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San Jose State Coach Bud Winter, the grand guru of sprinters, can expound for hours on such intricacies as just how tight shoelaces should be for the 100-yard dash or the wind resistance of a crew cut as opposed to a pompadour. Among those who have studied at his speed academy are Ray Norton, a 1960 Olympian, and Tommie Smith, current holder of eight world records. Obviously, then, when a human form flashes by leaving sonic booms in its wake, Winter takes notice. He saw Villanova's Larry James in one meet earlier this year, and that was enough.
"He has that gazellelike smoothness that Tommie has, kind of like pouring cream on a dance floor," Winter said. "Speed plus smoothness. Right away, at first glance, I could see he was a jewel."
Winter could hardly be blamed for rhapsodizing. While Villanova teams were winning an unprecedented five races at the Penn Relays, James, a quiet sophomore from White Plains, N. Y., ran a 440-yard anchor lap in 43.9, the fastest a human being had ever covered that distance. He also ran a 45.2 out of the blocks in a dual meet, won the NCAA indoor 440 and came within .6 second of the world record in the indoor 500. A jewel indeed, especially since he is a very promising triple-jumper and intermediate hurdler as well.
Last weekend Villanova sent James and nine other athletes to the West Coast Relays in Fresno, Calif., the track meet, the official program proudly claims, "where world records are broken." Well, so much for slogans. Not one world record fell, and that was not the only surprise for promoters and fans. Villanova's swift two-mile relay team, anchored by Dave Patrick, easily beat Kansas, anchored by the meet's biggest drawing card, Jim Ryun, and Larry James, the Mighty Burner, was defeated on the anchor leg of the mile relay by one of those star Bud Winter sprinting pupils from San Jose State.
James's conqueror was Lee Evans, one of the world's best quarter-milers in 1967 and one of the exponents, with Tommie Smith, of the Olympic boycott movement by Negroes. Evans had been pushed out of the spotlight a bit by an injury and by James's sudden success, so he was looking forward to the last lap of the mile relay Saturday night, the very last event of the two-day track-and-field carnival. The match-up was certain to present a contrast in styles. The slender James is every bit as creamy smooth as Winter described, whereas the hulking Evans runs as though he was trying to wiggle out of a tight corset.
But Winter cautioned, "Never bet against Evans, because he's there at the finish. The fact that he was twice national AAU champion shows he can stand the competition. Evans says he hopes he gets the baton a yard behind James. I don't know why he wants to be behind, but it's a good sign. He's a tiger from behind. Still, when you've got a guy like that in front of you...."
Evans did his first speed work of the season in the week preceding the meet and also did his homework on Villanova. "I read that James likes to catch up right away," said Lee. "I'm not that way. If I'm behind James, I'll pick up slowly. If I get the baton ahead of him and he passes me, I'll stay on him and try to outkick him."
Fifty minutes before the mile relay, Evans anchored San Jose's 880 relay team, watching Kansas anchorman Ben Olison over his shoulder and running just fast enough to win. Then he rested in the team bus until Winter called him 15 minutes before the big race to run a few warmup wind sprints. By race time the temperature on the floor of Ratcliffe Stadium had dropped to about 55� but the chilly wind had died down slightly. The seemingly everlasting pole-vault competition had finally ended when USC's Bob Seagren missed his third attempt at a world-record 17'8�". All 14,000 pairs of eyes were concentrating on the runners.
Villanova's Hardge Davis had a slight lead over San Jose's John Bambury at the end of the first leg. On the second, Villanova's Harold Nichter passed a California runner on the backstretch, San Jose's Paul Myers passed Nichter in the homestretch and an Arizona State man passed them both but fouled up the baton pass. Jeff P�o of San Jose led most of the third leg, but once again Arizona State took the lead at the last moment and once again had a bad exchange. These preliminary laps were important only in that they helped to determine who would be better off, Evans or James, after the final exchanges.
James got the better baton pass and jumped off three yards ahead, just about the way Evans had said he wanted it. They stayed that way until the last curve and into the homestretch, when Evans started to inch up on James. Evans, squirming and thrashing, finally caught him 50 yards from the tape. Keeping his knees churning high in time-honored Bud Winter fashion, he edged steadily ahead to win by five yards.