In the beginning at Tokyo there was a good deal of clatter about the New Emerging Forces—Indonesia and North Korea, for example—who emerged from the Olympic Village in a snit and went home. But when the Games hit full stride last week a different kind of new emerging force emerged—America's sensational distance runners. From an Olympic obscurity that with two exceptions ( Horace Ashenfelter's steeplechase gold medal in 1952 and Johnny Hayes's marathon victory in 1908) had extended in length to everything beyond 1,500 meters and in time through every Olympic renewal since the first in Athens in 1896, the U.S. moved suddenly to center stage.
Last Sunday in a drizzling rain a tall, bony Ohioan named Bob Schul won the 5,000-meter run, a race the U.S. had never won before (though an American was a very close second 32 years ago). Schul, a 27-year-old asthmatic who bundles off to California in midsummer to escape the pollen fallout in his native state, was the favorite in the race, as unlikely as that might seem when counted against America's record in the 5,000 in the past. But Schul is a resolute, self-assured man, one who trained under the equally imperative Hungarian master, Mihaly Igloi, without allowing Igloi to dominate him. When Schul said before the race, "I am the man to beat," he said it only as a man who knows precisely where he stands—and more important, where he is going.
Schul could be the man to beat at almost any distance, he is that strong and that fast. There was a time when he appeared to be going nowhere, and he interrupted his education at Miami of Ohio to spend four years in the Air Force. But during the indoor track season last winter, under Igloi's direction, he began leading where before he had followed, and in June, when he beat the New Zealander Bill Baillie in 13:38 in a 5,000-meter run at the Compton Relays in California, he shattered Baillie with a last-quarter kick that could be felt all the way to Tokyo.
It was the fastest 5,000 of the year, and Schul immediately became an international figure, at least in track circles. Twice he ran sub-four-minute miles, and later he ran 8:26.4 to break Michel Jazy's world record in the two-mile run. His strength was evident, and it was conceded that he could outkick anybody at the end of 5,000 meters except, perhaps, the Frenchman Jazy—provided Jazy had a slow enough pace to come off of.
Jazy reached the finals in Tokyo, and so did Ron Clarke, the Australian with the driving pace and no kick. The race began shortly after 4 in the afternoon. There were great puddles on the track, and soon anybody behind the leaders was splattered with mud to his hairline. Schul was one of these, lagging back as is his custom, biding his time as Clarke set a hurry-up-and-slow-down pace, sprinting and coasting and then sprinting again on the chance he would tire the others. As it turned out, he tired himself the most.
Jazy stayed close to Clarke, running off his shoulder most of the time. The German, Harald Norpoth, was close, too, cursing the rain ("I began losing faith as soon as I heard the rain falling in the night, because I do not run well in the rain"). America's Bill Dellinger, the veteran who made an impressive comeback this year, ran last or next to last most of the way, which wasn't too bad since most of the field was packed in a tight little cluster. The pace discouraged nobody through the first 4,000 meters.
Schul ran comfortably along in the middle of the pack. When Clarke sprinted, and Jazy and Norpoth went with him, Schul let them go. Then, when Clarke slowed the pace, the gap that had opened slowly closed until Schul was right up there with the pacesetters again. This pattern continued until, with a lap and a half to go, Dellinger suddenly swept past everybody and took the lead. Jazy went after him, and Norpoth, Clarke and Schul followed. Jazy later said he began his kick too soon, but he began it nevertheless. "I thought," he said, "that here was my chance." He moved out past Dellinger. Clarke, with no sprint to offer, disappeared from contention, and Dellinger fell behind. Jazy opened up a huge lead on Norpoth and Schul down the back-stretch of the last lap. Into the long last turn he was a good 10 yards ahead, but now there began an ominous, rolling, throaty noise from the crowd as Schul launched his invincible kick. Jazy looked around as he went into the home stretch—"I remember him looking," said Schul, "and I thought he must be mighty worried"—and his shoulders tightened. Schul caught Jazy halfway down the stretch, roared past him and breezed home the winner by six yards, a big grin splitting his face as he split the tape. He had run the last 300 yards in 38.4 seconds, the final quarter in 54.4. The race was slow, 13:48.8, but on this rainy track Schul's time was not as important as his tactics. His sprint broke Jazy, who faded to fourth place. Norpoth finished second and Dellinger, putting on his own sprint down the stretch, just caught Jazy at the wire to finish third and win a bronze medal to add to Schul's gold.
Schul said afterward that he would like to go for the 5,000-meter world record and "maybe break the steeplechase record, too," but for the time being, "I must start treating my wife like a human being again. All this has been very rough on her."
Four days before Schul's victory, on the very first day of track-and-field competition, a 26-year-old marine lieutenant named Billy Mills, seven-sixteenths Sioux Indian and 100% unspoiled by publicity (he had never had any) won the 10,000-meter run, the first American ever to do so. Unlike Schul, Mills—an unimpressive second in the Los Angeles Olympic trials—was an almost totally unknown quantity, to Americans as much as anyone else. He had never before won a major race, yet his time, 28:24.4, set a new Olympic record; it was the fourth fastest 10,000 ever run; it broke the old American record set four years ago in Rome by Max Truex by almost half a minute; and it was 45 seconds faster than Mills had ever run the distance before. It was an utter and absolute surprise, and it left Clarke, the prerace favorite (and the world-record holder), floundering in third place and former Olympic gold-medal winners Murray Halberg and Pyotr Bolotnikov far, far in the ruck.
Two days before the race 18-year-old Gerry Lindgren—who, everyone agreed, really had no chance running against grown men but who was nonetheless everybody's secret dark horse—twisted his ankle on a tree stump near the Meiji Shrine as he took a practice run cross-country. Blithely, Lindgren ignored advice to pack the ankle in ice at once, and it was three hours before it was treated. By then the ankle was stiff, and whatever chance America might have had in the 10,000 seemed to have vanished. Lindgren ran in the race anyway, and though he finished a creditable ninth he was never a factor.