The pole vaulters may have even farther to go. As record-breaker Wilson was getting set for an almost successful attempt at 18 feet, loser Seagren was saying, "I knew 17-7 wouldn't last long when I set it at San Diego." Wilson, who has had a disappointing year because of injuries, had shown that he was ready to challenge Seagren at the NCAA meet when he equaled Bob's 17'4" vault only to lose with more misses. Friday night he had fewer misses and would have won even if both had failed at 17'8". "But they both won't miss," said their coach, Vern Wolfe, as the bar was raised.
An intense student of vaulting who relies more on precision than on the power of a Seagren or a John Pennel, Wilson made it on his first attempt. He scrambled out of the pit, hugged Seagren, then raced happily around in a wide circle. Wolfe climbed up a concrete wall into the stands to kiss Wilson's mother, then jumped back down to congratulate her son. Wilson had little to say afterward, but Seagren, who narrowly missed in his own three tries at the record, talked freely. "What a perfect vault!" he said. "It was the kind you close your eyes and visualize. I guess I'm supposed to say that records are made to be broken—although I might have liked mine to last more than two weeks." He broke into a smile. "I better keep talking, because if I stop I may cry."
Among the other meet records set last weekend, the 880 mark of 1:46.1 by Wade Bell, the third-fastest half mile ever run, was easily the most impressive. The half-milers faced a grueling test. They each had to run two heats within a few hours Thursday night, then come back in the finals on Friday. College athletes had an obvious advantage: they had run more races throughout the spring, and many had doubled as milers or run in relays at most meets. But hardly anyone expected Bell to do so well.
"It was a tough weekend," Bell said, "but I felt it was to my advantage that way, because I'm a miler, too, and I knew I could last." Dennis Carr, who ran second, is also a part-time miler, but he was not so sure the schedule helped him. "I never felt so tied up," he said after the final. "It felt like we were sprinting the whole way. I don't know how I managed to get up enough kick to finish." He was shocked when told of his time, 1:47.1. "That's my best ever," he said. "I thought that would be good enough to win."
As he received his award, Bell was reminded of the last time he played a supporting role in a meet starring Ryun. In Jim's record mile at Berkeley, Bell set the sizzling pace for almost three-quarters. "I was happy to be around for that record, too," he said. "As I recall, though, I didn't finish too well."
The levity of late Friday night was a striking change from the mood of early Thursday as the meet got under way in hot, dry and dusty Bakersfield. "This city," said the Los Angeles Striders' Freddie Banks, "must be designed as a testing ground for all us people who are destined to go to hell."
"If you're right," Ralph Boston said, "then I better straighten up right now."
Bakersfield sits at the lower end of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. It is within reach of both the lush farmlands and the desert, but local citizens have managed to shield themselves from the harsh lives of migrant farm laborers and the barrenness around them. With its long line of motels featuring faded Spanish decor, its inexhaustible supply of hard-visaged cocktail waitresses and its weather, Bakersfield is not an easy town to like.
The irritable mood of the athletes was evident in the very first running event, the 120-yard high hurdles. Richmond Flowers, who had lost to Earl McCullouch at the NCAA because of McCullouch's fast start, asked officials to watch for Earl. When McCullouch was called for one false start in his first trial heat, he came back muttering about Flowers. In the finals McCullouch beat Flowers, but their small feud became academic as Willie Davenport easily whipped both of them in the fast time of 13.3, against the wind. "I'm a competition runner," said Davenport. "If the other guys go fast enough. I'll run 13.3 or better. If not, I'll win in slower time."
"I don't care if the others all run 10.3," said Jim Hines. "I'll still run around 9.3. I'm not that kind of competition runner." Hines has, however, become a competition talker in recent weeks, and Thursday in the 100 his continuing debate with Charlie Greene was supposed to be resolved. It was not. Hines won, but only after officials scrutinized a photo that was slightly ambiguous—Greene's entire body was blocked by the bigger Hines as the string was broken, and it seemed conceivable that Greene could have been hitting it at the same instant, as he claimed, for a dead heat. In addition, Hines had gained a full-stride advantage leaving the starting blocks, and many observers agreed with Greene that Hines had jumped the gun.