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A big night for Wilma
James Murray
January 30, 1961
The three-time Olympic gold medalist was the star at the Los Angeles Invitational
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January 30, 1961

A Big Night For Wilma

The three-time Olympic gold medalist was the star at the Los Angeles Invitational

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Indoor track meets used to run off an occasional race for women just to fill a gap in the program and to lend a note of variety to the succession of events. But the promoters of the second annual Los Angeles Invitational meet last week scheduled a 60-yard dash for women as the feature of the evening and reached a long arm all the way across the country to Tennessee to fetch its prize entrant: the beautiful Olympic medalist, Wilma Rudolph.

Wilma did her job well. She made herself gracefully available for interviews, and Los Angeles welcomed her from city council to movie set. Rivers of ink flooded her every appearance. Los Angeles fans stormed the sports arena in such numbers that a sellout was posted one hour before opening ceremonies, and the shutouts were offering $6 for $2 seats, with no takers.

For the 13,622 who got inside, the show was well worth it. Wilma, who appeared to be having the time of her young life, showed up poised, friendly, innocently flirtatious and nine pounds heavier than she had been at Rome. But she had no trouble disposing of the world record in her event in both heat and finals. Running against girls who would be hard put to beat her kid sisters to the bathroom mirror in the morning, she added another world record (6.9 seconds for the indoor 60-yard dash) to her extraordinary string of achievements.

There were men at the meet, too. Parry O'Brien, the great beached whale of the shotput, served notice that he may put to sea again, perhaps in the direction of Tokyo in 1964, when he sent the shot 63 feet 1�, inches, eight inches better than the indoor world record he had set in 1960. Ralph Boston, Wilma's schoolmate at Tennessee A&I, broke the indoor world record in the broad jump with a leap of 25 feet 10 inches. Laszlo Tabori, the indestructible Hungarian, led the pack home in the two-mile run in 8:53.2, which was good time before Murray Halberg disintegrated the indoor world record two Saturdays ago (SI, Jan. 23).

Olympic 400-meter champion Otis Davis, whose straight-up style of running gives him the appearance of a man about to do a back flip at any time, staved off an exciting final kick in the 500 by the consistent and persistent Eddie Southern. Jim Beatty, who had beaten Dyrol Burleson in themilein Oregon the week before, beat Ernie Cunliffe this time ( Burleson was in New Zealand, where he defeated Murray Halberg in a slow 1,500 meters). Cunliffe's late drive forced Beatty to run a 57-flat final quarter, but the time was a disappointing 4:06.4.

Boston, sporting a white leather cap identical to teammate Wilma's (" Rudolph and I bought them just before we left Tennessee; they're all the rage down there"), and the ageless O'Brien were voted the "co-outstanding athletes of the meet" for moving the Los Angeles Invitational solidly into the record books, where California's stop-watch set likes to be.

Lady's night

But it really was wonderful Wilma's night. Indeed, it might be her decade. Wilma won without bothering to remove her wristwatch, and there was some indication she could have carried her purse. Everyone in the massive sports arena, possibly excepting the girls she defeated, was quite in love with Wilma Rudolph. Wilma herself, politely but firmly excusing herself from the swarm of newsmen who pursued her to the door, chose to leave hand in hand with Ralph Boston. The two of them fled happily through the trees of Exposition Park to a waiting car, wearing their brand-new world records lightly, just like any other couple on a Saturday night.

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