the triple jump and provide the big surprise of the meet in which Marian Foik edges Paul Drayton and Homer Jones in the 200, 21.0 to 21.1 for the Americans. The most controversial race is the steeplechase where Poland's Olympic champion and world record holder, Zdzislaw Krzyskowiak (“Krzys” from now on), locks up in a tight dual with George Young. On the Pole's heels on the final lap, Young takes advantage of Krzys running in the second lane by trying to squeeze by the Pole on the pole. Krzys cuts him off. Young retaliates by pushing him, but the moment is lost and so is the race. Krys wins 8:38.0 to 8:42.4, times that don't reflect how tight the race was as Young “had to stop and climb over the last hurdle”. Chicago has a large Polish population. At the awards ceremony Young is booed as if this were Warsaw. Aside from the 110 hurdles the other race that is a foregone conclusion is the 1600 (not yet 4x4) relay where Saddler, Cawley, Archibald and Williams run 3:03.7 to leave the Poles far behind in 3:11.3.
We've saved the best for the last. Remember last month's report of Russian Vladimir Trusenyev breaking Al Oerter's world record in the discus? Well, you can rest easy. Big Al has it back. On Sunday he spins one out 204-10½ to reclaim his record by over 2½ feet. In three weeks Trusenyev and Oerter will meet in Palo Alto and we will be there to cover the action.

This report would not be complete without a footnote. Ron Morris and John Cramer vault 15-3 and 14-11 to go 1-2 in the pole vault. The best Pole vaulter (sorry about that) is third at 14-5. But it is the mark of the second Pole that is the eye-catcher. A game chap by the name of Piotr Sobotta takes fourth at 9-0. Let me be clear: nine feet in an international competition. Sobatta is the Polish high jump champion. He finished fourth in yesterday's competition at 6-6¾. There must have been a injury and Piotr volunteered to embarrass himself in a replacement role to earn that fourth place point in the PV. The final score is 131-81 so it is not as if that point is important. Henceforth in this reporter's lexicon the word “Sobatta” means taking one for the team. Next time you see a batter lean in and get hit by a pitch he could have avoided, you can say to yourself, “That's a Sobatta”. When a point guard holds his ground to take a charge by a fast breaking Dwight Howard, that's a Sobatta. When your high hurdler volunteers to run the third leg on the 4x4 with the meet on the line, that's a Sobatta. You are now armed with a new word; go forth and use it well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

V 7 N. 25 (5) Jon Hendershott's Most Memorable Men's Jumps


by Jon Hendershott

—Men’s Jumps.

High Jump:
As with so many aspects of life, sometimes it just pays big dividends to be in the right place at the right time. Same with our favorite sport: be at the right meet at the time when all the stars line up for an athlete and you end up being lucky enough to witness history being made right in front of you.

So it was for me at the 1971 U.S.-USSR-World All-Stars triangular meet at the University of California’s Edwards Stadium in Berkeley. The international was held on the July 2-3 weekend and was the culmination of three major meets on the west coast: the NCAA in Seattle, the AAU national championships in Eugene and then the tri in Berkeley.

I was lucky enough to attend the college nationals on my home track at the University of Washington, but then passed on the AAU (so missed the emergence of 100 winner Dr. Delano Meriwether, a 13-flat 110 hurdles WR by Rod Milburn and John Smith’s 44.5 WR at 440, still the fastest quarter-mile ever run).

And Berkeley would cap the trio of high-level meets. For the editorial staff of Track & Field News, the international would also finish up our I July edition (we published two editions per month back then, titled issues I and II). That magazine would be crammed full of nationals news, of course, and the closing deadline was just a few days after the international.

But with Berkeley being less than hour away from T&FN’s home base in Los Altos, California, the entire staff of the magazine could attend the goings-on. And write event reports, too.

Among my events (only men back then) to cover besides the 400, 400 hurdles and shot, was the javelin on the meet’s first day. Publisher Ed Fox’s events included the high jump on the second day. But for reasons now lost to a fading memory, Ed asked me if I wanted to trade events, me taking the high jump on the Saturday while he took the javelin on the Friday. I said sure.

The USA’s HJ entrants were two young jumpers, Cal Poly/SLO’s Reynaldo Brown—who had finished 5th at the ’68 Mexico Olympics as a high schooler and had just won both the NCAA and AAU titles leading into Berkeley—and Wisconsin’s Pat Matzdorf, 5th in the NCAA but runner-up (jumper-up!) in the AAU. Leading the USSR was Mexico bronze winner Valentin Gavrilov; top All-Star leaper was Aussie Lawrie Peckham, 8th in Mexico.

Matzdorf and Brown left their foes behind when they topped 7’3” (2.21) on their first tries. It was a one-inch PR clearance by the 21-year-old Matzdorf. All the jumpers were straddlers, the flop style of surprise Mexico Games champion Dick Fosbury not having taken over the event yet (that would come later in the 1970s).

Matzdorf’s approach came from the left side of the pit, as you faced the landing area. My seat was on the homestretch side of Edwards Stadium and nearly even with the HJ pit. So I had a wonderful view of Matzdorf’s approach and jumping in general.

After their makes at 7-3, the jumpers had the bar raised to the American Record setting of 7’4½” (2.25), a quarter-inch above Fosbury’s Mexico height.  Both Brown and Matzdorf missed their first tries, each just barely. Brown hardly was out of the pit and the bar replaced and remeasured before Matzdorf charged in for his second effort, lifting his bent right lead leg and curling over. The stadium erupted. Brown couldn’t make it on either of his remaining attempts, the bar on his third being brought off just barely by his trailing ankle.

Then the crosspiece was raised to the audacious setting of what was first announced as 7’6” (2.29). But a remeasure put the height at 7’6¼”. The jam-packed and sun-drenched Edwards crowd of more than 22,000 was enthralled as Matzdorf had a good try on his first attempt, but a miss nonetheless.

He took his second shot almost immediately and was, as I described it in T&FN, “pulsatingly close.” He said later, “I lay there in the pit for a second, thinking, ‘Jeez, I had the height.’ Then it frightened me that I had come that close.”

He went back to his mark for his final attempt, turned to face the pit—encircled by a battery of still and motion-picture photographers—and “I just thought about getting up my speed a little and gathering all the pop I could.”

Then at 2:25pm, the native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, rushed at the bar, curled around it—and even with just a slight brush—over and into the pit. Pat Matzdorf suddenly was the World Record holder.

The capacity crowd exploded as Matzdorf lay in the pit, hands to his head. “I didn’t know what to think,” he admitted. Officials ringed the pit to prevent a accidental dislodging of the bar and then did the usual verification measurement. Matzdorf then took one shot at the then-unprecedented setting of 7’7¼” (2.315) before calling it a day.

Click here.
Pat Matzdorf, The Jump and MW 200

It was simply a totally unexpected thrill—for me and the other 22,000-plus of my closest friends crammed into Edwards. We media types talked with a dazed Matzdorf afterward; he stopped once to take a victory lap and the crowd roared for him anew.

Matzdorf never jumped higher than he did that July day in Berkeley. He actually switched to the flop style in the mid-’70s and got up to, I believe, around 7’5” (2.26).

Of course, I had plenty to write about thanks to Pat, both in my news report of the event and in a feature story to accompany the meet coverage. When you are lucky enough to get a World Record to write about, you don’t mind the work at all.

And long-time T&FN photo contributor Jeff Kroot snapped a brilliant picture just at Matzdorf started his descent into the pit after clearing the record height. The shot graced the cover of our I July '71 edition, capturing an historical, and thrilling moment in the lives of everyone.

Jeff Kroot's photo of the jump

Pole Vault:

Like for the high jump, my most memorable pole vault came totally out of the blue. And the height was low by today’s stratospheric standards. But the mark was my first World Record to witness, so how could it be anything for me except my most vivid memory?

It came at the Oregon Invitational indoor meet in Portland on January 26, 1963. I was a junior in high school and my dad Bob, then an assistant coach at Washington, plus our friend Al Leong, an engineering student from Hong Kong and a huge track fan, had driven to Portland from Seattle for the evening meet. We knew it would be a long day and night getting to the meet and back, but we all were excited to see the many top national- and world-level stars who would compete in the Memorial Colesium that night.

The vault featured two Washington jumpers who I had gotten to know well: senior John Cramer (who didn’t clear a height that night due to injury) and sophomore Brian Sternberg.
Brian Sternberg

Brian hailed from the Shoreline district in the north end of Seattle and began emerging early in ’63 as a shining new talent. He would go on that outdoor season to set three World Records, topped by a best of 16’8” (5.08), before his career was tragically cut short when he suffered a broken neck in a trampoline fall that summer. (That accident still is one of the two saddest developments I have ever experienced in the sport; I may write about them one day but I still get emotional just recalling them briefly now.)

Also jumping that night in Portland was ’60 Olympic silver medalist Ron Morris, an early proponent of the fiberglass pole. But the night ended up belonging to another Rome silver winner, decathlete C. K. Yang from Taiwan. The former UCLA Bruin had waged a memorable duel with his former college teammate and American star Rafer Johnson, the eventual 10-event champion.

Yang—whose given name in Chinese was Yang Chuan-Kwang, which had been amended to C.K. Yang when he came to college in the U.S.—always raked in big decathlon point thanks to his vaulting skills, even if he often had to jump off dirt runways and using an aluminum pole.

          In Portland, Yang needed all three tries to clear his opening height of 15’0” (4.57), but made his next setting of 15’3"3/4” (4.67) initially. That turned out to be Sternberg’s highest as he placed 3rd. Yang topped 15’8” (4.775—see photo) next and then 15’11” (4.85) on his second attempt, while Morris needed three.     (The author and editor struggled with this paragraph as there is no note in the IAAF record books of Yang's 15'8" jump in the progression of the event.  But the UPI photo shown below  clearly indicates that jump was  15'8".  So, did the IAAF miss this or did the UPI stringer working late that night make a  typo?  We'll never know.  ed. )
C.K. Yang clearing 15' 8" at the Portland meet

Morris went out at the next height, while Yang then had the bar set at the overall World Record mark of 16’3¼” (4.96). The indoor best was the 16’¾” (4.96) set the winter before by 16-foot pioneer John Uelses, while the outdoor mark stood at 16’2½” (4.94) by Finn Pentii Nikula.

Those marks are now regularly topped by high school boys, plus some of the world’s best women vaulters. But more than 50 years ago, they were big heights for men, who were still getting used to jumping with fiberglass poles. Waiting for the recoil of the implement to hurl them over the bar was still an evolving skill back then.

Yang missed his first two tries at the record height; as I recall he got close on both attempts. Then the arena hushed as he pounded down the raised wooden runway for his final try—and Yang got over. My first World Record!

Up went the bar to the then-stratospheric setting of 5-meters, or 16’5” (now, 5.00 equals 16’4¾” after metric-to-English recalibrations a number of years ago). Yang missed his three tries, but who cared? Everyone had just seen the highest vault anyone had made up to that time.

In my youthful naïveté about the sport back then, I was just certain (quote-unquote) that Yang’s mark was so high that it would last for years. Nice thought, but only a week later, Nikula became the first man to clear 5.00—en route to 5.05 (16’6¾”) and 5.10 (16’8¾”) in the same indoor meet in Finland. And outdoors less than two months later, American John Pennel upped the outdoor record to 16’2¾” (4.95), the first of his nine career WRs.

But those higher jumps never dimmed the luster in my memory of Yang’s record. And my dad and friend Al were just as buzzed as I was on the drive back to Seattle. We didn’t get back until maybe 4:00 in the morning, but we didn’t care. We relived the record vault, plus some exciting races from Portland, all the way home. Literally it was a great ride.

C.K.Yang Decathlon WR 1963  (See Yang's PV technique at 1:27 of this WR decathlon performance. ed. )

Long Jump:

This is easy—’91 World Championships in Tokyo. Defending champion Carl Lewis versus his nemesis of the day, Mike Powell. Inside a jam-packed Olympic Stadium in Japan’s capital and on a newly-poured runway (made of the same polyurethane material as the running track— on which Lewis merely had sped a 100-meter World Record of 9.86 five days before the August 30 LJ final).

I know that I wrote in the first chapter of this missive, on the men’s sprints & hurdles, that I consider Usain Bolt’s 19.19 200 record at the ’09 Berlin Worlds to be the single most outstanding performance I ever witnessed. While that is true, I must say that I consider the Tokyo long jump to be the finest competition I have ever seen.
It was so much more than just a “competition”: it was that season’s climactic meeting between the event’s two best practitioners, both at the height of their powers.

The always-outgoing Powell told T&FN afterwards, “I didn’t fear Carl anymore. I was capable of the WR. It would take the perfect track, a big meet and my being behind.” Powell got all those ingredients in Tokyo.

Powell jumped seventh in the 13-man field, with U.S. teammate Larry Myricks two jumpers later and Lewis at slot No. 11. Powell opened with a modest 25’9¾” (7.85) as he struggled to find the board. Myricks fouled and then Lewis threw down a mighty gauntlet as he bounded out to 28’5¾” (8.68). Powell responded in round 2 by sailing out to 28’¼” (8.54), while Myricks reached 26’11” (8.20) to give the U.S. all three medal places.
Larry Myricks

Mike Powell

Carl Lewis

In frame 3, Germany’s Dietmar Haaf moved to 3rd with a wind-aided 26’11¾” (8.22). Powell reached 27’2½” (8.29), while Myricks fouled. Then Lewis popped his longest mark up to then, 28’11¾” (8.83), but with an illegal aiding wind.

Powell wouldn’t knuckle under and in round 4 he flew out well beyond 28-feet, but notched a close foul. The emotional Powell pleaded with the board judge but to no avail. Myricks regained 3rd with a 27’7½” (8.41).

Lewis then electrified the capacity crowd by soaring 29’2¾” (8.91), but with an-over-the-allowable 2.9mps aiding wind. Still, that mark exceeded Bob Beamon’s fabled 29’2½” (8.90) World Record from the ’68 Mexico Olympics.

Then came round 5. Powell sprinted down the runway, hit the board perfectly and stretched his lanky frame out far into the pit. The crowd erupted as he landed and Powell immediately checked for the white flag signaling a legal jump. The wind read merely 0.3mps. Los Angeles Times writer Mike Kennedy, a quiet, generally a soft-spoken man, looked over from his adjacent seat in the media section and said—still quietly—“I do believe he’s got it.”

Everyone waited expectantly for the measure, the delay in announcing Powell’s mark only heightening the expectation in the air. Then the yellow numbers came up on the field scoreboard—8.95 or 29’5½”—and Powell sprinted back down the runway and eventually over to the stands to find coach Randy Huntington. The stadium noise was at a jet-taking-off level.

Mike Powell and Carl Lewis

Myricks hit his best of 27’7½” (8.42) to reclaim the bronze medal for good. Then it was Lewis’s turn. A master at come-from-behind victories, Lewis rallied on his fifth leap to reach 29’1¼” (8.87), which turned out to be his longest of that day—and also of his career.

Powell and Myricks both fouled their sixth efforts and then it was all left for Lewis. Powell lay down under a bench, not quite covering his eyes for Carl’s last shot, but almost. Lewis managed “only” 29’0” (8.84) and Powell had ended his 10-year, 65-meet winning streak.

Powell also halted Beamon’s tenure as WR holder at 22 years, 10 months. Only the immortal Jesse Owens held the record longer at 25 years, 2 months… up until last year, that is. Powell now has held the mark for 25 years, 7 months—and counting.
It still is spine-tingling for me to write all this, reliving a competition that defined the word and was highlighted by a single performance that still is among the two finest I have ever been privileged to witness.

And the record generated one outcome of humor that I still laugh about a quarter-century later. T&FN’s great friend Peter Diamond, an NBC Olympic executive for years, had anticipated seeing the Powell-Lewis matchup in Tokyo. But New Yorker Peter also was a life-long fan of the Giants baseball team, first in New York and then after the franchise moved west to San Francisco.

The night of the Tokyo LJ final also happened to be when Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants were playing a game. Peter said he was going to the game rather than to the Worlds. We were incredulous, asking him why on earth he would pass up such a monumental battle. He replied, in so many joking words, “They will just try for the win. They won’t go for the record. Besides if they somehow get the record, I’ll just commit harakiri.”

As we all walked back to our hotel after the stunning LJ competition, we wondered what Peter would think when he heard the news. When we reached our hotel, colleague Garry Hill come up with the perfect tweak: he left a note for Peter at the main desk which simply said, “Sir, your sword awaiteth.”
Triple Jump:

My two most memorable three-bouncers both were World Records. In the later of the pair, Britain’s Jonathan Edwards underscored the dominance he had displayed all of the 1995 season. He had four times jumped beyond the event’s 18-meter barrier (59’¾”) but each with a barely-illegal aiding wind. He did notch a WR 59’0” (17.98) shortly before the Worlds began in Göteborg, Sweden.

Edwards wasted no time in the western Swedish city, flying out to a record 59’7” (18.16) on his opening leap. Not content, he then powered off the board on his second leap, his trajectory rather flat yet undeniably fluid. He completed the hop-step-jump phases and landed well beyond the end of the yellow board at the 18.00 mark. All of 18.29, or 60’¼”—and the event’s 60-foot barrier was history.

It was a reality-defying performance. Later statistical details revealed that Edwards hopped 6.05 (19’8¼”), stepped 5.22 (17’1½”) and finished with an eye-opening leap of 7.02 (23’½”).

Jonathan Edwards WR 2x

Yet, my most memorable TJ had come a decade earlier, at the 1985 USA Championships in Indianapolis. Another UCLA Bruin graduate in the outgoing mold of Mike Powell, Willie Banks had pushed the TJ into prominence for the previous four years. He lengthened the American Record five times in 1981 as he single-handedly captured the attention of crowds both domestic and foreign. From his enthusiastic warm-up routines while listening to rock music on his then-state-of-the-art cassette tape player (his favorite song for warming up, he said, was “Start Me Up,” by the Rolling Stones), to his conducting crowds in rhythmic clapping before and while he sprinted on the runway, Banks brought his field event—and later field events in general— to the forefront of the sport. Today, it’s common to hear athletes and fans at meets from the Olympics to high school meets clap in unison for a field eventer readying for an attempt. Thank Willie Banks for that.

Willie Banks (This is not the Indianapolis jump, and commentary is not in English,
but the video conveys Willie Banks' unbridled enthusiasm for the event. ed.)

Banks went into the Indy USA meet sharper than ever. He had set an American Record of 57’11¾” (17.67) only eight days before the nationals. In the June 16 USA final in Indiana, he opened at 57’0” (17.37). Then rival Mike Conley hit 58’1¼” (17.71) on his second jump.

Never one to need inspiration, Banks then readied for his own second effort. Just as he did, the finalists in the women’s 800 field rounded the final curve. Banks’s then-partner and later wife Louise Romo powered into the lead as Banks, who had run to the curbside with about 120-meters left in the race, yelled for her with unrestrained enthusiasm.
Louise Romo

Romo took the lead into the final straight as Banks continued to cheer for her. Then he stepped onto the runway and bolted down the strip, hitting the board virtually perfectly before powering through his phases.

As he cut into the sand, those of us watching roared. He knew it was a long one. Friend and super-fan Jed Brickner immediately shrieked, “That’s a World Record! A World Record!”

Jed was spot on: Banks had cut into the sand at 58’11½” (17.97), tantalizingly close to the magic barrier of 18.00 (59’¾”) and far enough to exceed the 58’8½” (17.89) record set nearly 10 years earlier by Brazil’s João de Oliveira at the ’75 Pan-Am Games in Mexico City’s helpful altitude.

Banks gamely took all the rest of his attempts, reaching 57’10½” (17.64) on his third and 57’5½” (17.51) on his fourth before passing his fifth and then fouling on his final try.

It was a stunning performance by Banks—made all the more memorable by Jed’s unbridled enthusiasm after Willie landed. My eternal thanks to them both for an unforgettable experience.

(Next: men’s throws & decathlon.)

V 11 N. 51 Finally the 2020 Games Have Begun and Who Was the First American Olympian to Compete?

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