There is a delightful quality of whipped cream and rich, sweet cake about the sport of track as served indoors. Taken in moderate portions it is a flavorful adjunct to its more formal and far more significant outdoor cousin. When given a big build-up, however, it courts the danger of becoming too much of a good thing: like dessert without an entr�e, gravy but no meat—or last week's National AAU indoor championships.
A year ago the AAU track and field committee was confronted with two very specific problems: 1) what to do about the flagging national zeal for women's track and 2) how best to counterattack the National Collegiate Athletic Association's threatened boycott of the indoor track season. The solution arrived at by the AAU was so simple as to seem ingenuous. The organization would become the Sol Hurok of sport and, like that impresario, round up the best foreign talent. Not only was a record number of athletes imported (almost three dozen), but there was a record number of women, 210 from here and abroad.
As nice as this was, the AAU had problems, not the least of which was money. The large scale of operations called for uncharacteristic expenditures of AAU funds. Other meets, which shared the visitors with the AAU, picked up part of the expense, but the AAU had to carry the bulk of the cost. Also troublesome was the question of how to use all the talent assembled. It hardly seemed gracious to invite the world's best women athletes, spot them around in various invitational meets, then bring them together in Sundance, Wyo. or some similarly remote place of the sort our own girls have become only too used to, for a final bash at the U.S. championships.
So for the first time the AAU decided to hold the men's and women's nationals under the same roof. Because there were so many events, they also decided to stretch the meet over two nights, with the women's events concentrated on the first, along with one or two headline male competitions. This idea was sound in every respect except one: Friday night far outshone Saturday night, yet it attracted a relatively small crowd. In fact, attendance for the two evenings (4,978 for the first night, 12,535 for the second) barely exceeded one full house, and the AAU's rental fee went up at least $5,000. This brought the total cost for putting on the meet to a roughly estimated $36,000, about twice that of the most elaborate one-night meets.
"It was worth it," said the AAU's executive director, Colonel Donald F. Hull. "We feel that bringing over so many foreign women has served its purpose. It's going to help women's track. This is no hodgepodge. These are the best women in the world. The people who came to our championship this year saw the greatest woman shotputter in the world, the greatest high jumper, the greatest broad jumper."
Quality of performance was certainly there. The Friday night crowd saw Russia's Tamara Press, Rumania's Iolanda Balas and England's Mary Rand, all Olympic champions and world-record holders, not to mention the winter season's favorite son, Billy Mills, who won a superlative three-mile race, and Ralph Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, who staged another of their down-to-the-millimeter broad-jumping duels.
In fact, the spectators were lucky to see Mrs. Rand, who fouled two of her three attempts during the afternoon qualifying round in the broad jump and failed to make the evening's final. Fortunately, a plea by Chicago's Willye White, a snappy-looking redhead and America's best woman jumper, gave Mary, and the spectators, a reprieve.
"There were three takeoff boards," Willye explained. "From the head of the runway it looked O.K., but when you got down near the pit you could see all three of them. It was kind of confusing. It was wrong. I thought Mary should be given another chance and that's what I told the committee."
This was all the push the officials needed to put Mrs. Rand in the finals. "I'd rather not jump, except maybe as some sort of guest, but they want me to," said Mary with a shrug, "so...." Whereupon she won the title with a meet record leap of 20 feet 4 inches. The generous Miss White finished fifth.
With all that glamour on the boards and in the pits, Lieut. Billy Mills might have been excused if he had felt demoted to a supporting role. But Mills was in no mood to accept this fate. All winter long, crowds had greeted the presence on the track of the Olympic 10,000-meter champion with fervent whoops of delight. Too often Mills would then take a beating. He was kept out of shape by command appearances at dinners, and he usually had to run in events not geared to his speed—the mile and two-mile, which to a distance man like Mills are almost sprints. By Friday a very determined Mills, bent on proving that Tokyo was no fluke, was ready. He had managed to sneak in the hard work distance running requires, and this race, at three miles, was more to his liking.