American women took over the world of sport last week—in the air, in the water and on the land:
Pllurrupp! (more or less) went the checkered flag as the starter whipped it downward. Mrs. Patricia Gladney of Los Altos pointed her Cessna 180 lightplane upwind and the 14th annual All Woman Transcontinental Air Race was off into southern California's baby-blue sky.
Sssh! (in suspense) went the crowd at the Olympic track and field try-outs in Abilene, Texas. Mrs. Olga Fikotova Connolly, late of Czechoslovakia, gracefully dispatched, with a ladylike grunt, the discus 172� feet 4� inches.
Crack! (quite distinctly) went the gun for the 200-meter backstroke at the women's national AAU swimming meet in Indianapolis. Miss Lynn Burke of Santa Clara, Calif., precisely 2 minutes and 33.5 seconds later, burbled to the surface of the huge Broad Ripple pool shouting with the intuition of her sex: "That's it! That's it! My first real world record!"
The girls were well into their big athletic week.
After one last tuck at her brunette curls, Pat Gladney, while first aloft in the women's air race commonly known as the Powder Puff Derby, was but one of the 150 pilots and copilots pushing 79 planes cross-country. Sponsored by the Ninety-Nines, an all-girl flying association whose membership once included the late Amelia Earhart, this year's derby was routed on a gently sweeping curve from Torrance, Calif., across the Southwest, eater-cornered over the length of Tennessee and through Virginia to Wilmington, Del. To win the race is to stay on course, to cut the sharpest corners and to extract the utmost speed over the normal rating of the planes. Mrs. Fran Bera, a four-time winner of the race who wound up sixth in this one, summed up the pilots'-alternatives: "You can't take chances and gamble—then, again, you can't chicken out, either."
Within the wide latitude of these two electives, a number of the ladies still went wrong. High over the Arizona desert, for instance, Mrs. Velma Del Giorno of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. and Mrs. Helen Wetherill of Detroit found themselves off course and out of gasoline. They violated rule one when they gambled they could find aviation fuel on the Navajo reservation that was below them, and, heap big disappointment, they lost. Luckier was another couple that, in similar straitened circumstances, set down on another Indian reservation. Resourcefully they tanked up on automobile gasoline, and, while almost chickening out but not quite, they proceeded by sputters to the next airport.
The 11 compulsory refueling stops along the derby route tested not only the pilots' ability to fly but also the copilots' ability to run. A good runner could make a difference, because time on the ground did not count after the plane's logbook had been stamped by a time clock. Thus, after landing as near as possible to the timing table on the airport apron, the pilot would eject her copilot at full tilt with logbook in hand. Understandably, there were casualties along the way. California's Mary Pinkney called in an orthopedic surgeon, for instance, and he discovered she had pulled a leg muscle sprinting for the time clock in Chattanooga. Betty Hicks, the golf professional, canceled a later engagement at the USGA Women's Open tournament, and her explanation was brief: stiff muscles. California's Ruth Nitzen and Margie James were disqualified in Prescott, Ariz. In her eagerness, Margie had leaped from the plane before the propeller stopped turning, a grievous infraction of race rules.
Every race has statistics, and the Powder Puff Derby does, too. One plane cracked up. Lois May Miles of Northridge, Calif., flying solo, was unable to lower her wheels over Roanoke and was obliged to pancake beside the runway, bringing applause from watching American Airlines pilots. One plane won. It was piloted by Mrs. Aileen Saunders of El Cajon, Calif. and June Douglas of Fall River, Mass., who made better than 15 knots over their rated speed. They won last year, too. One plane w-s absolutely last, this one piloted by Betty Jane and Betty Alyce Farrell, sisters-in-law from California who somehow managed to average 32 knots slower than the plane's normal speed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Abilene, Olga Connolly (an American citizen for only two weeks) had broken the listed American citizens' record in the discus. It lasted just long enough for Los Angeles' outsized ("I won't ever tell you how much I weigh") Earlene Brown to warm up. Then Earlene tossed the discus 4 feet 5� inches farther than Olga had just done and 8� inches farther than Olga did to win a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics. Olga was not overly depressed. She still finished in second place and she will still go to Rome, hand in hand with her husband Hal, the hammer-throwing man.