When the U.S. track and field team tangles with Poland in Chicago this weekend and with the Russians in Palo Alto in late July, the outcome in each case should be the same as before: victory for the U.S. But the script seems to be changing. Last week's National AAU championships produced the best team we have sent into international competition, a team with better balance and depth because of striking improvement in the distance events, where the U.S. was once everybody's patsy. The odd thing about the dual meets ahead is that both Poland and Russia are improved too—in field events such as the discus throw and broad jump that we have always dominated.
While the two invaders went about selecting their teams in some totalitarian manner in Warsaw and Moscow, we picked ours democratically enough in Walnut, Calif., where the post office sits in lonely grandeur surrounded by contemplative cows. In addition to cows, however, Walnut has Mount San Antonio College and a track fast enough to make a runner's eyes shine like an AAU official's head. It was here that the 1960 U.S. Olympic team set five world records in one day while warming up for Rome, and it was here last Saturday night that a most unusual mile race was run: four Americans finished under four minutes.
The four were Jim Beatty (3:57.9), Jim Grelle (3:58.1), Cary Weisiger (3:58.1) and Bill Dotson (3:59). Beatty, Grelle and Weisiger were no great surprise. Both Weisiger, a Marine lieutenant out of Duke, and the veteran Grelle have been under four minutes before, and Beatty accomplishes the once legendary feat these days almost as casually as he pulls on his spikes. The newcomer to the clan was Dotson, a good middle distance runner from Kansas who found the inspiration to clip 1.5 seconds off his best previous time. There might have been five men under four minutes, except that Dyrol Burleson was sitting in the stands.
In some ways the AAU mile was less a footrace than a mass tactical assault by the runners of the Los Angeles Track Club, coached by the expatriate Hungarian Mihaly Igloi, upon the other poor, perspiring individuals in the nine-man field. The timing and spirit of cooperation among Igloi's men would have done credit to the Ferrari team at Le Mans.
Throughout the four laps Beatty shouted orders like a top sergeant. Teammate Grelle led for the first lap, as planned, but Beatty, who was to take over for the second lap, got caught in the traffic. So Beatty yelled at Teammate Bob Seaman to move over; Seaman moved out, giving Beatty a hole on the rail, and little Jim shot through. Then Beatty yelled at. Teammate Grelle; Grelle, too, gave him running room inside. Maybe all the shouting tired Beatty out. Although he won, Jim didn't have the tremendous closing rush that has characterized his best races. Weisiger, who was supposed to fold, surprised everyone but himself by leading the two L.A. Track Club men down the backstretch of the final lap. Beatty passed Weisiger at the turn, and it took a desperate effort by Grelle to beat the Marine to the tape. Beatty's time equaled the meet record set by Herb Elliott in 1958.
Where Burleson might have finished, no one will ever find out. Allegedly pressured into running in the AAU meet in order to qualify for a trip to New Zealand this fall, the piqued 3:57.6 miler from Oregon chose to run not in the mile but in the three-mile instead. Burleson had never run a three-mile race before and he didn't on Saturday either. While Murray Halberg, the New Zealand Olympic champion, was setting an AAU meet record of 13:30.6, closely followed by little Max Truex and Canada's Bruce Kidd, Burleson dropped out after seven of the 12 laps. As a result, for both the Russian and Polish meets, Burleson will be in the stands once again.