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In a few hours he would run his mile and lose, rather badly, and Tony Waldrop, the quiet blond youngster who had come down out of the hills of North Carolina to win nine straight sub-four-minute miles, was saying that if such a thing did happen he supposed a lot of people would be surprised, but he wouldn't be among them. He laughed and said nothing that had happened to him lately had convinced him he was not mortal. "I enjoy winning," he said, "but so do all of the people I'm racing against, and only one of us can enjoy it at a time." And so, he relaxed.
Not far away, in another wing of the motel on the outskirts of Modesto, Calif., Ivory Crockett, a sprinter who would run his 100 and win, paced his room and wondered what it would take to convince the world that he really was its fastest human. Two weeks earlier the little IBM marketing representative from Peoria, Ill. had run 100 yards in 9 seconds flat, something no man had ever done before; yet that world-record performance had been labeled a fluke. "A lot of people expect me to be blown out today," he said, the words pouring out in a rush, "but it's not going to happen. I'm going to win because I have to win. And after today there are going to be a lot of believers in Ivory Crockett." And so, he paced his room.
The suspect sprinter and the marvelous miler would have opposition. The organizers of the California Relays had gone out of their way to load their races with a long ton of talent. "They didn't forget anybody," said Crockett, dryly. He would have to face Steve Williams, the 9.1 sprinter from San Diego State; Reggie Jones, the 9.2 ace from Tennessee; Jones' 9.3 teammate Jon Young; and such fine sprinters as Don Quarrie, Larry Brown and Mark Lutz.
"Who have I got?" asked Waldrop when he arrived in Modesto late Saturday afternoon, only four hours before his race. He had spent Friday night at a motel in San Jose, the hometown of his girl friend Terry Anderson, a miler, and they had driven the 60 miles to Modesto with a friend Saturday afternoon.
"Well, for openers," he was told, "there's Hailu Ebba, the Ethiopian from Oregon State. He's run 3:57.8. Then there's Paul Cummings from Brigham Young. His best is 3:56.4. There's Len Hilton, the AAU champion, and Wilson Waigwa, from Kenya and UTEP. And somebody said Daine Malan might skip the half mile to take a shot at you. They've all been under four."
Waldrop rolled his eyes upward. "I wish I hadn't asked."
The night before, while Waldrop was relaxing in San Jose, Crockett restlessly prowled the halls of the Modesto motel. At ten o'clock he settled down long enough to have half a glass of beer in a dark and noisy cocktail lounge. He sat, but he was not still. His words came in staccato bursts. His hands fluttered without pause. And every now and then he would whiz his chair backward, jump up, sit down again and drum his feet on the floor.
"Those sprinters are in a world of their own," said John Smith, the 440-yard world-record holder who is now a professional. "Everything they do is a sprint. Even their eyeballs are going 9 flat."
Smith opened a newspaper to the sports section and handed it to Crockett, who read a few lines by candlelight and then slammed the paper to the floor. "I don't want to read that garbage," he snarled. He had set his 9-flat world record on May 11 at Knoxville, Tenn. The newspaper story implied that clokers in Tennessee could not be trusted, that Crockett, who is always quick out of the blocks, had probably jumped the gun and that, in any case, it was unlikely he would ever run 9 flat again.
But then, the 5'7", 145-pound Crockett has never really been appreciated. In 1969, as a freshman at Southern Illinois, he beat John Carlos in the 100 in the National AAU championships, but they said Crockett won because Carlos had to run in Lane 8. Crockett won the AAU Nationals again in 1970, but they said that was because Carlos pulled up lame. When Crockett was clocked in 9.6 in the 100 meters at the NCAA championships in 1972, the officials decided no one—at least not Crockett—could run that fast. The world record is 9.9 and the time was corrected to 9.9 but "wind-aided," which meant it could not be sanctioned as a record. That technicality almost blew Crockett's mind.