Jim Ryun and Kip Keino have waged many a classic race over a mile's worth of running track. Their meeting last weekend was not one of these. It wasn't classic, it wasn't even classy and it very nearly wasn't a mile.
For the eighth time in seven years Ryun and Keino hooked up in the mile run last Saturday night in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Three weeks earlier, in a dress rehearsal of its pro track show, the ITA unveiled its innovations and format in Pocatello, Idaho, winning the hearts and pocketbooks of the rustics. In Los Angeles, a town as used to good track as it is to bad air, ITA hoped to capture the sophisticates. A good crowd of 12,280, paying $58,600, turned out but, by and large, their hearts but feebly throbbed.
The success of the ITA tour, which will play 17 other cities between now and June 6, depends upon the big Ryun-Keino closing number. Said ITA impresario Mike O'Hara, "I knew that when Jim went down in Munich, I had to get that combination for our meets." His reasoning was sound. Ryun's fall in his Olympic 1,500-meter heat almost guaranteed that people would pay to see how he would fare upright, and the dramatic history of the Ryun-Keino races was equally irresistible.
To hype the gate, Keino said it was possible that the world indoor mile record would be broken when he and Ryun chased the ITA pacer lights Saturday. "The lights will be set for an even 59 seconds per quarter," Keino said. "If we run four 59-second quarters, it will be 3:56. The indoor record is 3:56.4. It will depend on the condition of the runners. I think I'm ready."
Perhaps he was, though he never established that fact the way the race was run, which was to a 60-second-quarter pace. It was obvious, however, that Ryun was not ready. Plodding far behind on heavy legs, he ran a race painful to watch through its first eight laps. At one point he trailed his old rival by 70 yards.
"I don't know what kind of pace he's going to ask for," Ryun had said the night before the meet. "Whatever it is, I'll probably follow him and try to go at the end. I've found that the best part of my race is from 500 to 600 yards in. I'll be trying to beat him, but I really don't know what I'm ready for yet."
What neither Ryun nor Keino was ready for was a race of 1,600 yards. Despite their acclaimed professionalism, the meet officials were no better than their bumbling amateur counterparts. The starter fired his pistol for the gun lap with two laps to go, and as Keino approached the finish line he was waved on for another go-round. As he predicted, Ryun kicked through the last three laps, but he had yielded too much early ground to catch the bushed Kenyan, who hung on to beat him by 10 yards in 4:06 and pick up the $500 purse.
"I just jogged the last lap," said Keino. "I didn't have any momentum."
"I've got to have some more time to get in condition," said Ryun, "and I need some more competitive races." Of course, neither he nor Keino beat the lights, and perhaps that was to be expected. The night before Keino had said "How can I beat the lights? That's electricity and I am only a human being."
Had the mile been the only gaffe of the evening, the meet might have got rave reviews. There were other mishaps, however, most notably Lee Evans' try for a world record in the 500-meter run being bollixed by a tape that graced the finish line one lap too early. The meet also dragged on behind schedule; emcee Marty Liquori fought a losing battle with inexperience; and the 60-yard dash finish was a perfect mess.