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Skip Myslenski
June 30, 1969
It was a tough, uphill haul, but John Carlos and his light-footed Bandits stepped on the gas and—with a shot of octane from Marty Liquori—overtook Kansas to win the collegiate track and field championship
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June 30, 1969

The Way To San Jose

It was a tough, uphill haul, but John Carlos and his light-footed Bandits stepped on the gas and—with a shot of octane from Marty Liquori—overtook Kansas to win the collegiate track and field championship

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Through Thursday and Friday it looked like Kansas would finally gun Jesse James down. While San Jose had a series of chokes and mishaps, Kansas could do no wrong. Stan Whitley, its long jumper, took a second with the best jump of his life (26'7�"). Marion Anderson, San Jose's long jumper, failed to win a point. Steve Wilhelm, Kansas' No. 2 shotputter, finished second to teammate Karl Salb, with his best toss ever (63'6�") San Jose Shotputter Richard Marks failed to qualify for the finals. George Byers, Kansas' hurdler, finished fourth, equaling his best time (13.6). San Jose's George Carty was a nonscoring seventh. "I can't believe it," Evans said. "We're getting messed over."

There had been little maneuvering by either Kansas Coach Bob Timmons or San Jose's Bud Winter. Winter's only gamble was entering Clayton and Smith in individual races and risking reoccurrences of leg pulls that had hampered them both all year. Winter won. Timmons' only gamble was entering Ryun in the three-mile, hoping there would be no qualifying heat. Timmons lucked out. There wasn't.

Going into the final day Kansas had a 14-point lead over San Jose, and Salb and Wilhelm were already planning how they would throw Timmons in a swimming pool as a combination birthday (he was 45 on Friday) and victory present. Kansas had worked as a team all year, and now, after winning the NCAA indoor title, it was ready for what Timmons called "the true championship." "We have a lot to gain by winning this meet," Hurdler Byers explained. "We've always been in the background. People disregard us. They look at our indoor win as a fluke, earned only because some teams weren't there. We don't get invited to many big meets, and the ones we have gone to, well, people would always say it was because of Jim Ryun. I have nothing against Ryun. I like him. But now we're coming up as a team and people are going to start knowing us as one. It's my fourth year with Jim and it's time I did something on my own, not because of him."

San Jose, on the other hand, was struggling. Blessed with great individual talent, it worked only loosely as a unit. Evans tried to hold it together. "I'll tell you," he said, "to be captain of an NCAA championship team would mean as much to me as the gold medal I won in the Olympics." Still, there were those who doubted San Jose could win. "They're a bunch of prima donnas," said one. "Everyone on the team has to be the center of attraction, in the limelight. They're all good enough to make it by themselves. And they know it. The law of individual differences applies to that team more than any other."

Yet each at San Jose worked in his own manner. Ronnie Ray Smith, an Olympic gold medalist in the 4 X 100 meter relay, exercised in his room after he got up and before he went to bed, stretching and strengthening his hamstring. George Carty, the hurdler, worked twice a day on form. Even Carlos, whom many regarded as the archetype of San Jose's individuality, worried about the NCAA title, and Friday morning he got up early and woke everyone, making sure they were down for breakfast and ready for a team meeting.

Until the mile run Saturday afternoon, it seemed the way to San Jose would be a long, sad one. Then Villanova's Marty Liquori beat Jim Ryun, and suddenly Kansas didn't seem invincible. The race was tailored for Ryun. Both he and Liquori went through the three-quarters in a so-so 3:03.3. As they headed down the backstretch everyone, including Liquori, waited for Ryun to explode. "I kept saying to myself," Liquori said, "come by, will you, dammit, so I can see what I have in me. Every time he challenged, though, I held him off."

They went down the backstretch, Ryun on Liquori's right elbow, his head bobbing, his face contorted, and both started thinking of the national indoors in Detroit, when they had run like this for two laps, Ryun winning at the tape. Again they came off the turn together. But this time, when Ryun challenged, Liquori held him off, suddenly realizing that he could win. With 50 yards to go, he peeked over his shoulder and Ryun was still there; 20 yards later he looked again. "All of a sudden there was daylight," Liquori said later. "I couldn't believe it." He turned back, made two tight fists, shook them and moved toward the tape. "For a minute I was so surprised," he said, "I thought I'd never make it to the line."

With Evans' second in the 440, Carlos' victory in the 220 and the win in the 440 relay, the San Jose Spartans were ahead, and only Kansas, with Jim Ryun in the three-mile, could beat them. "He won't even place," one coach said. Liquori smiled when he heard that. "He's got to be mad," he said. "Watch him come back."

But he didn't. If for only a day, Jim Ryun was mortal, at the mercy of the elements, hurt by the strategy, bothered even by doubts in his own mind. However, Timmons didn't really intend to double Ryun; Kansas was supposed to have clinched the title before the three-mile. Ryun, fearing the worst, hoped at dinner on Friday night it would all work that way. No one blamed him for the failures, least of all Timmons, who, for 2� days, thought the title was his. "Maybe the kids tried too hard," he said. "And I'm afraid we counted on Jim too much."

Winter, with his first title in 25 years of coaching, refused to accept congratulations until the results were official. "It has to be a miracle," he said finally. "At least a minor miracle. I didn't believe it could happen," As he talked, his Bandits signed autographs, flirted and moved out to celebrate, inviting Liquori to join them in their victory lap (he declined). The shot that might have killed Jesse James had missed.

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