We are a bit off form, you know," said Gabriel Korobkov, the ruddy-faced coach of the Soviet three-man track team which last week began a month-long U.S. indoor campaign with a splash never before equaled by a foreign invader. "It is too soon in the year for us to be ready because our competitive season has not started yet," Korobkov added.
Korobkov's soft talk proved to be a massive piece of diplomatic subterfuge that must have turned even the most demanding Kremlin official pink with pleasure. As the indoor season got under way in earnest before 16,000 shocked spectators at the Millrose Games in New York, the trio of Soviet athletes—High Jumper Valeri Brumel (SI, Feb. 4), Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan (SI, Aug. 6, 1962) and Middle-distance Runner Valeri Bulyshev—delivered a blow to U.S. track prestige that may take all winter to absorb. Furthermore, their depredations on U.S. soil were only part of a sad evening's tale. Canada's inexhaustible Bruce Kidd won the two miles in the spectacular time of 8:41, the second best clocking ever indoors. Germany's Jutta Heine (SI, Jan. 28) and Maria Jeibmann won the women's sprint and 440. Even John Uelses, who won the pole vault at 16 feet 1, was born in Berlin.
But primarily it was U.S.S.R. night at Madison Square Garden. Ter-Ovanesyan, the dark-haired, debonair physical ed student who had never before beaten Ralph Boston, defeated his old nemesis by exactly one foot, setting a world indoor record of 26 feet 10 inches in the process. It was Ter's first victory over any American opponent in nine tries. Bulyshev, who combines the handsome looks of an animated James Mason with a deceivingly smooth running style, seemed perfectly at home on boards, which he was trying for the first time. In winning, he clocked 1:50.8, the fifth fastest 880 ever run indoors. And world record high jumper Valeri Brumel leaped 7 feet 2 to score his seventh consecutive victory over American John Thomas. The Russians' visit could hardly have gotten off to a better start, and there were very good reasons why.
On their last winter invasion here in 1961 the Russians made the mistake of arriving only 72 hours before their first meet, and, except for Brume, not in prime condition. In three meets Brumel turned in some memorable performances, including a record leap of 7 feet 3�, but Ter-Ovanesyan was unsure of himself in his first meet and fouled on all six of his tries. Steadied down, he lost to Boston after a superb try in the AAU indoor championships. Yevgeni Momotkov, the group's long-distance entry, never did get going.
This time the trip was planned with considerably more care, and its propaganda value may prove immense. The Russians arrived in New York a full eight days early. Obviously, they wanted to adjust to U.S. conditions, but there may have been an additional reason: to allow Korobkov time to lull the opposition into a false sense of security. Korobkov and company slipped out of town and up to New Haven where Yale University has an 11-laps-to-the-mile indoor board track. Shortly afterwards Yale Track Coach Bob Giegengack sounded a word of warning back to New York.
"Look," said a concerned Giegengack, "there seems to be some misunderstanding about just what kind of shape these boys are in. From what I've seen up here I can tell you they're in good shape. They're not behind anybody."
What Giegengack saw the Russians do was almost nothing, but to his knowing track eye this meant everything. Bulyshev took only one spin around the board track and, feeling that one lap on boards was sufficient preparation for his first race, limited himself to light jogging on cinders for the rest of the week. Brumel and Ter worked out very lightly. They spent most of their time sleeping and hardly ever glanced at a crossbar or a jumping pit.
"They did exactly what I tell my boys to do when they're in good competitive condition," said Giegengack. "Just kept loose."
It was Bulyshev who gave first notice of how loose the Russians were. His long, brown hair floating out behind him, his knees kicking high in front, he settled neatly—and, for a while, meekly—into third place in the Millrose 880. Ernie Cunliffe, a strong runner who must set a fast early pace because he has no finishing kick, jumped into the lead at the start, with Jim Dupree, the 1962 NCAA champion from Southern Illinois, right after him. Apparently unconvinced by Bulyshev's credentials—he finished second in the 800 meters at the European championships last summer—the two front-runners challenged for the lead, trying to kill each other off. But as the gun for the last lap sounded, Bulyshev came to life. He swept by Dupree on the backstretch and charged up behind Cunliffe as the two came into the last turn. Tiring badly, Cunliffe made the tactical error of swinging wide off the turn. Bulyshev pounced at the opening like a subway rider after an empty seat, grabbed the inside lane and led Cunliffe to the finish by three-yards.
"The time was good, no?" chortled Bulyshev through Interpreter Korobkov. "But I was not out to run a time, I was out to run a race."