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During the running of a mile relay at Walnut, Calif. the other day an Arizona State man was bumped as he was attempting to hand off the baton. He spiked his teammate, who then had to run 440 yards with a ripped shoe and a wound that later required three stitches. But so fast is Arizona State that it still set a collegiate record in the race.
At about the same time in Des Moines, Texas Southern University runners were setting two meet records while winning the mile and three other events, but were disappointed—in previous meets this year they always have swept all six.
And in the east that day New York University was upsetting Abilene Christian's excellent team, which had won the Texas Relays. These are four of the truly great college relay teams in the country. There are five others that may be of the same caliber: Oregon State, the University of Southern California, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma State. What the nine add up to in the forthcoming relay carnivals and the national championships is an unprecedented season for relay running. Starting with the Coliseum Relays in Los Angeles on May 18, various combinations of these teams are going to be facing each other week after week; the winner may well prove the race goes not to the swift but to the smart.
"The problem," according to Phog Allen, who founded the Kansas Relays before he became a famous basketball coach, "is that the baton puts teamwork into foot racing." To a sport normally limited to a runner contending alone against himself, the clock and the field, it brings strategy, psychology and team play. It is a large order to make a team out of four men who, by the fact that they have decided to compete in track, have indicated that they are individualists.
The coaches of two of the top mile relay teams have approached this problem as individualistically as their athletes approach running. The fastest team so far is Arizona State, coached by a pleasant, chunky man with a thick head of black hair who is called Baldy. He is Senon Castillo, the coach at Arizona State. Once, when he was young, he had a small bald spot on the top of his head for a few weeks; a tall friend named him Baldy and the nickname has remained, though the spot has not.
Castillo, a superficially uncomplicated man, maintains that the way to build the fastest mile relay team in U.S. history is to get the four fastest quarter-milers in the country and turn them loose. He professes to see no legerdemain in this event. But talk to him for a while and you find that what he says and what he does are not necessarily the same.
"A perfectly run relay should provide four individual lap winners," says Castillo, rather obviously. When his team set the intercollegiate record at Mount San Antonio, in 3:07.5, that's what it did. Unless the passes are slower than those of a broken-armed quarterback, the team with the four fastest quarter-milers certainly will win.
When he talks about particulars, however, Castillo concedes that there is more to the mile relay than corralling the four best 440 men. For instance, he uses his slowest man on the first lap—a notion at variance with other coaches who have good mile relay teams.
"But Mike Barrick is a steady runner," Castillo says. "He gets you off to a good start. For the second lap (where most coaches use their slowest man, on the theory that he can't lose enough to hurt you this early in the race and may have been handed a comforting lead by your fast leadoff man) I use Henry Carr. He's a sprinter building up to the 440. He puts the pressure on quickly in the first 100 yards, and keeps it on."
Castillo likes a man in the No. 3 spot who can hold his own. (And one who apparently can run while spiked, which is what Ron Freeman did.) This is the kind of man most coaches want in the No. 2 position. For the anchor lap Castillo joins most coaches in simply using his fastest runner. For him, this is Ulis Williams, a dazzling quarter-miler who has run 46 flat out of the blocks. No U.S. runner has done better this year.