For most of its 74 years the Penn Relays has been the nation's top speed carnival east of Indianapolis. With more than 6,000 athletes (from Harvard to Wissahickon High School of Ambler, Pa.) competing in 136 events, it is a foretaste of heaven for a track and field fan. In recent years, however, with relay carnivals sprouting up almost everywhere every weekend, the Penn Relays has come to be regarded more as a social than an athletic happening. Carloads of young people pile into Philadelphia from Washington, Baltimore, Newark and New Haven, more interested in where the parties are that night than who is running in the 440 relay.
But last weekend a group of trackmen from Villanova, which is 23 minutes away if you take the Penn Central's Paoli Local, brought back a lot of the old interest in the competition itself. The Villanovans decided to try for an unprecedented five relay titles in the two-day meet. This alone was enough to bring out a total of 37,800 people to Franklin Field, most of whom will remember the daytime action a lot longer than what took place after the sun set, because five relay titles is what Villanova won.
And although they were the drawing card and the stars, the Wildcats weren't the only hit of the show. A shy Toledo University senior named Aaron Hopkins leaped to the end of the pit in the triple jump to set a new NCAA record of 53'5�", nine inches better than the old mark. Hopkins, who came to school on a basketball scholarship but who hasn't played since Toledo discovered that he was a better horizontal jumper than an up-and-down rebounder, had a previous best jump of only 51'4�", and that was wind-aided. He has never been in an international meet, though he did earn brief national recognition when he won the NCAA indoor long jump two years ago. His triple jump at Penn was the first NCAA track record ever for Toledo. If Hopkins keeps up his present rate of improvement the Glass Capital of the World will have a second claim to fame.
But back to the drawing card. Although no one at Villanova had announced officially that the Wildcats were going for the big five, when they did try it was about as surprising as H.H.H.'s announcement that he was going to run for president. Even so, winning five relays in one meet is like having five aces in your hand in a game of five-card stud: it isn't possible. Or, at least, that is what everyone said. But Jumbo Elliott, the always-smiling Villanova coach, had a supercard up his sleeve. In fact, he had three—Larry James, Frank Murphy and Dave Patrick.
James, the slim sprinter from White Plains, N.Y., who was only No. 2 on his high school's mile-relay team, recorded the fastest 440 ever run when he anchored the mile-relay team to a 3:06.1 with a startling 43.9 leg. The mile relay was the final event of the marathon two-day meet and, although James had run three 440s in the previous 24 hours, he had saved sufficient energy for the grand finale. When he received the baton he was five yards behind Rice's Dale Bernauer, a fine quarter-miler, but that didn't seem to have much effect on James. "He's the mighty burner!" a teammate shouted. "Watch him cook."
A graceful, floating runner whose feet never seem to touch the ground, James caught Bernauer, flowed past him on the backstretch and went on to win by 12 yards. His time is not a world record, since it was made on a relay leg, but it was almost a full second faster than Tommie Smith's 44.8 world mark. After the race James was mobbed by teammates, friends and well-wishers, and by the time he made it into the locker room he confessed, "I'm not used to this. This fame is all new to me."
Villanova scored the first of its five wins on Friday in the distance medley (880-440-1,320-mile), thanks chiefly to a 2:53 in the 1,320 leg by Frank Murphy. The U.S. record for this rarely run distance is 2:54.8, by Jim Grelle in 1964. Elliott recruited the quiet, dark-haired runner unseen from Ireland after his former pupil, Ron Delany, had recommended him highly.
"I figured Murphy would have a good three quarters," said Elliott after the race; "but I never felt he'd run a 2:53. That's fantastic. That establishes him as a really sound 1,500-meter runner."
Murphy was also awed by his time. "A three quarters like that means I'm capable of running a 3:57 mile. For this time of year that's pretty good, and I'm not even in peak shape. If I continue to progress, next month I should be capable of 3:55 or maybe 3:54."
And yet, after everything was over, the biggest man for Villanova was still Dave Patrick. Last year in this same meet Patrick was to run three races. He did well in the first two, but in the third, the anchor leg of the two-mile relay, he collapsed with exhaustion at the finish and ended up second.