Although Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers and The National Cash Register Co., is a big town for business, the miniskirt has yet to arrive, and restaurants close early. But the pace picked up last week when some 500 girls and women showed up for the 1969 National AAU track and field championships. Like a cloud of newly emerged butterflies, they appeared out of nowhere—which is where women track and field athletes seem to spend the time between national championships—to provide a kaleidoscope of beauty and color that even the local Fourth of July fireworks could not match.
If the meet emphasized one thing, it was that a girl no longer has to look like a boy to compete in track and field, a development that becomes more obvious every year. The women's championships, held on a rain-soaked track at Welcome Stadium, had none of the unexpected—Olympic medalist Barbara Ferrell won both dashes, Chi Cheng of the Crown Cities Track Club took the 100-meter hurdles and favored Tennessee State the team title—but the girls, from ages 14 to 17, provided a lot of fresh and attractive faces. Even after the old reliables of women's track are gone, there will be no need to worry about replacements. They were there in Dayton.
Take Francie Larrieu, a 16-year-old half-miler from Sunnyvale, Calif. who competes for the San Jose Cindergals. A slender girl with long brown hair, she led all the way to win the girls' 880 in 2:10.6, a new national record for her group. "I ran to win," said Francie, who sews her own dresses, "because I had told all my friends that I was going to win. You've got to be confident, otherwise you get nervous." On Sunday she ran in the women's 1,500 meters and finished a close second to veteran Doris Brown.
Then there was 15-year-old Esther Stroy, who won the 440 in 54.1, another AAU record. Last year Esther was the youngest runner in the U.S. Olympic women's team, but she pulled a muscle in the semifinals at Mexico City. The same thing happened to her in the girls' AAU championship last year, and when she looked at the trophies she cried. Her leg still hurts, but every day at home in Washington she rides the bus for an hour and a half to practice with her coach, Brooks Johnson. "One nice thing about girls," said Brooks, who was in Dayton with a bevy of girls, "is that they can take pain much better than men."
Thanks to a 16-year-old sprinter, the Bakersfield Saints placed third with 29 points in the girls' division, all scored by Willie Nichols, who won the 100 and 220 and tied for first place in the 50-yard dash. The time for the 50 was 5.8, which equaled the girls' national record. Linda Langford, 17, who is studying political science at San Jose State, is that rarity, a slender discus thrower and shot-putter. She set a new national record for girls in the discus with a throw of 155 feet. And then there was pert Jan Glotzer, 17, of the Phoenix Track Club. Recently she won the women's national pentathlon. In Dayton, she tied the national record in winning the 50-yard hurdles and ran anchor on her victorious 440-yard relay team.
With so much talent and dedication in the girls' division, Americans can look forward with pleasure to the 1972 Olympics. "Our young girls are so serious about track," said Brooks Johnson, "that you have to watch out that they don't overtrain. They don't mind giving up dancing and dating if they can compete in track. The great joy of being a girls' coach is that they do everything you tell them to do."
Fred Thompson, an attorney who founded the Atoms Track Club in Brooklyn five years ago, said, "I wouldn't like to coach a boys' team. You develop a young boy over a couple of years and then you have to pass him on to a high school coach. But with girls it's different. You get them at 9 or 10, keep coaching them until they are in their 20s. You might even be able to see some make the Olympic team."
There was a time when most coaches were women who believed a girl could only make it in track if she looked like Parry O'Brien. In the last few years, a number of men—among them Thompson—have started girls' clubs, and since men like girls to look like girls, they have begun to create a whole new image of women's track. Madeline Matthews, who acted as a starter in Dayton and used to run herself, has been around long enough to appreciate the change. "In 1933," she recalled, " Babe Didrikson and I appeared in an exhibition basketball game in New York. When Babe arrived with no brassiere under her shirt, I said to her, 'Babe, would you do me a favor and put on a bra?' She said, 'What do you think I am? A sissy?' "
By contrast, at Dayton, Michelle McMillan, 15, of the Atoms Track Club, wore a button on her jacket which read, "I don't mean to be forward (I'm just built this way)." Today's girls wouldn't be caught on the track without earrings, hair ribbons and snug-fitting uniforms. They wear mascara and eyeliner, and they tie their hair into ponytails and dog ears. Cheryl Toussaint, a 16-year-old half-miler for the Atoms, who is so good that she already competes with the women, always goes to a meet carrying a spare earring in case she should lose one during a race.
It used to be that only the men wore fancy sweat suits and uniforms, while the girls had to wear cutoffs, Bermuda shorts and even men's basketball trunks. Now manufacturers are only too happy to help all the Cinderbelles' and Speedettes' clubs in the country compete with each other for the most chic uniforms. As for the men, they've had it: girls can wear pink. Indeed all the girls on the Angels Track Club from Renton, Wash. run in cherry-blossom pink. The Ventura Track Club has black sweat suits, but on the back of their jackets are two bright red poinsettias. The girls' track club of the Dayton Catholic Youth Organization has lime-green uniforms, and Lieneke Van Der Seuigs, a lithe 15-year-old blonde who was born in Rotterdam, sported a lime-green headband and yellow mod sunglasses to match her outfit.