Evans was stunned. "I told the AAU my plans two months ago and everything then was fine. I've got a letter from a top AAU official, Ollan Cassell, saying he was glad I had changed my mind and decided I would compete with the team. And in the letter was a permit for me to compete in other European meets."
AAU officials now contend that such permits were intended for use after the three U.S. team meets. Apparently there is a new rule that athletes must travel with the team at all times. The rule is so new, in fact, that no one had ever heard of it.
Still, the U.S. team had some fine young athletes replacing the ones barred, and when it marched into the spacious and very pretty Olympic Stadium in Paris on Wednesday night it was with a jaunty step. It was time to hone the blades for the big meets. The first to the whetstone was Ralph Mann, the world record holder in the 440 hurdles. A breeze, baby. And then the French rolled out their first guillotine, Jean-Claude Nallet, a 400-meter dashman running the hurdles for only the fourth time and the very first against serious competition. So far his best time was only 50.4. He won in 48.6, with Mann shocked and second in 49.5. Ron Whitney, the other American, ran fourth and last, and on a 5-3-2-1-scoring basis the French led 7-4.
"I guess you could say I was overconfident," said Mann with a sigh. "I figured all I had to do was to go out and work the kinks out of my legs. Just a good workout. But that Nallet. When we hit the 220 mark I knew I was in trouble. We were even, and with the stagger that meant he had a four-yard lead. Then he outran me in the stretch. Nobody has ever done that before. But how can you get excited about a guy who's only done a 50.4? The whole French team went crazy that night."
Very crazy. After the 400 hurdles, the French wiped out the Americans in the 100-meter dash and the steeplechase, running 1-3 in each, and voil�! they led 21-12. And in the field events they were leading in the shotput and the long jump, and Ralph Boston, the ex-Olympian now a TV sportscaster, was walking around muttering, "Terrible. It's terrible. They just don't make our guys out of the same mold anymore. There's no way this French team could beat any of the teams I was on."
Before the first night ended, the French won the shotput and the long jump and the 5,000 meters—and, unbelievably, the 400-meter relay when the last two Americans fouled up horribly on the hand-off. The winner of the shotput was the senior member of the French team, Pierre Colnard, a 41-year-old army sergeant who fought four years in Vietnam (no, not this war, the previous one). "I was vicious out there," Colnard said after his toss of 64'7�". "It gives me a lot of pleasure to beat the Americans."
Out of 10 events the U.S. won just three, but those were one-two sweeps and that held the French team's first-day lead to 56-50. Ken Swenson and Mark Winzenried finished one-two in the 800 meters, John Powell and Rich Drescher one-two in the discus, and Sam Caruthers (17'2�") and Paul Hegler one-two in the pole vault.
"We all kind of looked on this as just another meet," said Winzenried, "but the French were really out of their minds. When they beat us in the sprints they began believing they could beat us in anything. I kind of think our guys who are competing tomorrow will come in with a different attitude."
To make sure, LeRoy Walker, the American coach, called a midnight meeting. "Some of our guys weren't showing up at the victory stand to shake hands when they lost. The French complained. I just told them to get up there no matter what."
"And they laid a lot of extra rules on us," said John Smith, the AAU 440 champion. "Like no extra people on the bus. That we should stay away from other people. That's all I needed, a lot of rules at midnight."