One of these days, when they learn how to recycle gasoline from smog and Lake Erie is clean enough to gargle, the Amateur Athletic Union may either abolish all its rules or enforce each of them with the lash. In either case the change will make the world an easier place for 22-year-old Francie Larrieu, who won't have to go so far to prove a point. It should also help the governing body of American amateur sport, whose talent for self-humiliation continues to rival that of the contestants on Let's Make a Deal.
The AAU's inconsistency marred its 87th National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which took place last Friday night at Madison Square Garden before a crowd of 14,529, and helped obscure some first-rate performances. But the meet also provided a unique example of psychological warfare by Larrieu who, feeling that she had been dumped on by the AAU, responded with a splendidly arrogant performance as she won the women's mile.
Certainly there have been better times than Francie's 4:42.8 (her world record is 4:29), but it is doubtful that any of them have ever been run, wire-to-wire, in lane two, thus adding roughly 50 yards to the distance. Yet that's where Francie ran, as a protest to another of those infernal decisions that make the AAU look ridiculous.
America's best woman distance runner, Larrieu had come to New York with the noble ambition of running and winning the mile and the two mile, which would have put her on the U.S. team in both events for the dual meet with the Soviet Union three nights later in Richmond. The Pacific Coast Club, to which Larrieu belongs, had passed up the Russian meet in previous years because of one beef or another with the AAU, but this time no problems were expected. Least of all from Francie Larrieu, whose only complaint this season was that she couldn't hear her splits in the Millrose Games a month earlier.
Since Larrieu holds the American record (9:39.4) for the two mile along with the world standard for the mile, her ambition was something more than conceit. But because the 5'4", 105-pound UCLA junior had not run a two-mile race during this calendar year, and thus had not produced a qualifying time—a procedure designed to improve, not diminish, the quality of the competition—the Women's AAU Committee headed by Mrs. Pat Rico rejected Larrieu's entry for the longer event. It thus ignored Francie's ability, the glut of AAU press releases that had advertised the ambitious double and the fact that Francie probably could beat the 11:10 qualifying time wearing galoshes, leg shackles and a trenchcoat.
Larrieu learned of the rejection Thursday night, not from Mrs. Rico or one of her committee, but from PCC teammate Jim Bolding. "I had called Tom Jennings [the PCC manager] at about 10:30 to see if I had to run mile trials the next morning," Larrieu said. "Tom wasn't there, but Jim said, 'You don't have to worry about the two mile. They're not going to let you run.' I was never officially notified of the decision.
"I think if they wanted the best team to run against the Russians, seeing that I've broken or equaled the American record every time I've attempted the two mile, they could have stretched the rules a little bit. They doubt my capabilities, I guess."
So Francie, wearing a U.S. Track and Field Federation T-shirt (the USTFF is the AAU's hated rival) ran hard but wide, thus making sure she would not come close to a record, and beat her UCLA friend Julie Brown by a solid margin. The two mile was a sedate affair won by Brenda Webb in 10:22; several of the 14 women in the field finished over the qualifying standard.
Still, such strict enforcement of the rules might have provoked only minor griping had not the AAU, in the person of Track Administrator Bob Lafferty, ignored them later on. Lafferty knuckled under to pressure from Protase Muchwampaka, chief of the Tanzanian delegation, by allowing a Tanzanian runner to enter the 600 final without having run in a heat. Muchwampaka told Lafferty that if his man, Claver Kamanya, was not allowed in the 600 final, Filbert Bayi, the Tanzanian star, would be withdrawn from the mile. Lafferty acquiesced. Kamanya ran an unimpressive fifth in an overcrowded field, and Bayi won the mile in 4:02.1, the slowest of his five wins on his U.S. tour.
The best performances in the meet came from Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter in the three mile, Rick Wohlhuter in the 1,000 and Rosalyn Bryant of the Mayor Daley Youth Foundation, who set a world record of 23.6 in the 220. Yifter, a 5'5", 127-pound police sergeant, unleashed a devastating kick, finishing far ahead of a good field in 13:07.6, only 2.4 seconds off the world indoor record. Wohlhuter similarly sprinted away from his competition to win the 1,000 in a blistering 2:06.4, his 27th victory in his last 28 starts. Brian McElroy came in a strong second.