Folsom field in Boulder, Colo. is bounded on one side by the sudden, spectacular upthrust of the Flatiron mountains and on the other by plains stretching away into the heart of the U.S. Last weekend it was populated by an extraordinarily strong, fleet and dexterous group of athletes who had come across the plains or over the mountains to decide the National AAU track and field championships of the United States.
They were bedeviled by heat one day and a steady, drizzly rain the next, but, spurred by the lure of berths on the U.S. team which will meet Russia next month (first two Americans in each event would qualify, see picture gallery below) and the U.S. team which will compete in the Pan American Games later this summer, the athletes performed mightily.
By the time they wearily packed spiked shoes and damp sweat suits for the trip back across the plains or over the mountains, they had shown rather clearly that 1) the U.S. is not becoming a second-class track power, and 2) the U.S. men will wax the Russians in Philadelphia July 18 and 19.
True, some of the mighty had fallen but their places were filled with young, very competent replacements. Bobby Morrow, the Olympic champion, finished last for the first time in his adult career in the 100-meter dash ("I can't understand it," he said sadly), but Ray Norton, the tall, panther-muscled sprinter from San Jose State, exhibited a new-found poise and an unbeatable floating stretch run in winning both the 100- and 200-meter races. Glenn Davis, who holds the world record in both the 440-yard run and the 400-meter hurdles, placed second in the hurdle event, but Dick Howard, who beat him, appears to have mastered the tricky timing of his steps between hurdles and will probably be a threat to Davis' record in the near future.
Bud Held, who designed the javelin that most of the competitors used and who set the official American record they were aiming for, failed to qualify for the finals in his event. But Al Cantello, a short, very muscular Marine officer with an expressionless face, won the event with a good throw on a javelin range made slippery and slow by a steady rain which soaked the field most of the day.
But the drama of the meet was in performances by the youngsters coming up and by some of the veterans who have never grown old.
A slender, blond 19-year-old freshman from the University of Oregon, running with the smooth, effortless efficiency of a loping horse, won the 1,500 meters and set a new AAU record doing it. Dyrol Burleson, who has trained steadily with Veteran Jim Grelle of Oregon, stayed on Grelle's heels through most of the race. He ran placidly and easily a few steps behind Grelle while Gail Hodgson sailed away to a long lead through three laps. When Hodgson began to flag and come back, Grelle, with his shadow close behind, moved into the lead, passing Ed Moran on the way. Coming out of the last turn, Grelle kicked strongly and Burleson, moving out to get running room, kicked, too. His long, still-steady and controlled stride carried him by Grelle easily, and he was 10 yards in front and pulling away at the finish.
"I just wanted to stay with Jim," he said later. "I was real surprised when I went by him in the stretch." Grelle, utterly exhausted, wasn't. "I knew he was ready to go under 4:04," he said. "I feel bad. I know I've been in a race."
Max Truex, the jaunty little distance runner from USC, won a handsome victory in the 10,000 meters, then came back for third in the 5,000 meters. In the longer race, he pit-patted along happily behind Al Lawrence for some 31 minutes, sometimes pulling up on Lawrence's shoulder, then dropping a step or two back, but always close enough so that he could hear Lawrence breathing. Then, as the gun sounded for the final lap, he pulled around Lawrence on the curve, fled away from him on the back-stretch and won by 50 or 60 yards. The next day, in the 5,000 meters, he stayed well back in the pack through the early part of the race, slipping by an occasional runner on the pole and apparently marking his time. Then, as the race drew near its close, and Bill Dellinger, the eventual winner, began to draw away, Truex was slowed momentarily as Miles Eisenman, running in front of him, began to falter. By the time Max had maneuvered around Eisenman, he had lost precious yards to Dellinger and Lew Steiglitz, the tall, strong Navy entry. By now the leaders were bending into the first turn of the last lap.
"I couldn't make up my mind to start my kick then," the cocky little Truex said later. "If I had, I might have caught them." He didn't begin to kick until the back straightaway, however, and by then Dellinger, a picture runner with a fluid stride and immense assurance, was kicking himself, pulling away from Steiglitz and Truex. Max made the effort anyway, but he could only close the gap a little and finished well back in third. It was an extraordinarily courageous race by Truex, who was sapped by the long run of the day before.