The promised invasion of foreign track-and-field stars was in full swing by the end of last week, but there was one development of some surprise: the most successful visitor of all did not come from overseas but merely from across the border. He is Bill Crothers, a diffident young man whose chief distinction until recently was that he was the best unknown runner in the world. He is better known now.
Bespectacled and soft of voice, Crothers has—off the track—the dynamic appeal of your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. To natives of Markham, Ont., a northern suburb of Toronto, this is not particularly surprising; Crothers is the friendly neighborhood pharmacist. But at 24, he is also second only to New Zealand's Peter Snell as a middle-distance runner. This is a pity. Had he run in any other era, most likely he would have been second to none. But best or not, he is certainly the most tireless middle-distance runner of this or any other age.
In the last four years track has boomed as an indoor activity. The annual program of meets has grown from about 10, all in the East, to about 30, coast to coast. Crothers' activities have expanded similarly because he is a man who likes to run. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, "on the spur of the moment," he entered and won both the 600-and 1,000-yard runs. Five nights later he began a punishing program of four races in three successive nights in three different cities. At times his running assignments seemed only a minor chore. He spent most of the long weekend crawling into bed late and jumping out early, climbing out of one airplane and into the next.
Competitively, the weekend began with an exhilarating win in the half mile at the Millrose Games in New York. It ended 48 hours later at the Boston AA Games with Crothers, his legs feeling as mushy as foam rubber, lunging through the tape to win the 600 yards by 10 feet in 1:09.3, just a tenth of a second off the world indoor record. Sandwiched in between were two assignments at Toronto; a meet record victory in the 600 and a 47.9 anchor leg for the East York Track Club mile relay team.
How is it that Crothers, who finished second to Snell in the 800-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics, can accomplish so much while the Olympic stars of the U.S. are still fighting the battle of the bulge around their waistlines? "I never get out of shape," he explained last weekend. "It's like piling brick on brick. Your running should improve year after year, but to keep improving this way you've got to keep training all year round. Besides, it's a lot easier to stay in shape than to fall out and get back in." These are not just idle words about vigorous deeds. Crothers resumed his post-Olympic training the night he got home from Tokyo.
Fine, but why four hard races in 48 hours? "It's just something you have to do, and you might as well be philosophical about it," Crothers said, omitting to mention his proprietary interest in the East York Track Club. By agreeing to run in meets, he manages to inveigle promoters into inviting his teammates to compete, thus providing them with exposure and badly needed international experience.
"It may not be that much of an ordeal, anyway," he said Thursday before his first race of the week. "Prerace mental tension can be more exhausting than a fast race in which you're feeling relaxed. Right now I feel relaxed." He was riding from Kennedy Airport on the way to his mid- New York motel to rest before the Millrose Games. The meet was a sellout. Just under 16,000 people were on hand when Crothers emerged from a subterranean storage room in Madison Square Garden where a few knowing athletes warm up.
"I'd been running in the Garden two and a half years before I discovered it," Crothers said.
The race was hardly more than an extension of his warmup, though quite a bit brisker. For the first half Crothers floated along in third place, behind Ed Duchini, a bushy-haired Georgetown senior and Frank Tomeo of the Marines.
"At the quarter I heard someone yell '58 seconds,' a pretty slow pace, and I thought, 'Uh, uh, they'll all be taking off now.' "