SI Vault
Gwilym S. Brown
July 12, 1971
The U.S.-Russian track meet is supposed to be tame stuff now, but things do happen in it like—a stunning world record
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July 12, 1971

Still Something Of A Summit Meeting

The U.S.-Russian track meet is supposed to be tame stuff now, but things do happen in it like—a stunning world record

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"Heck, I can easily see why some of the guys would rather be in Europe than here," said distance runner Steve Prefontaine, now 20 and just finished with his sophomore year at Oregon. "I almost decided to go to Europe myself, but maybe I'm patriotic or something. I was on the team that lost last year in Leningrad, and I want to do my part in reestablishing our supremacy."

Bill Skinner, who won the javelin throw last year, said he could not get too excited about this year's event. "I like to throw against Lusis because he's such a great technician," said Skinner. "I enjoy watching him up close. If I lose? Well, I beat him last year. The worst that losing could do would be to make us even." And so it went among most of the Americans. Only the girls seemed to be fired up, and it did not do them much good.

Friday, the first day of the meet, was clear and sunny, but a cold wind cut across the pink clay and cinder track and performances were uninspiring in almost every event. Doris Brown, her long blonde hair tied up with red ribbons, did make a courageous bid to upset the Russian girls in the 1,500-meter run, but after a fierce last-lap sprint she was edged by Tamara Pangelova in the good time of 4:13.8. The other women's events ran close to form and at the end of the day the American girls trailed by a fat 11 points, 42-31. Nor did the American men do much to arouse the crowd. It was the men in the red track shirts who provided what excitement there was. The stocky little Russian sprinter, Valeri Borzov, who last year at Leningrad jumped the gun to win, got his victory honestly this time. Plugging into a head wind of eight mph, he edged Jim Green of Kentucky by a foot to take the 100-meter dash in a slow 10.5, while Dr. Delano Meriwether, after a hectic week in which he and his wife Mary moved from Baltimore to Boston, finished a disappointing fifth.

The two distance races on Friday were also something of a disaster for the U.S. After a slow early pace in the 10,000, a startling sprint sent Russia's Rashid Sharafyetdinov, a tiny man with a thin dark mustache and the mischievous expression of a small boy, to a 30-yard victory over Frank Shorter. A similar sprint finish, this time by two mischievous Russian boys, produced a Soviet sweep in what had been a dawdling 1,500 meters. At the end of the day the U.S.S.R. led 54-53.

This left Steve Prefontaine seething. "I am really p.o.'d," he snarled before going out to dinner. "What a stupid race we ran in the 1,500. Can you believe our guys letting the Russians sit there behind a slow pace like that? I'm angry, and when I get angry I get mean. It's a cinch we're not going to set a slow pace in the 5,000."

Prefontaine's attitude seemed to have its effect: on the weather on Saturday, which turned out to be calm and warm; on the crowd, which was much larger than on Friday and more excited; on the U.S. men, who won eight of Saturday's 12 events and turned the meet into a rout; and most certainly on Pat Matzdorf.

Even while Matzdorf was moving toward his record, Prefontaine, with the help of Steve Stageberg, was out on the track in the 5,000, setting the promised, furious pace that left both Soviet runners rubber-legged. He finished more than 100 yards ahead of the Russians in 13:30.4, a new American record, with Stageberg a fine second in 13:35.6, only three seconds off the old mark. The Russians salvaged a few things—Lusis finished ahead of Bill Skinner in the javelin, although another Russian, Janis Doninsh won. But Ter-Ovanesyan finished second again, to Arnie Robinson, and Boris Ivanov lost the decathlon to Russ Hodge, who won by plodding along in 4:51.5 for the 1,500, the last of the 10 decathlon events, after the closing ceremonies had ended.

The American crowd went home pleased with what it had seen, and maybe the Russians did, too. Ivanov's second place in the decathlon (he finished ahead of Rick Wanamaker, the reigning American champion) gave his country just enough points to put the combined total for both men's and women's competition at 186 apiece. So, you see, the meet had something for everyone.

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