Saturday's duel in New York ended a superb week for cross-country racing, one that had begun with the redemption of Arkansas senior Joe Falcon (SI, Oct. 26) in the NCAA championships on Nov. 23. Falcon had been leading the 1986 NCAA men's race in Tucson when he tripped on a sprinkler head 150 yards from the finish, fell and ended up second. Last week, running over the rolling meadows just west of Charlottesville, Va., Falcon burst from the pack on an uphill slope almost five miles into the 6.2-mile race and never eased up.
Raising his arms in elation, Falcon broke the tape in 29:14.97, more than five seconds ahead of John Scherer of Michigan. Falcon had not only led Arkansas to its third team title in four years (with 87 points to second-place Dartmouth's 119) but had completed a rather remarkable comeback: Three weeks earlier, having lost 10 of his 116 pounds through flu-induced vomiting and diarrhea, he finished 33rd in the Southwest Conference championships. That night he wound up in a Fayetteville hospital with an IV in his arm, which made this win all the sweeter. Falcon, America's brightest distance-running prospect in years, chose not to compete at Van Cortlandt, preferring instead to rest up and then start training for the 5,000 at the Olympic trials next July in Indianapolis. The surprise NCAA women's champion, Indiana sophomore Kim Betz, who took up cross-country only after entering college, also skipped Saturday's TAC meet, which was won by 1985 champ Lynn Jennings, 27, formerly of Princeton. She placed sixth in the women's 10,000 meters at the Rome World Championships in September and is the second-fastest American woman ever at the distance, behind only Mary Decker Slaney. Then on Saturday she clocked 19:35 for 3.7 miles to beat Nan Davis by 12 seconds. "I didn't peak for this," said Jennings. She will be ready, however, for the world championships in Auckland next March. So will Porter.
The two are good friends, and Jennings was the first to rush up to him at the conclusion of the men's race. "I got complacent," said Porter as they hugged. "I was lucky." But Jennings, who has run the course for 12 years, knew the truth: No one ever conquers Van Cortlandt Park on luck alone.