SI Vault
Pat Putnam
June 29, 1970
Led by a coach who doesn't give a hang about hair, the University of California, which hadn't won an NCAA track championship since 1922 and didn't score a point last year, got off fast to win at Des Moines
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June 29, 1970

Cal Cuts Down The Barberians

Led by a coach who doesn't give a hang about hair, the University of California, which hadn't won an NCAA track championship since 1922 and didn't score a point last year, got off fast to win at Des Moines

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Oregon, which had scored 13 points Friday, now looked like it had enough to win—if it stayed healthy. Roscoe Divine, its 3:56.3 miler, had come out of his heat with the twinges of recurring tendonitis, and, worse yet, the Sunday before, Steve Prefontaine, its world-class freshman distance runner, had cut the bottom of his right foot on a rope bolt while running around a motel pool. The wound had taken six stitches, and Prefontaine had spent four days in bed, his injured foot wrapped in a Baggie and stuck into a bucket of hot water. For the NCAA three-mile they would wrap the foot in tape and hope the cut wouldn't reopen. If it did, Prefontaine said he'd keep running until he finished or ran out of blood, whichever came first.

After two days of bright warmth, Saturday came in snarling, black, wet. At the Drake University dorms, where most of the athletes were housed, UCLA Coach Bush kept looking out of a window searching for blue sky. He spotted a patch far to the north. "That blue is our only hope," he said. "Our two pole vaulters have to be in the first three if we expect to win. Rain makes vaulting very iffy."

Not far away, in another dorm, Brigham Young and its foreign legion—two Finns, two Swedes, an Englishman and an American, Ralph Mann, the 440 hurdler—were figuring their chances and deciding they were excellent, even without Pertti Pousi, BYU's senior triple jumper and long jumper. In three previous NCAA championships Pousi had never scored fewer than 15 points. But this is the last year for the rule that says a track athlete who competes as a freshman can only compete for two more years, and Pousi had been left home in Provo, Utah.

"It would have been reasonable to expect 18 points from Pousi," said Coach Clarence Robinson, "but we can still win. UTEP is out and I don't think Cal can do it. They lead with 18 points on a one-two finish in the 100. What else have they got?"

The last day of the meet began with wind, rain and the answer to Robinson's question: California won the 440-yard relay. Villanova then finally got on the board as Marty Liquori took the mile in 3:59.9. Oregon was stunned when Divine dropped out after 2� laps. Bounced around during a furious start, he had wrenched his ailing ankle and had run as far as he could. It was a point loss Oregon would never make up. "I guess it's too late for us," said Liquori. "But Oregon is out now, too." Brigham Young wasn't. Ralph Mann won the 440 hurdles in a world-record 48.8, a full half-second under Gert Potgieter's 10-year-old mark.

Prefontaine won the three-mile in a meet-record 13:22, without losing a drop of blood, Villanova's Dick Buerkle coming in third. Then Villanova's Larry James, a silver medalist at Mexico City, took the 440 with a 45.5. The Wildcats now had 26 points but their hopes were dashed when Andy O'Reilly finished last in the 880, which was won by Kansas' Ken Swenson in 1:46.3. California, however, picked up four more points, Isaac Curtis finishing fourth to Willie Turner of Oregon State in the 220.

Oregon finished fourth in the mile relay—the last running event—the only contender to get any points, and closed up shop with a leading 35. But Cal (32 points) and UTEP (20) still had contenders in the triple jump, and Washington State (31) and UTEP were alive in the pole vault.

"All we need in the triple jump is a third place," said Maggard, "and right now we're second." A shout went up. Rich Dunn's 50'5�" had stood up for second and eight points. Maggard started to grin.

"Not yet, coach," someone said. "If Washington State takes the pole vault, it'll win by one point. The bar is at 16'6", three guys are over and Washington State's Jack Ernst has one more shot."

When the rain had begun, the pole vault was moved inside the Drake field house, a relic no longer used by the basketball team. Brigham Young's Altti Alarotu peered through the gloom at the rafters, the low ceiling and the short runway, and turned to Assistant Coach Willard Hirschi. "Sorry, coach," he said, "but I'm not about to vault in here."

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