Last Friday night, in front of 15,673 spectators at Madison Square Garden, Martin McGrady, the chairman of the boards, set his third world record in the 600 (1:07.6) in two weeks; Marty Liquori won a shoving match and a mile (4:00.9) from Henryk Szordykowski; and George Frenn, who had to bum a ticket to get in, felt unloved. That afternoon, before 21 spectators in a great nylon bubble at Columbia's Baker Field, Frenn had won the 35-pound weight throw to make him the first national AAU indoor track and field champion of 1970 and, at least in his mind, the equal of McGrady and Liquori. "A gold medal is a gold medal is a gold medal," said Frenn, "and just because nobody sees you win it, it doesn't turn the thing into brass."
Frenn was imprecise. Some very imposing cats were on hand. For one, there was 38-year-old Harold Connolly, who has represented the U.S. in the hammer at four Olympics, looking benign in silver-rimmed glasses while trying to cook up some evil scheme to psych Frenn out. Like he did two weeks ago in an outdoor meet at Long Beach, Calif, for instance. "All week Harold put the freeze on me with dialogue," recalled Frenn. "Then the day before the meet he walks up and tells me he's going to break my world record. And, he says, he's going to use my weight to do it with. My record was 68'7�". On his first throw, Harold does 72'2�". I fouled four out of my six throws. He knows just what buttons to push to make me screw up."
And there was Tom Gage, the outdoor hammer champion, and Al Hall, who won the AAU weight throw last year. The only one missing was Ed Burke, who, it is said, Frenn needled into an early retirement. In the world of throwing weights, you need a tough psyche. "I don't like George's mouth," Burke said before quitting. "I don't like his harassment. I used to handle him but no more. He's just too strong. But you've got to give him credit. Everybody else in world class has more speed and more quickness and more coordination. But George makes up for that with his strength. And his mouth."
Aw, says George, grinning, I never said nothing to him. Of course, there was Frenn's dog, a German shepherd puppy that he named, ah, Burke. And there was this meet that Frenn decided to sit out. Burke was competing. Frenn showed up with his dog. "Hey, Burke, I want you to meet my dog," he said. "His name is Burke. I named him after you."
"What?" said Burke.
"Yeah," said Frenn. "That's his name."
For the rest of the afternoon, every time Burke picked up his weight, there was Frenn yelling, "Hey, Burke, come over here and sit down. Burke, cut that out. Burke, quit licking my face." Burke, the human, didn't do very well in that meet.
"Gosh, I don't think that bothered him," Frenn said last week, somehow managing to look like a 5'11", 240-pound imp. "Ed kept calling me a son of a bitch, which made me know he liked me. Everybody knows any act of aggression is really an act of love. Besides, I was very good to that dog."
But if Burke was no longer on the scene, there were still very much Connolly and Gage and Hall, who in 1969 beat Frenn out of the championship on his last attempt. And, too, there was George Frenn, who was hoping his psyche would hold together just long enough for him to get off one good throw.
In last year's AAU championships Frenn fouled on four of six. The problem, he says, is psychological. A psychotherapist told him that, subconsciously, he fouled on purpose. "He told me that I have a self-destruction wish," said Frenn. "That inside I don't feel that anything good should happen to me, that I feel that I don't deserve to win anything. And so I foul. My father died when I was very young and I spent most of my time in military schools without parental guidance or love. Then I spent a year at a seminary studying for the priesthood, and that really fouled me up. Now these feelings of self-destruction keep popping up and I don't recognize them. But Harold does. Then he starts pushing those buttons."