What was most impressive about our country? The two visiting Australian sportswriters thought that was easy: "The Golden Gate and Arnie Sowell," they answered quickly.
That was in San Francisco last weekend, after the qualifying heats of the 35th annual National Collegiate track and field championships. After the NCAA finals 24 hours later, the Aussies had second thoughts: "You can forget about the Golden Gate," they conceded, "but leave Arnie Sowell and add the sprinter from Texas and that big bloke with the shot."
These championships exceeded expectations. Nine meet records and one U.S. record were broken as nearly 400 athletes from 87 colleges and universities went after the six qualifying places allotted in each of 18 events for the final U.S. Olympic trials in Los Angeles two weeks later. But none was more impressive than the slender Pitt half-miler with the fluid drive, or the human bullet from Abilene Christian, Bobby Morrow, or "the big bloke with the shot," Ken Bantum of Manhattan.
It was easy to understand the Australian enthusiasm about Sowell. No one runs quite like this feathery 135-pounder with the 9-foot stride who, for almost two years now, has been ghosting his way around the country so swiftly and easily that most experts believe the big question in the 800 meters at Melbourne will be who gets the silver medal for second place.
At Berkeley, Sowell started from an outside lane, shot into the lead at the first turn (" Sowell's time for the first 100 meters," solemnly announced a gentleman in the press box, "was 10 seconds flat"), and the race was just about over. Sowell finished 20 yards ahead of Lang Stanley, of San Jose State, and his time, on a track which speed-happy Californians would rather not admit belonged in the family if this could be avoided, was 1:46.7, breaking the meet record and Tom Courtney's American record as well.
Perhaps, in view of Morrow's accomplishments, it would be doing the running path at Berkeley an injustice to call it slow; despite a surface like well-aged concrete and a built-in head wind which howls around the corner off San Francisco Bay, one does not tie American sprint records on slow tracks. And, after just running a 10.4 100 meters into a 5�-mile-an-hour wind, that is exactly what Morrow did. In the 200, his 20.6 clocking was equal to the best ever made around a curve.
But for once the time wasn't really important at all. Instead it was the manner in which this tall, bronzed 20-year-old sophomore from the Rio Grande Valley ran away and hid from what was probably the finest field of dash men ever assembled. In the 100, Morrow beat Dave Sime of Duke, only runner to defeat him over that distance in more than three years, and a young man with three world records of his own up for recognition. He beat Leamon King of California, another 9.3 man, and he beat still a third in Mike Agostini, the little Fresno State flash from Trinidad. And when it was over there was no need for anyone to examine the finish line pictures.
The two dashes, even more than the 1,500 meters and its duel of four-minute milers or the pole vault and its battle of 15-footers (which was vitiated by the absence of Villanova's Don Bragg, who had pulled a leg muscle in practice and chose to delay his try for Olympic qualification until the AAU championship this weekend), dominated local newspaper headlines and conversation; they were all anyone could read or talk about. A coach, pestered for a prediction, finally threw up his hands before trudging off to bed: "You couldn't pay me," he said, "to bet on that 100 race. It will be won right down there at the starting blocks and the guy who gets off late will never catch up."
He was right, and it was Morrow who got off first. He led Sime by a yard at the end of the first strides and Agostini and King by two. At 50 meters, Morrow was long gone. He floated through the tape two yards ahead of Sime and Agostini and twice that distance ahead of King. And after it was over, Agostini admitted a little ruefully that his start was poor and that he could have run a little faster. " Sime can run faster, too," he said, "and so can King. Morrow? I don't know. I don't guess he needs to run any faster."
"I had a great start," said Bobby. "I looked out of the corner of my eye and when I couldn't see anybody, I knew I was all right. I never ran a better race—or ever enjoyed winning one quite so much."