TRACK:SUPERSTARS AND SOFTNESS
The conflicting opinions of Avery Brundage and Jim Elliott on whether or not America is becoming a second-class track power (Is America a Second-class Track Power?, SI, Feb. 2) interested me. Both men made good points, but I'm afraid I'll have to go along with Mr. Brundage.
If America does become second-rate it won't be because the talent isn't there; it'll be because the talent wasn't used. We have a tremendous athletic potential in this country which has barely been tapped. Russia and the other countries who have come up in track have made their gains through saturation rather than through excellence.
One athlete I know was only a so-so two-miler in college, but shortly after graduating began to show promise of becoming a very excellent walker. He was forbidden to practice on his university's track because the year before he had dropped off the track squad, as he had classes until 7:30 in the evening. The coach of that school is supposedly a great developer of amateur runners because one of his other athletes happened to set a couple of world records last year, but is he truly a molder of men?
A few track clubs exist in the United States, mostly near large metropolitan centers (compared to a club for every little town in Europe), but they are oases amidst a desert of athletic decadence. Even the AAU, which is supposed to rule amateur sports, is oftentimes more concerned with politics and who gets to make what foreign tours rather than the welfare of the athletes.
Oddly enough, one of the bastions of track in this country is the same school that produced the most outspoken critic of sports in the country: Robert Hutchins. The University of Chicago offers its facilities to athletes in the area who otherwise would have no place to train and passes the hat to send them away to meets. More than 200 runners belong to the university's track club. Some are members of its varsity track team; others are graduate students attracted to the school not only because of its excellent academic program but because it offers them a place to pursue their favorite sport; others have never been to school at all. Some track club members are very good (three made the trip to Russia last summer); others are extremely mediocre (incapable of running even a 5-minute mile). One broad jumper spends 2� hours traveling three days a week to work out at the university, because the track near his home closes before he gets home from work. Another runner works out in the confines of his basement and competes on weekends.
There is nothing the matter with track and field in this country that a good shot in the arm or a kick in the pants wouldn't cure.
I was glad to read that Jim Elliott of Villanova has enough sense to realize that America is making great strides in track. American track, as it now stands, was never better. Records are being broken again and again. How can Avery Brundage say we are getting soft?
Pointing out a few of our superstars, as Jumbo Jim Elliott has done, only tends to lull the unwary into further complacency. We're getting soft.
All of us concerned with the Olympic sports program should thank Mr. Brundage for having the courage to speak out. His counsel is much needed today. He aptly puts his finger on one of the evils of college athletics—the buildup of so-called superteams, with only the readymade athlete or superstar taking part. This tends to cut down the number of participants in the overemphasized sports (generally football and basketball), and little attention is paid to other sports. Often an assistant football coach will be named as coach of track, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, etc., with a resultant loss of participant interest.
However, I do not agree with Mr. Brundage that the college presidents are all to blame and the athletic directors and coaches blameless. Integrity should be expected from all personnel, athletic directors and coaches as well as the college presidents.