Already hounded by an expanding vacuum of topnotch entries, Chairman Kerekes was dealt the most humiliating blow of all just five days before opening night. On Sunday afternoon a large welcoming committee trooped out to the city's spanking-new stucco air terminal to greet the plane that was to bring in an eight-member task force of Russian athletes. On hand were two emissaries from the governor's office as well as Archie Westfall, the mayor ex-officio, military dignitaries, a battery of television cameras and a large crowd of inquisitive natives.
Only a drum majorette and the oompah-pah of a marching band were missing. Oh, yes, and the Russians. While an embarrassed group of greeters were huffing at each other in Albuquerque the Russian delegation, suddenly recalled, was on its way home to Moscow. No one had bothered to notify Albuquerque of the change in plans.
Equally as distressing to New Mexicans was the loss of a rich deal with CBS that evaporated as mysteriously as the Russians. "I was obliged to sign over TV rights to the AAU," Kerekes said, continuing his mournful game of Can You Top This? "But I was in New York last February and was offered $30,000 by CBS for television rights. I didn't have the power to negotiate, so I turned it over to the AAU. All I know now is that one moment we had $30,000 and a TV show and later practically nothing."
"The CBS offer was lost," goes Hull's rejoinder, "because the final decision to hold the meet in New Mexico came too late. Besides, I never thought CBS was very serious about the deal. We tried to arrange something with all the TV stations, but they were already committed."
The AAU's loss in the dash to the picture tube is embarrassing. Two weeks earlier the New York AC meet had monopolized a full 90 minutes of ABC's time and this weekend ABC is televising the NCAA indoor championships. The AAU's pathetic show last Sunday must have produced ear-to-ear grins at the NCAA's office in Kansas City.
If AAU officials were slow afoot, the entrants in their championship decidedly were not. The first important final of the opening night, the three-mile run, produced a notable duel between runners and thin air. Judged only from the winning time, the air came out first but, considering the handicap, the results were excellent. Lajos Mecser followed a dawdling pace for two miles, then spurted into the lead and, grimacing frightfully, lashed himself through a closing mile at 4:22.4 to win in an overall time of 13:40.4,22 seconds over the meet record but equivalent to something much faster. Mecser came out of the race with a headache. Tracy Smith, who had chased Ron Clarke to a two-mile record the previous week, finished second in 13:42.4. He still felt lightheaded an hour after the race.
"My coach, Mike Igloi, told me to really sprint into the lead with five laps to go," said the 20-year-old Smith, "but when the time came my legs just had no life and I couldn't do it."
Tom Laris, who has suddenly blossomed at two miles after a disappointing four years at Dartmouth, finished third in 13:47.2. He felt severe stomach pains in the latter part of the race.
"My legs felt fine, but it really hurt across here," said Laris after the race, throwing an arm across his abdomen. "Where am I supposed to hurt?"
With the three-mile run disposed of, the theme of the meet became "Damn the altitude, full speed ahead." The 1,000-yard run was successfully defended in meet-record time (2:07.8) by curly-haired, 27-year-old Ted Nelson, who accomplished a good share of his training walking eight miles a day while reading meters in the Los Angeles area for the Southern California Gas Company. Billy Gaines tied the world record of 5.9 seconds in his heat of the 60-yard dash and the following night barely won the event in a photo finish with Flowers. He and Flowers then posed for another photograph, which may have a decisive effect, one way or another, on the Alabama gubernatorial primary May 3. Gaines, a Negro, and Flowers, general, will be running for governor on a platform of racial moderation, embraced cordially as flashbulbs popped like a battery of Chinese firecrackers.