Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Friday, December 11, 2020

V 10 N. 83 Jim Allen The Season of '63

More than five years ago, our blog was covering the 1963 track season and we made some mention of the US tour to Europe. The US-Russian dual meet was the biggest international of the year in non-Olympic years, at least from our point of view. A tall, thin hurdler from Washington State had appeared on the scene as the number two 400m IH runner. Jim Allen had what could easily be called a meteoric rise to the top of his field from one season of track in high school to a walk-on his freshman year at Washington State, and now a member of the US team that would challenge the best the Russians had to offer and on their home turf. That meet was followed by duals in Poland and West Germany and for Jim finished off in England and Scandinavia.  

Jim's son Jeff Allen found reference to that blog post and contacted me about any additional material I might have on his dad. We began corresponding, and on my way to the Prefontaine meet I stopped in Seattle to meet Jim and Jeff at Jim's home. We hit it off, and from that meeting I wrote a much more detailed piece about Jim's track history and that East European tour.  

Jim Allen No. 2 in the 400IH

The following year, 2016, Jim and Jeff travelled to Eugene, and my blog partner Roy Mason and I met them for dinner at The Wild Duck Cafe near Hayward Field. There were other luminaries in the hall that night, but Roy and I were focused, enthralled on hearing stories from Jim and Jeff. Lest it be forgotten, Jim and Jeff are both track and field All-Americans. Jeff earned that honor as part of Stanford's Distance Medley team at the NCAA indoor meet. Not many fathers and sons can put that in their resumes.  

Since then we've remained on each other's mailing list and conversed by email on a number of occasions always enjoying what each had to say. I got regular comments from Jim.

A few weeks ago, Jeff wrote me that Jim had passed away, and it was with great shock and sadness that I absorbed that information, being reminded many times the past few weeks how fragile life is and how 'our generation' is beginning to run out of time. Jeff did a masterwork of a tribute to his dad and sent it to be put on our blog. It is with great honor that we have placed it here today in its entirety. As some of you know we tried this a week ago and pictures were not showing up. Jeff and I got over that technical hurdle, and now the article is ready. Good reading to all of you this holiday season.    George Brose  Roy Mason and Steve Price


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George,


Reaching out to share some sad news. Jim passed away Sep 10th. Here is the link to his obituary: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?n=james-warren-allen&pid=196826555.


I wanted to share with you how much he (and I) appreciated getting to meet and know you. The blog and your post on Jim a few years back had a wonderful impact on his life.


Ever since we first connected with you Jim really found a lot of joy in reading the blog posts, the memories it stirred, and the connections he made with folks like you, Blaine, and others. It’s also what prompted Jim and me to go to the 2016 and 2017 Prefontaine's. Had we not connected with you, I don’t think he and I would have ended up traveling to see the meets in person. I have incredibly fond memories of those trips with my dad.


The connections, memories, and experiences that you, Roy, and Steve bring about for so many folks like my dad and me are an incredible thing. Jim’s moment in the spotlight in 1963 was very unique but also very brief. He really enjoyed being able to revisit those times and share with you and others.


Since Jim passed I’ve come across a number of items I thought you guys might find interesting. I’ve included photos below and more information on each. I actually started this email weeks ago with just a handful of items but kept uncovering new pieces of info. So what started as a fairly brief message has grown into something much larger. I hope it’s as much fun for you guys to read through as it was for me to put together.


Thanks again for all you guys do. I wanted you to know how much Jim enjoyed the work you guys put into the blog and the impact it had on him.


Best,


Jeff Allen

206-406-8729



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17-year-old senior from West Seattle High School competing in the Seattle High School All-City Track Meet at Husky Stadium on May 15, 1959:





Jim was sort of an accidental athlete, and an accidental Coug. As a senior at West Seattle High School, in the fall of 1958, he happened to be in the gym one day jogging laps with some buddies that were on the football team. The football coach (who was also the track coach) approached him and insisted Jim turn out for track as a hurdler. That spring (1959) when Jim didn’t show the coach knocked on my grandparents door and spoke with them about it. At their urging he reluctantly gave it a try. That season he ended up winning the 180yd low hurdles in the city championship and qualified for the state meet in Pullman. He got smoked at state but loved the Washington State campus. However, he had planned to attend college at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, WA and was already enrolled. So after returning home from the state meet he changed course, de-enrolled from Pacific Lutheran, and enrolled at Washington State instead.


As a freshman at WSU he tried out for basketball but got cut. So in the spring (1960) he tried track again, mainly for a PE credit. He improved significantly in what was only his 2nd season. And with his long legs found he could adjust to the added height of the college highs better than most. He set many WSU freshman records and beat the guys he’d lost to at state the year prior (they were now running for other NW colleges). So he stuck with track from then on.


Coincidentally, it was his long legs and stride that helped him later develop into one of the best 400m hurdlers in the world. Jim was a shade under 6’ 5” but had a 36” inseam. 13 steps was just his natural stride pattern between hurdles. He’d carry that to the 7th hurdle before converting to 15 steps for the last few. I remember we were talking about all this once…the high school coach, the state meet in Pullman, de-enrolling from PLU, getting cut from freshman basketball, the freshman track records, 13 steps, making the US Team, etc. He said you know I was just the right guy in the right place at the right time.


Unfortunately he struggled with muscle pulls regularly, especially his hamstrings. It actually confounded the WSU trainer who could not understand how such a long, lean, limber guy could get muscle pulls so often. He was incredibly flexible. Even with a 36" inseam Jim could stand with straight legs, lean over forward to stretch, and put both hands flat on the ground.


Funnily enough, many of the newspaper clippings my grandmother kept included photos of Jim running with leg wraps or long underwear. The latter gained him some notoriety in the local press. He wore them to keep his legs warm and loose in the cold and wet northwest weather. The writers seemed to get a kick out of it. Articles frequently referenced Jim’s  “longies” or “long johns” and even sometimes called him “Long John Allen."


The muscle pulls limited his 1961 season, cancelled his 1962 season (he redshirted), and even in 1963 during his breakout season gave him trouble. He missed the Russia meet (which was devastating) and another meet later in Hässleholm, Sweden. It also really limited his final season in 1964. Ultimately ending his career when he injured one badly at the NCAA’s that year and could not recover in time for the trials. I remember we were talking about all this once too and he simply said you know it just wasn’t meant to be.


Since he passed I’ve discovered a lot of interesting items. Mostly from 1963 which was really his only healthy and full season. I’ve listed many below and included some additional info on each. It’s been fascinating to uncover and connect the dots on all of this. I thought you, Roy, and Steve may enjoy as well.




Apr 27, 1963 - WSU vs Oregon Dual Meet at Rogers Field in Pullman, WA

Schedule of events (and some results). Jim set Rogers Field records in winning the highs (14.5) and 330yd intermediates (38.1). I noticed Jim beat Mel Renfro in both events. The year prior in 1962 Renfro was the NCAA runner-up in the highs.






May 4, 1963 - WSU vs UW Dual Meet at Husky Stadium in Seattle, WA

Seattle Times clipping below. Jim set a meet record in the highs (14.3) and a stadium record in the 330yd intermediates (37.4). The meet came down to the mile relay. Jim led off. Jan Bentzon ran 2nd. He was a half miler and Norwegian exchange student. Clarence “Clancy" Williams ran 3rd. He was a halfback & defensive back on the football team, an All-American defensive back in 1964, and played 8 seasons for the LA Rams. The anchor leg was team captain John Chaplin whose name I figure you guys are familiar with. Incidentally, I remember my dad telling me a number of times Chaplin was one of the smartest guys he ever knew. The Cougs won the relay and the meet. The papers noted that 2 wins by a local Seattle kid wearing long johns who fled Seattle for the Palouse helped do in the Huskies.





May 11, 1963 - WSU vs Idaho Dual Meet at Rogers Field in Pullman, WA

Not sure what newspaper this clipping is from. Jim wins the highs (14.3) and 330yd intermediates (37.6). Both marks are faster than his Rogers Field records from the Oregon dual meet 2 weeks prior. But the highs time doesn’t count as a new record because of a tailwind.





May 18, 1963 - Far West Championships at Rogers Field in Pullman, WA

Meet program below with John Chaplin on the cover. Also on the cover is Eilif Fredriksen, another Norwegian exchange student (like half miler Jan Bentzon). Eilif was a triple jump NCAA finalist in 1962 (2nd) and 1963 (4th). Eilif and Jim were fraternity brothers too. I recently learned a funny story from a 3rd fraternity brother named Roger. May 17th is Norway’s Independence Day and Eilif had to party because that was his nature. There was a celebration that night and all the Norwegian students on campus were there (including Jan). So Eilif invited along his fraternity brothers Jim and Roger. Roger planned to watch his buddies compete the next day, drank too much, and didn’t make it to the meet. Jim, Eilif, and Jan nearly missed the meet but each still fared pretty well. Jim won the highs (14.2) improving his Rogers Field record and narrowly beating Renfro again. He also won the 440yd intermediates (52.0) tying Jerry Tarr’s meet record from 1962. Eilif won the triple and was 4th in the broad. Jan was 4th in the 880yd. Jim and Jan (with Clancy and Chaplin) also helped the mile relay to a close 2nd behind Oregon.





Spokesman-Review (Spokane newspaper) clipping from May 21, 1963 about Jim and his wins at the Far West Championships:





May 25, 1963 - AAWU (Big Six) Championships at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA

Meet program and medals below. Jim placed 2nd in the 440yd intermediates (51.6) to Cawley (51.5) and helped the WSU mile relay to 2nd behind USC. In the prelims of the highs he hit the first hurdle and wasn’t able to recover enough to make the final. Eilif won the triple and placed 4th in the broad. Jan dropped 1.6 seconds off his best time to place 2nd in the 880yd. Unfortunately, Chaplin pulled up injured during the 220yd and was out the rest of the meet.






Jun 8, 1963 - Northwest AAU Championships at Thunderbird Field in Tumwater, WA

Meet program and medals below. WSU won the meet team title behind two wins each for Jim (highs & intermediates) and Eilif (broad & triple). Jan is 3rd in 880yd. Jim and Jan run legs on the WSU mile relay which also wins. What is interesting about this meet location and program is about a decade later he and Rae moved to Olympia (which neighbors Tumwater). They started a family and he began a 30 year insurance career. Many of the local businesses advertised in this program became his clients years later. Also, about 3 decades after the meet we visited this stadium often for my football games and track meets because Tumwater High was a rival of my school in Olympia (Capital High).







Jun 13-15, 1963 - NCAA Championships at University Stadium in Albuquerque, NM

Below are photos of the meet program, competitor pass & ticket, medal (3rd), and All-American award. I remember a couple stories Jim told me about this meet. In the heats of the highs he kept banging lead arms with the runner next to him as they cleared each hurdle. Eventually at the 5th or 6th hurdle one of the collisions stood him straight up. Which slowed him just enough he didn’t advance. But he still ran a PR at 14.1 so thought he might’ve made the final otherwise. Turned out the runner next to him in the heats was the guy from Southern Illinois who ended up winning the title. In the final of the intermediates, he stumbled badly coming off the first hurdle. It through off his steps and he just about came to a stop at the second hurdle. At which point he panicked and ran almost full out to catch the field, eventually passing everyone but Cawley. However, he was so gassed coming to the final hurdle he said he’s not sure how he got over it. As he tied up going to the tape he felt really lucky that only one other runner caught him and he was able to hang on for 3rd (50.5) behind Whitney (50.3) and Cawley (49.6).








Jun 21-22, 1963 - AAU Championships at Public School Stadium in St Louis, MO

Below are photos of the meet program, medal (2nd), AAU letter, Seattle Times clipping, and Track & Field News clipping (from July 1963 issue). I’m disappointed we were never able to track down this race footage. I know it’s out there somewhere and someday I’ll come across it. I remember Jim reflecting on how thrilled he was to have made the US Team. Once back at the hotel that evening he called his parents and Coach Mooberry to tell them the news. I also recall him saying the meet broadcast was playing on the TV in the hotel lobby so he was able to see his race. While going down the backstretch he remembers the commentator saying Allen out in lane 8 is only taking 13 steps!









Jul 20-21, 1963 - US vs USSR Meet at Lenin Stadium in Moscow, Russia

Below are photos of many items with a little context on each. These were all interesting finds. What really struck me as I uncovered these and researched some of this online was the extraordinary significance this meet represented to each country and the athletes. It was such a rare thing at that time to visit Russia. An incredible honor to represent your country in this meet. And a heartbreaking disappointment for a 21-year-old to be injured and unable to compete.


Propaganda pamphlets distributed to athletes and a luggage tag:



Postcards Jim sent home the week leading up to the meet. He injures his hamstring in practice on Tue 7/16. The disappointment and frustration is discernible in these short letters. But it appears by Fri 7/19 he’s feeling better and thinks he might even be able to run his event on Sun 7/21. Also, I thought his comments on the food were amusing. He’d pay $1 to get a hamburger if he could!





The balalaika Jim bought in Red Square with Darrell Horn:



Jim took more photos in Moscow than any other stop in Europe. It seems there were more scheduled sight seeing opportunities for the athletes that week. Here are a few more images I don’t think we sent you back in 2015.


A cleaner image of Lenin Stadium:



Jim & Eleanor Montgomery (high jump) in front of Moscow State University building. I remember Jim saying Eleanor would always call him Skinny Minnie:



The State Historical Museum in Red Square and a line of Russians waiting to enter Lenin’s Tomb:



Jim outside Lenin Stadium with Novodevichy Convent buildings in background:



I recall a story Jim used to tell about Bob Hayes while they were out sight seeing one day. Jim, Bob and a couple others were walking around Moscow. Jim noticed two Russians subtly tailing them everywhere they went and mentioned it to the guys. Unconcerned, Bob quipped what are you worried about you don’t think they can catch us do you?


Meet program and photo of the stadium crowd during day 1 of the meet. The meet recap in Track & Field News (from August 1963 issue) said the two day attendance was 140,000:




I found this Russian decal, Russian embroidered patch, and a few AAU/USA stickers. My guess is these were items provided to athletes from both teams so they could exchange souvenirs. I looked up Vadim Arkhipchuk who signed the back of the decal. According to the meet recap in Track & Field News, Arkhipchuk’s 46.3 was the second fastest 400m time ever by a Russian. He was a surprise (and very close) 2nd to Ulis Williams (46.2). Online I discovered the emblem on the decal is a Russian sports club called CSKA Moscow, I assume for which Arkhipchuk competed:



TV Guide and Newsweek issues with meet coverage. I thought these were interesting indicators of how important the meet was, considering the time period. By the way, in the Newsweek article photo I think I can make out Jim and Cawley sitting next to one another toward the back left:








Jul 26-27, 1963 - US vs Poland Meet at 10th-Anniversary Stadium in Warsaw, Poland

Below are photos of postcard, meet program, medal (2nd), and Seattle Times (AP) clipping. I found AP articles online noting two day attendance of 80,000 for the meet. Jim’s leg was better but unfortunately he was really sick ever since the end of the Moscow trip. I remember him saying that by race day he was 159 pounds and incredibly weak. But he still ran and beat the two Poles, finishing 2nd (50.9) to Cawley (50.8). We talked about this meet just a few months ago actually. At one of his last oncology appointments in August they had him get on the scale. He weighed 159 and remarked to the nurse with a smile, I haven’t weighed that much since I was a young man running track in Europe in the 60’s!








Jul 31-Aug 1, 1963 - US vs W Germany Meet at Lower Saxony Stadium in Hanover, W Germany

Below are photos of postcard, meet program, medal (2nd), and Seattle Times (AP) clipping. I found AP articles online noting two day attendance of 70,000 for the meet. With a healthy leg and stomach Jim had his strength back and ran his best time ever. Cawley got him by a hair at the tape and both were timed in 50.1. I recall Jim saying Germany was really nice. The food was great, girls were pretty, people friendlier, and overall quality of life seemed much higher compared to Moscow and Warsaw. There was one story from Germany he told often and for which I’m reminded each time I visit my parents home. Jim and Darrell Horn were in a shop and Darrell insisted Jim get a set of cutlery because Germany made the finest in the world. Jim said why would I buy a set of cutlery and Darrell’s response was because someday you’ll be married and you’ll need it. To this day we still use that cutlery at my folks house.








Aug 3 & 5, 1963 - US vs Great Britain Meet at White City Stadium in London, England

Photos below of letter, meet program, medal (2nd), and AP photo. In 2016 I did an internet search and uncovered the AP photo, similar to how I found your blog in 2014. Someday I hope I’ll do a search and find that some organization somewhere has posted a video from their archives that includes one of Jim's races. But it hasn’t happened yet. For this meet I found AP articles online noting a standing room crowd of 35,000 on his race day (Aug 5th). What I remember Jim saying about the London meet is that he was feeling stronger each week in Europe and in this race felt his best. He had even just decided to stay on and run a series of four additional meets in Sweden and Norway over the coming weeks. In this race he had a big lead and then clobbers the 10th hurdle (AP photo below). He said he nearly fell, even going down to his hands on the track before recovering his balance. This allowed Cawley to come back and catch him just before the tape so he finishes 2nd (51.7) to Cawley (51.4). I remember he said he was surprised when they announced the top 3 finishers because there was polite applause for 3rd and 1st. But the crowd thundered when they announced him for 2nd. Which he assumed was because he had an English surname (Allen), combined with the dramatic 10th hurdle and finish.









Aug 6-16, 1963 - International Meets in Stockholm, Sweden (8/6), Hässleholm, Sweden (8/8), Oslo, Norway (8/12-13), Gothenburg, Sweden (8/16)

Photos below of meet programs, Hässleholm letter, Oslo postcard, and Seattle Times clipping. Jim ran in London the evening of Aug 5th. The next morning he was on a flight to Sweden and that same evening ran the open 400m in the Stockholm meet but his hamstring acted up again. Perhaps due to the travel and short turnaround between races. So he didn’t run the Hässleholm meet but in his letter home was confident that if his leg and weather were good in Oslo he might take a shot at the world record. There was a scratch in the highs on the first day (8/12) so the meet organizers asked him to run, just to fill out the field. He ended up 2nd (14.2) to Hayes Jones (13.9). The next day (8/13) he won the intermediates (51.5) running cautiously in overcast, wet conditions. For the final meet in Gothenburg 8/16 it rained hard and I’m not sure if he ran. On 8/17 he was on a plane headed over the north pole for home. One of my favorite stories Jim told was of Norway. After landing in Oslo he and Paul Drayton emerged from the plane together. To Jim’s surprise, standing down on the tarmac with cold beers in hand to greet him, were his WSU buddies Eilif Fredriksen and Jan Bentzon. Drayton said you know those guys? When Jim said yes Drayton lit up and said man I’m hanging with you this trip!






Below are two items from Track & Field News. The first is a clipping from the Aug 1963 issue of an article that looks ahead to the Tokyo Olympics and references Jim’s gold (and WR) potential. The second is a clipping from the Jan 1964 issue of the final 1963 World Rankings which list Jim #4 in the 400m hurdles. Unfortunately, the Olympics wasn’t meant to be (as Jim would say). But I know he cherished the 1963 experience and was grateful for it. Likewise he really enjoyed the blog, getting to know you, and especially appreciated the great article you posted about him.




Jim’s USA uniform, WSU singlet, and some of his “office” decor:





2015 Prefontaine when you stopped in to visit on your way down to Eugene:



2016 Prefontaine when Jim & I connected with you & Roy:



2017 Prefontaine (you were at the Indy 500 so we settled for a photo with the Duck):





Jeff,


This is one of the greatest layouts that has ever been done by your blog. I love it. Kudos for Ernie to bring it to my attention. Thanks for both of you. What a fabulous piece of work.  

 

How long did Jim Allen last in topflight competition? I remember watching him in the NCAA meet in Abq in 63. He didn’t make the finals in the HH, but got third in the IH in 50.5 behind Rex Cawley.

 

This just reinforces the contention that hey-days of T&F were the decades of the 50’s and 60’s.


Pete



What an incredible collection here. Don't we all wish we could lay our hands of this many memories from long ago. I see that Jim and I both graduated HS in '59. He had quite a career for sure. Thank you for sharing this man's story.

Darryl Taylor
 



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