The desultory basketball game stopped momentarily and the players waited. At the far end of the court a tall, wide-shouldered young man placed his feet carefully in his starting blocks, coiled back on his legs tensely; next to him, looking compact and small by comparison, another sprinter settled himself as the starter raised his gun. The basketball players jumped at the oddly loud blast of the pistol in the empty gym and the two sprinters exploded out of the blocks, the shorter one briefly ahead by a foot or two, then quickly dropping back as the runners, shoes squeaking on the polished court surface, fled down court and out through open double doors to brake themselves against a corridor wall in a hall outside the gym proper.
It was a quiet afternoon at Duke University gymnasium last week. Dr. Bob Chambers, the track coach, looked briefly at his stop watch as Dave Sime, wide grin splitting his face, ran back through the doors into the gym.
"I got it now, coach," he said exuberantly. "I got it. I watched Elder to see what he was doing that I wasn't and I got it."
Sime crouched in a starting position while Chambers watched.
"Look," he said, "I was doing like this." He raised his rump, his legs straightening and his weight moving forward onto his hands. "I couldn't get any pressure on my legs. Then I noticed Elder gets down like this." He dropped his rear slightly and shifted his weight back, so that his legs were bent more and carried some of the weight of his body.
Chambers watched noncommitally. "That was 5.2," he said drily. The indoor world record for the 50-yard dash is 5.1 seconds; Sime, running on a slick basketball floor with unspiked shoes, had been only a tenth of a second off.
Sime tried a half dozen more starts, getting off the blocks explosively each time. Chambers finally had to make the enthusiastic youngster quit, and Sime was bouncing happily as he left to dress.
Most track fans will agree that Dave Sime, when he reaches top speed, is the fastest human being in the world. Only Bobby Morrow, Texas' great Olympic champion, can contest this claim; in the two times Morrow and Sime have met, Sime has won at 100 yards and Morrow at 100 meters. Sime beat Morrow in 9.4 on a wet track at the Drake Relays in 1956; later in that Olympic year, Morrow beat Sime in the NCAA 100-meter finals at Berkeley, Calif., but Sime was already feeling the twinges of a pulled thigh muscle which later cost him his chance to make the U.S. Olympic team. The muscle was injured first in Sime's world record 20-flat 220 at Sanger, Calif.; then, in the finals of the NCAA 200-meter dash, the muscle was badly injured and Sime was unable to finish the 100-meter dash in the Olympic trials two weeks later.
"I just didn't have enough experience to know what had happened," Sime said the other day. He was sitting in the cafeteria at the Duke student union, eating a midmorning snack of a sweet roll, two glasses of orange juice and a cup of coffee. "The leg bothered me after that 20-flat 220. I pushed all the way in that race and I was a little off balance at the start and I felt a little pull. Then, when I worked out, I'd feel the muscle hurt on starts, but I thought I could work it out. It hurt on the start in the 100 against Morrow, but it felt all right after I was running. Then, when I pulled it in the 200 meters at Berkeley, it hurt at the start again, but when we went into the turn, I felt like I was moving up on Morrow, and then the muscle went. It was just like someone had lassoed my left leg and pulled me back."
Sime is an impatient, ebullient young man. He has matured a good deal in the two years since he missed the Olympic squad, but then he was much too impatient to allow the leg time to heal. He pulled the muscle again trying to qualify in the Olympic trials in which he was allowed to participate by special dispensation.