As an Olympic barometer, the Drake Relays presented a gloomy forecast. But then the squally weather in Des Moines last weekend was no help. Raindrops fell on the heads of some of our biggest Olympic hopefuls. Ralph Mann, Jim Ryun and Half-Miler Mark Winzenried were washouts. Charlie Greene and Herb Washington ran like puddle ducks—fourth and fifth respectively over 100 meters. Hurdler Rodney Milburn and High Jumper Pat Matzdorf won but, like the sun, hardly shone. Only Al Feuerbach seemed weatherproof, uncorking a meet-record shotput of 69'6�". As Mann, who holds the world record of 48.8 in the 440 intermediate hurdles, said after finishing third—on one leg—in 51 seconds: "Those beautiful people should have thrown rocks at us."
Mann strained his left ankle in Los Angeles three weeks ago and was ordered to stay off it until next Monday. He stayed off it—until the Drake Relays. Then he wrapped it in eight layers of tape and limped onto the track. "If that tape gives and the foot bends...well, you'll know it. You'll see me clear the hurdle—by about 40 feet."
There was nothing wrong with Ryun's feet, but after a week-long siege of dysentery he was not the man who ran a 3:57.1 two weeks ago in the Kansas Relays. "I'll give it my best shot," he said. He did until the second turn of the second lap, when he made a move for the lead and suddenly thought, "Where's the men's room?" He finished next to last in 4:09 and kept right on running to the W.C.
For Mark Winzenried there was the problem of a slight strain in his right thigh. Nothing serious. It was only the end of April and in an Olympic year nobody peaks in April. Nobody except the South Africans, who can't go to the Olympics because of apartheid and all that. South Africa holds its national championships in early April. Thus, when 23-year-old Fanie Van Zijl left Potchefstroom two weeks ago, he was in top shape. Which Winzenried discovered.
Van Zijl arrived in Des Moines with impressive credentials: 800 meters in 1:45.6; 1,500 meters in 3:37.9 (in 90� at 5,000 feet); the mile in 3:56.4 (also at 5,000 feet); 5,000 meters in 13:48; and 10,000 meters in 29:56—when he was 18 years old. Van Zijl wanted to run the mile in the Drake Relays. What he almost got was a spectator's ticket.
The mile had eight starters and the meet officials figured that was enough. "You've got to draw the line somewhere," was the official explanation. "You get so many coaches asking for a late entry you have to set a deadline and stick to it. Besides, with eight runners and eight lanes you have a very neat start."
Fortunately for Van Zijl, there was an empty lane in the 800. This made Winzenried happy, too. The night before he was to race the South African he shook his head at the irony of it all.
"Here's a guy I've been waiting to run against for three years, and then he suddenly shows up and I'm not sharp," he said. "I only learned he was here half an hour ago. Have you seen him? Do you know anything about him? South Africa, man, that's like another planet. You hear about one of those guys but since they never run in the Olympics you figure you'll never touch him. But it's good to run against guys you've never seen. You can't get excited running against the same people all the time. There's no mystery, no excitement. Now a guy like Van Zijl shows up and you get that fear of the unknown. These are the things you need to get ready for Munich. Are you sure you never saw him?"
Friday afternoon Winzenried saw all he wanted of Van Zijl, most of it a rear view from about 10 yards. Living up to his credentials and his form, the South African won in 1:46.4, with Winzenried second in 1:47.1, his best time of the year.
Afterward, Van Zijl announced that he intended to stay in the U.S. for at least six weeks. "I was always hearing how great the U.S.A. was," he said, "and it's living up to it."