There are two ways to win a track meet. The first—and up until now the most popular—is to acquire a large number of slightly better than adequate athletes who will accumulate enough inglorious honors from fourth to sixth place to add up to victory. The other is to discover between three and five truly superb performers who will finish first in enough events to offset the efforts of the also-rans.
After the 42nd running of the national collegiate track and field championships in Albuquerque last week it seems likely that the exponents of the large number of almost-winners will have to bow to the advocates of the few. The University of Southern California, long a believer in quantity before quality, won the meet—strictly on quality.
Rarely is track and field a team effort. It is an endeavor by an individual to surpass other individuals and the best performance of his own past. No one can help a miler when he begins to run the last 440 yards of his individual torment. No matter how many runners share the track with him, what he accomplishes is entirely subject to how much he is prepared to sacrifice himself and how much of himself there is to sacrifice. At Albuquerque there were any number of athletes—from big and small colleges—who were prepared to sacrifice themselves. Still the meet derived most of its interest from the competition among the teams involved. Four were considered possible winners: USC; the University of Oregon, with a large complement of reasonably good runners, jumpers and throwers; and Villanova and Arizona State, with a smaller number of good athletes. Stanford, with a young team, was conceded an honorable spot in the middle of the pack.
Jumbo Jim Elliott, the coach of Villa-nova, looked over the situation shrewdly before the meet began and plumped for USC. "We could win," he said, with an enthusiasm born of slight hopes. "We've got enough really good athletes. But I don't think we have enough superathletes. I'd rather come to this meet with four or five superathletes than come with 15 good ones. You need the winners. Not many. And if a boy can win more than once, you've got a real good chance. If you have three or four big winners, you'll win the meet."
As it turned out, USC could have won this meet with only three men. There was Julio Marin, a small, coffee-colored distance runner from Costa Rica who almost scored a triple when he won the six-and three-mile runs in the first two days and finally placed fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, an event he had never run before. And there was Rex Cawley, who finished second in the 440-yard dash and first in the 440-yard hurdles—an accomplishment second in degree of difficulty only to Marin's Herculean feat. A sophomore high jumper, ignoring the suffocating pressure of national competition, won the high jump for USC. His name is Lew Hoyt. Hoyt, Cawley and Marin, among them, scored 52 points, 10 more than the second-place team, surprising Stanford. Marin and Cawley alone scored 42.
Marin won the two distance races in rather undistinguished times, and he did not have to run the steeplechase, which was the last event on the three-day schedule. By the time the race started it was clear to him, however, and to everyone else that USC had won the meet. But Marin did run it, climbing awkwardly over the hurdles, landing plump in the middle of the water jump every time he jumped, and, at last, fighting off a challenger for fourth place with a wonderful sprint over the final 200 yards. This last sprint for fourth place was enormously exciting—even the lackadaisical fans of Albuquerque cheered as Marin almost stumbled over the last hurdle, recovered and battled grimly down the stretch.
Marin is a senior pre-medical student who really wanted to be a professional hockey player and who never dreamed he would run a steeplechase. Until the final night of this meet he had jumped over only one hurdle in practice. That was a test to see if he was tall enough to clear a hurdle—he is only 5 feet 7 inches. The night before the steeplechase, Cawley, who had run four races already, counting heats and semifinals, stayed up until 1:30 in the morning trying to inculcate the principles of hurdling in Marin.
"Look, Bean [short and fond for Coffee Bean]," he said, demonstrating on the lawn in front of the University of New Mexico dormitory where the athletes slept, "you glide over. Don't work—let the momentum carry you." For a hurdle Cawley used a small embankment, leaping to the top of it, taking a couple of steps, then dropping on the other side to show Marin how to land. Coffee Bean worked hard, but you do not learn the steeplechase in the middle of the night on a dormitory lawn. Marin almost disappeared in the water every time he went over a jump.
Cawley, apparently no worse for the long night's wear, ran the second fastest 440 hurdle ever and set an American record.