According to the laws that dictate such things, new ventures chasing after a piece of the action in professional sport should be prepared for foul-ups, crowds of 543 and wise guys saying, "I told you so." Someone, however, amended the rules for the International Track Association, America's first touring company of professional track and field athletes, whose debut last Saturday night in Pocatello, Idaho was anything but small potatoes.
There were some goofs, of course, and other stuff too slick or slack for the track nut, but the mishaps should be corrected by the time Mike O'Hara, the outfit's entrepreneur, assembles his full cast on the boards in 18 other cities between now and June 6. And as for the outrageous spectacle of the saintly track man actually taking money over the table, the public will be more offended by Sesame Street.
At Pocatello, the public turned out 10,480 strong and it may stir a few poignant memories among the folks who brought you the American Football League to learn that ITA's first gross gate was in excess of $30,000. Despite a program that ended 45 minutes behind schedule, the public also went home happy, entertained by a good show and the novelty of salaried athletes competing for $500 to win, $250 to place, $100 to show and $50 for fourth.
Before the meet was over, the firstnighters had been treated to three world indoor records (which won't be recognized as anything by any official body, since the contestants were earning a living at the time), two at odd distances and a phenomenal third in the high jump by the least celebrated member of the cast. The crowd appreciated, too, a format that eliminated one annoying aspect of indoor meets—missing a spectacular effort by watching something else going on simultaneously. ITA isolates each of its events and spotlights individual performers. A shotputter, for instance, is required to wait before making his throw if a vaulter is about to try a height. That innovation, which was further enhanced by a time limit on field event tries (30 seconds for shotputters, 45 for vaulters), may be the best of ITA's improvements, but the Minidome crowd grooved over the use of electronically timed pacer lights fixed to the 220-yard track at 10-yard intervals. The bulbs can be set to blink sequentially with any pace programmed by the timing device. Thus the lights, and two rivals, pushed Lee Evans to a new world record of 1:16.7 in the rarely contested 600 meters, just as Evans had predicted earlier in the week.
"I wanted to help ITA get off to a good start and I wanted the world record," Evans said. "I knew if I stayed ahead of the light, I'd have it." The lights also gave Jim Ryun a deceptive triumph of man over candlepower in a solo 1,500—the fans had not been informed that Ryun's lights were set for 62-second quarters, and they assumed he was running at a world-record pace. Ryun, who was timed in a poky 3:50.3, could be forgiven, though, even ignoring the fact that it was Marty Liquori's job as emcee to keep the crowd abreast of such things. Three days before the meet, Ryun's wife Anne gave birth to twin sons (Andrew Monroe and Nathaniel Charles) in Santa Barbara, and James Ronald had had some sleepless nights.
The biggest money-winner of the meet was little Warren Edmonson, the ex- UCLA sprinter who took home $1,100 for covering the 100-meter final in a world-record 10.2. He got $500 for first, $500 for breaking the record and $100 more for tying it in a heat. The indoor 100 also is rarely run, and Edmonson won it when he beat Mel Pender out of the starting blocks. "When you're doing this for $500," he said, "you've got to be the first one out."
For those who cherish trivia, it should be stated that the first athlete ever to win an ITA check was Tom Von Ruden, who beat Gerry Lindgren in a 4:09.6 mile. The first woman so enriched was Lacey O'Neal, who took the 100 in 11.8 over Barbara Ferrell and Wyomia Tyus Simburg.
The results of the field events were predictable in all but the high jump and shot. Pig-tailed John Radetich, a teammate of Dick Fosbury at Oregon State, exceeded his personal best by 2�" when he won the former with a jump of 7'4�", bettering the world indoor mark of 7'4?" set by Valery Brumel in 1961, while Brian Oldfield (67'5�") upset Randy Matson (66'4�") in the latter. Bob Seagren, competing for the first time since his dismal encounter with Wolfgang Nordwig at the Olympics, won by leaping 17'6", and Bob Beamon took the long jump with an effort of 26'�", his best in almost four years.
For comic relief the ITA staged a couple of 440-yard relays unlikely to be duplicated by the AAU, NCAA or NASCAR. The first matched teams consisting of a high jumper, a long jumper, a female sprinter and a hurdler; in the second they were composed of a shotputter, a vaulter, a hurdler and a sprinter.
"I know pro track is going to work," Evans said at the end of the meet. "We've got the best names."