Little Francie Larrieu had a lot on her mind. First, there was this thing with the AAU. Here she was, along with Mary Decker one of the sensations of women's indoor track, knocking off world records almost faster than they could be compiled, yet when the AAU invited her to its indoor championships in New York last month it did not offer enough travel money to cover expenses from her home in Sunnyvale, Calif. Her track club—the powerful Pacific Coast Club—decided to skip the AAU meet entirely, and Francie went instead to the K. of C. indoor meet in Winnipeg.
Then there was the matter of the world cross-country championships in Italy later this month. Francie is the best the U.S. has, and she wants to go. But the AAU budget for housing, feeding and transporting the six girls on the team is only $5,000. Ken Foreman, the coach, figured that the team could save $1,200 on air fare if the four girls who were under 23 (which includes Francie) would fly to Europe from Canada to take advantage of youth fares there. But the girls would have to pay their own way to Canada.
O.K., athletes generally don't like to pay their own way but, shoot, it's not the money. Francie could always sell her 1965 Volkswagen, or pawn her medals or go into debt to help out Uncle Sam. "I want to go badly," the pretty, 21-year-old Olympian said. "I'm No. 1 and I'm in great shape. I should run. But it just isn't right. Why should I have to pay $180 in air fare when I'm a member of a United States team? It's ridiculous. Somebody has to stand up and protest."
And there were matters of more immediate concern, Ludmilla Bragina for one. She's the Russian who won the 1,500 meters at Munich, a strong, tough competitor who has run that distance in 4:01.4 outdoors, faster than any woman ever. Bragina was having her problems, too. Two weeks before, in Toronto, while Francie was winning the 1,500 in world indoor record time of 4:12.2, the Russian finished a distant sixth.
That was Francie's fourth world record this indoor season. Earlier she had set a 4:34.6 mark in the mile at Seattle, and then had knocked an astonishing 32.6 seconds off the two-mile world standard at San Diego, winning in 9:39.4. During the two-mile run she sped past the 3,000-meter mark in 9:02.4, another record. Still, the day before they met in Winnipeg, she watched as the Russian girl, sitting two tables away, lunched on a steak. Francie frowned. "I wonder if she was just setting me up at Toronto," she mused, trying not to stare at Ludmilla. "I don't know. Would anyone run sixth just to make me relax? She wouldn't, would she?"
Bragina finished her lunch and on her way out of the restaurant stopped at Francie's table. She has a plain but pleasant face, and a warm smile.
"How your times?" she asked, touching Francie's hand.
"Very good. I had a 9:39.4 for two miles, but it was real easy. I lapped the field once and some of them twice, and as I lapped them I was able to pull on them." Francie's words flowed quickly. The Russian girl nodded approvingly and left.
Francie's brown eyes followed Bragina out of the restaurant. Then she frowned at her omelet. "I wish I knew if she understood me. When I first met her she couldn't speak a word of English. Do you think it's my fault—that I never learned to speak Russian?" When the omelet didn't answer, Francie ate it.
Her final fret in Winnipeg was the weight of the American flag, which the Canadian officials had asked her to carry in an opening ceremony. Francie thought George Woods, the 300-pound shotputter, might be better suited. "I'm kind of weak," she argued. "I've kind of neglected my weight training. Oh, well, how heavy can it be?" And so, with all that on her mind, when she stepped off the track, she slipped on a patch of exposed ice and fell heavily on her rear. All she could do for a moment was lie there and laugh.