Seldom has a track meet encompassed so much of the magic of brilliant competition, the successful use of the psychological ploys which help make up track excellence and so much of the peculiar excitement attached to international rivalry.
The United States men, as expected, won rather easily, 127-108; the United States women, also as expected, lost 40-67.
From a rich store of memories left with every spectator, a picture which must remain indelibly in the mind is that of Dyrol Burleson, the astounding young miler from Oregon, winning the 1,500-meter run. It was the picture of a 19-year-old college boy smiling in victory in such a way as to demonstrate at one and the same time the spirit of friendly competition that characterized this history-making meet between the two nations and an essential difference between the makeup of the two teams. Burleson, wise enough in his inexperience to let veteran international competitor Jim Grelle decide the pace, ghosted behind Grelle, within striking distance of the fast early pace of Russians Yevgeny Momotkov and Yevgeny Sokolov, for three laps. The tall and slender youngster has a beautifully smooth stride, and he ran very easily, his face showing no strain. When Grelle made his run at the Russians, Burleson went with him and, as the two Americans came off the last turn, it was Burleson who had the greater reserve of strength and speed. He passed Grelle in the homestretch, the Russians now far behind, and he hit the tape as fresh as a daisy. He is, undoubtedly, America's best hope for the Olympic 1,500-meter run.
Yet the high point of the meet, in terms of sheer drama—and it was the sheerest—came with a race which, as a contest, was a walkaway, and which is usually a fairly stodgy event: the 10,000-meter run. But last Saturday in Philadelphia nearly 27,000 people howled and groaned for some 30 excruciating minutes while track's wildest 10,000 meters spun to its agonizing conclusion.
The Americans-Max Truex and Bob Soth had never been accorded a chance. Truex, a small, cheerful graduate of USC, had been able to train only 30 minutes a day since the National AAU meet in June because of Air Force demands. Soth, a dogged, persistent competitor, was not in the class of the two Russians—Aleksey Desyatchikov and Hubert Pyarnakivi.
But Truex and Soth, surprisingly, hung close to the Russian pair for the early laps. Then Truex, running in a baseball cap turned backward, prudently dropped well off the pace. Soth, though, stayed up with the Russian duo. Audaciously, on the seventh lap, he sprinted into the lead, and he stayed there until the 13th. There Desyatchikov, who ran the whole race with the machinelike precision of an automaton, took over for good. He won the race so easily that most of the spectators forgot him in the dramatic events which followed.
Soth continued running very strongly for another five or six laps. He had stretched his lead over the second Russian—Pyarnakivi—and, with some six laps to go, he began to make up ground on Desyatchikov. Then, oddly, he began to lean backward as he ran. He ran a couple of laps in this strange, off-balance posture, his legs flicking out regularly with an unnaturally high knee action, and then he began to wobble. ("I didn't hurt," he said later. "With six laps to go I felt pretty good, and I thought I might catch Desyatchikov. But I got awful tired. I knew I was leaning back, and I could hear the crowd yelling at me to lean forward, and I used my arms as hard as I could to keep my balance, but I couldn't get it.")
Going into the 23rd lap, Soth was running with the awful, slow movements of a man in a nightmare. He hit the turn with his feet splaying out helplessly and his body at a dangerous angle, and, for a few torturous moments, he ran in one spot, his legs moving jerkily and his arms threshing with the artificial movement of a marionette. Finally, some vagary let him lurch forward, and he went on around the track in a slow, mechanical doll stride. His face and body were dead white and his eyes were staring, but the legs and arms kept moving until he reached the next turn, where he stepped on the curb, staggered crazily in a tight circle and fell. He climbed precariously to his feet and fell again, his head narrowly missing the cement curb. Then he was picked up, rushed to the locker room, then to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, which is only a few hundred yards from Franklin Field.
During Soth's heart-rending dance with exhaustion, Truex had dropped farther and farther behind the two Russians. But, as Soth was carried by the stretcher bearers in a shambling run out of the tunnel at one end of the track, Pyarnakivi began the peculiar shuffling, backward leaning dance which had begun Soth's collapse. Wearing a white handkerchief around his head, Pyarnakivi had seemed nearly as tireless as Desyatchikov until the telltale lean developed. He fought the now-familiar fight with total depletion of energy for two laps; while he was wobbling slowly and precariously around the track, Truex began making up ground on him rapidly. Pyarnakivi continued the macabre jig down the backstretch of the last lap well over 100 yards ahead of Truex, but Max, running very well, passed him on the last turn and beat him to the wire by 50 yards. Pyarnakivi, unconscious by now of where he was, collapsed over the finish line. He was snatched up before he hit the ground by Vladimir Bulatov, the chunky Russian pole vaulter, and carried tenderly to the sideline, where Nina Ponomareva, the discus thrower, undressed him nearly completely before she was restrained in the interests of decency. Meanwhile, Truex had started to step off the track when Horace Ashenfelter, a veteran distance runner familiar with the myriad of mistakes meet officials are heir to, advised him to run another lap for insurance. This, wearily, he did.