Until the final hour last week's NCAA track and field championships at Eugene, Ore. were going according to plan. USC had the lead, with UTEP and UCLA in close pursuit and everyone else talking about individual performances. Of course, there were a few snags. It was discovered that the University of Oregon's steeplechase water jump was too shallow, that the long-jump pit was below the level of the takeoff board, that the hammer throw circle was too wide—by it, [5/16"]—and that the rim around the discus circle and the stop-board of the shotput circle were yellow instead of white. After the competition was well under way it was also noticed that the mile-relay stagger starts were laid out so that the runners in Lane 8 were traveling 22 yards farther than the ones in Lane 1. Still, it was a heck of a triangular meet.
Then, in a span of 15 minutes, defending champion UCLA unloaded its heaviest guns in rapid-fire bursts, and the meet became a rout. Trailing USC by 16 and UTEP by five, the Uclans picked up a first and a third in the 400-meter dash (16 points), a third in the high jump (six points) and a first, third and fourth in the triple jump (20 points).
"When UCLA gets rolling, it's brutal," said Wayne Vandenburg, the fast-talking UTEP coach. "If their quarter-milers aren't doing you in, their jumpers are."
Although outwardly optimistic to the end. Vandenburg was aware that UTEP was kaput when Steve Williams, an 18-year-old freshman phenom out of New York, limped home in a 400-meter heat on Thursday. "That was when I knew our chances for second place were a lot better than for first." said Vandenburg. "And our chances for third were even stronger than that."
A youngster to keep in mind. Williams has run a 9.3 100. a 20.3 220 and a 45.2 440, but a few weeks ago he injured his left leg in the Western Athletic Conference meet. Vandenburg brought him along anyway, but Eugene's no Lourdes. "With our depth," he said, "we lose a star and the lights go out. UCLA or USC loses one and they bring up another fast body."
But when USC lost a few bodies, it was lights out for them, too. First there was Bo Sterner, a Swede who had arrived in the U.S. only a few months ago and was a favorite in the decathlon. In the last event of the first day the 6'4" Sterner won his 400-meter heat in 50.5 but was disqualified for running on the line. His 783 points became zero.
"Nobody in Sweden told me you couldn't run on the line." Sterner said to USC Coach Vern Wolfe. "Here you can't run on the line?"
"No," said Wolfe. "That's the other guy's lane."
"Strange," said Sterner, who gave up in disgust during the 1,500, the final event. Wolfe claimed that without the disqualification. Sterner would have won, so instead of opening with 10 points USC began with zip. The shutout became no less painful when UCLA's Rory Kotinek took fifth to earn two points.
If things weren't going right for USC and UTEP on opening day, UCLA wasn't getting off unscathed either. Traditionally, no matter whom the Uclans run in a major sprint relay, the baton always winds up on the track before the finish line. In the previous three NCAA championships they dropped the stick, and they dropped it a few weeks ago in the Pac-8 meet. At UCLA the race is known as "Oops, aw hell!" After the Pac-8, Coach Jim Bush said he was going to put an end to the nonsense by not even entering a sprint relay team.