Ralph Doubell flew into Los Angeles late last Wednesday afternoon. It had taken 24 sleepless hours to transport his mammoth hangover from Australia to California, which is tough even on an Aussie, and so he forgot about his playboy image and went to bed. Sixteen hours later the handsome Olympic 800-meter champion arose, worked his way through four bottles of German beer, one Bloody Mary, three glasses of ros� and 237 pages of Portnoy's Complaint, and then retreated once more into the feathers. By Friday he was feeling much better. Since he was to run the following night in the Sunkist Invitational he was tapering off with Coke.
"I feel the attitude of American runners about not drinking is very strange," he said. Then, grinning, he added, "Most Australians do. Just last Friday I went out with my coach and we got stoned on champagne. Of course, you can't do that all the time, just about once every fortnight." The theory was hardly advanced before it was put to the test, over 1,000 yards on Saturday night, and Doubell sped them in 2:06.5—just five-tenths in excess of Peter Snell's world record—and in the doing he blew his two toughest rivals, Kenya's Naftali Bon and America's Juris Luzins, off the bouncing boards of the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
If it was a big win for the bubbly, it was an even more important victory for Doubell. Twice last summer Bon had beaten him, and Doubell, who has never lost indoors, was not about to let the shy police corporal from Kenya do it again. And, too, there was the Latvian-born Luzins, who competed for William & Mary last year and is one of America's finest half-milers. In their last meeting it was Luzins who had arrived at the tape first. Such happenstances are almost enough to make an Aussie give up his brew. Almost.
The Sunkist would be Bon's first race under a roof, and when he arrived Thursday with Kipchoge Keino—who would be upset in the mile by tough little John Lawson—and Aish Jeneby, the rotund deputy Kenya sports officer, he was also accompanied by a bad case of nerves. But then, the first race on boards is enough to shatter anyone. The infernal things bounce, coming up to meet you, and there are tight banked turns, and everything that is clean and natural outdoors is suddenly unnatural. No Kenyan youngster would be caught dead running over the hills of Kiganjo while tilted dramatically to the left.
"I tried to tell Bon what to expect," said Keino in his soft, impeccable English, "to tell him that the banks will try to force him outside, that he must force himself inside, that he must hold his arms this way, this one [the left] pumping straight, this one pumping across the body. That is one thing. But for him to experience it is another. He has the stamina and he has the acceleration, but this, too, is important." The Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters tapped the side of his head with his right forefinger. "This is the control center," he said. "And this only comes from experience."
The Sunkist was Keino's seventh indoor meet, but his first since 1967. Four years ago, when the meet was known as the Los Angeles Invitational, Keino lost the mile and, angry with himself, entered the two-mile and won. After that he competed in only one more meet in the U.S. The Kenyans had become annoyed with the AAU and refused to run in the States.
"The AAU wanted us to keep sending our athletes here, but they didn't want to send their athletes to Kenya," said Jeneby. "Every time we'd ask for one of their outstanding runners, usually Jim Ryun, we were told he was in college. They could run in Europe and places like Australia, but when we invited them they couldn't get away from their studies."
The Kenyans, too, were unhappy with the AAU's policy of sending a freeloading manager along on every trip, although they are too polite to mention it now. Kenya is hardly a wealthy nation and it expects a dollar's return for a dollar spent. All the AAU gives in return is a healthy appetite.
"It's a stupid policy," said Doubell, who has been battling Australia's freeloaders. "The Americans started it, now everyone is doing it. All they are doing is paying off some guy for 20 years of dedicated service. Most of the time the guy has never been out of the country and the athlete has to worry about managing him. I had to bring a manager with me this trip. Bob Davis. He's a nice enough chap, but what's he here for? The other day he asked me what event I was running in. And that's the only time I've seen him. I told him he might as well go home."
Last year the AAU decided the Kenyans were serious and sent Lee Evans and half-miler Mark Winzenried to Africa. Accompanied by a non-managing manager. The feud over, Keino and Bon competed at South Lake Tahoe last September. "And now," said Jeneby, beaming, "we are very happy about our relations with the Americans.