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Never before had so many Americans run, jumped, thrown and vaulted. In the state of California alone, more than 30,000 track and field athletes were entered in high school and college meets. Across the country that number was multiplied at least 10 times over. Many of the best, some 10,900 trackmen in all, competed in the giant relay carnivals that have become the be-all of spring track in the U.S.—the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the Drake Relays in Des Moines, the Colorado Relays in Boulder and, the fastest-growing of the lot, the Mount San Antonio Relays in Walnut Valley, outside Los Angeles. Three world records were set outright, but a fourth was easily the most impressive, since it came in the decathlon, an event that tests an athlete in not one but 10 different skills. The decathlon record fell on Sunday afternoon and in view of only 600 spectators. Seldom has so dramatic an event been watched by so few.
With two tests still to go, C. K. Yang, the remarkable athlete from Nationalist China who is a senior at UCLA, needed a javelin throw of 212 feet 10� inches to better the world mark set three years earlier by another UCLA champion, Rafer Johnson. On his first try Yang threw the javelin 224 feet 3 inches. He gave a little leap, then settled down busily to his second throw. It was 228 feet 4 inches, his third 235 feet 5 inches. The last pushed his point total to 8,876. (The decathlon is scored by a complicated point system which assigns an arbitrary point value to a specific performance in each of the 10 running, jumping and throwing events.) Yang added 245 points in the 1,500 meters, and ended the day at Mount San Antonio with 9,121 points, 438 points better an athlete than his friend and tutor, Johnson. "He is," said Coach Ducky Drake, more in awe than as a point of information, "the finest athlete in the world."
Drake and the 29-year-old Yang, who is married and has a boy aged 2, had come to the relays early. Even though Yang had not trained specifically for the decathlon, both knew he was in the best condition of his life. They were confident that the record could be Yang's as long as nothing went wrong.
But at the beginning almost nothing went right. Three inches of rain fell in the early morning on Friday and it was decided to delay the decathlon a day. Although he is not a temperamental athlete, the wait took the edge off Yang's determination. And the third event on Saturday almost demoralized him.
He had started well enough, with a 10.7 clocking in the 100 meters, about as fast as he ever runs the race. In the broad jump, which has troubled him all year, he feared he would not be at his best—and he wasn't. But his longest leap, 23 feet 6� inches, was good for 842 points and he was still reasonably close to the schedule of achievement he and Drake had worked out.
Then came the shot put. Yang's first attempt was good for him—45 feet 5� inches—and his face, more often than not expressionless, lighted when he heard the measurement. But an official had neglected to weigh the shot before Yang used it, and now one of them asked that it be weighed. It proved to be an ounce light. Yang's fine effort was erased and he had to start over with an approved shot. The best he could do was 43 feet 4� inches; the mistake had cost him over 60 points and it almost cost Drake a foot. During the weighing the shot slipped and landed on his toe. Sunday he was still limping.
Yang picked up some of the lost points in the high jump, where he cleared 6 feet 3� inches, equal to his best ever. He picked up more in the 400-meter run, clocking the best time of his career, 47.7 seconds. At the end of the long, hard day, he lay on a rubbing table, grimacing with pain as a trainer massaged his aching muscles. "My hips hurt," he said once. He sat up finally and drank a Coke and moved gingerly.
"We're 51 points ahead of schedule," Drake told him. The news did not seem to penetrate Yang's fog of exhaustion.
A revived and almost buoyant Yang arrived early at Memorial Field Sunday morning for the final five events. In each of his first three tests he set personal records for decathlon performances—14 flat in the 110-meter hurdles, 134 feet 6 inches in the discus and 15 feet 10� inches in the pole vault. Yang actually tried to clear 16 feet 6� inches, which, had he made it, would have been a new world record,-but on his second attempt he scraped the bar—just barely—coming down. Even if he had cleared the height, it is not certain that he would have been awarded more points. The decathlon performance tables stop at 15 feet 9� inches, which is worth 1,515 points. That, pending a review, is all that Yang has been credited with. Should the judges change their minds, he will be entitled to 60 points more.
After the javelin came the final event, the 1,500 meters, but in the decathlon the thoroughly detested 1,500 is never an anticlimax. Under the rules, an athlete must compete in all 10 events or receive no credit at all. An edgy Ducky Drake announced to the slender crowd that in order to break 9,000 points, Yang would have to run the distance in 5 minutes 5 seconds. Wearied and now edgy himself, Yang told Drake he could run slower and still better 9,000. "I will run 5:10," Yang said. As it happened, he was right—Drake either had miscalculated or was fearful that Yang's determination might flag.