SI Vault
Ron Reid
March 31, 1975
Pro track's big TV meet was a bust until tireless Ben Jipcho came to the rescue with two stirring wins
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March 31, 1975

Jipcho Was Socko

Pro track's big TV meet was a bust until tireless Ben Jipcho came to the rescue with two stirring wins

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"TV is——," Oldfield said. "They delayed us half an hour and then I just couldn't kick an attitude. The delays—I'll be damned if I know why they happened. They couldn't get the sprinters together, so we went late. I was ready to go but they kept saying, 'Five minutes, five minutes.' I'd rather not have TV if it's going to mess up my event."

Oldfield also was miffed after the public-address announcer failed to introduce him when he appeared in the shotput circle. "That galled me to death on top of everything else," he said. "This crowd is dead, too. I need their energy. I'd have been better off going to practice and inventing my own crowd."

Oldfield might have anticipated his vile afternoon if he had had a more imaginative interpretation of his own dreams. "I've had dreams about throwing the shot," he said the day before the meet. "I'd get off this terrific throw and the shot wouldn't come down, so I had no idea of how far it went. The night before the '72 Olympic Trials, I had the dream again and the shot came down, and it was a good one. So I knew I was going to make the Olympic team."

On Thursday night Oldfield dreamed that he and Feuerbach went to practice together, as they sometimes do at De Anza Junior College in Cupertino, Calif., where they work out. "It had been raining," Oldfield said, "and there was a lot of water all over the ground. Feuerbach threw and he slipped and went sliding out over the water like he was on skis. Then this broad came swimming by, so I didn't throw. I went fishing instead and caught a carp."

Steve Smith's beef was against the officials. After he cleared 16'6" on his second try, Smith left the competition in the pole vault for more than half an hour and threatened to quit entirely over the way the successive heights were being set. Hoping to break his own record of 18'2�", the best indoors by anyone, pro or amateur, Smith wanted the bar to be raised in six-inch increments: 17'3", 17'9", 18'3". The last would give him a new mark. "They wanted to raise it from 17'3" to 17'10" and then to 18'1" just to suit Bob Seagren," he complained. "By the time they got to 18'3", I'd be too tired to try for the record."

Smith won the event at 17'6" and did get three tries at 18'3�". He missed on each and then blamed the vault's standards, which, on behalf of the event's sponsor, Personna, are fashioned to resemble two giant safety razors.

"They played the heights to suit Seagren because Bobby was crying again," Smith said. "I lost $2,000 for the world record I should have had. I feel like I've been robbed."

The Sports Arena crowd got its money's worth, however, as did the viewers who tuned in to NBC, despite glaring inadequacies in the telecast. Television failed to show the high jump, several false starts in the short races, Oldfield's first three fouls and Feuerbach's presence anywhere in the state of California. Jim Ryun's presence in the mile was reported but his fine third-place finish was never mentioned. The husband-and-wife interview team of Bill and Mary Toomey was embarrassingly amateur, particularly for a professional meet. There were good things: the key races were well covered, and the circuslike fun of a 30-yard sprint pitting Lacey O'Neal against the 265-pound Oldfield and 225-pound Ram Linebacker Isiah Robertson caught the special flavor of a pro meet, with Oldfield and Robertson running away from their small opponent. There was also a voice-over by Henry Hines, psyching himself up in the long jump. ("Come on, you got 27 right now, whew, come on....")

Nor did all the athletes go home unhappy. "Pro track, in my case, has been just wonderful," said 32-year-old Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa, the 5'5" sprinter from Malagasy who won the 60-yard dash in 6.1. "I was sent here by my government to get an education, but I needed money to take graduate courses. Another reason I joined ITA is because I believe all athletes owe something to track. The sport is not appreciated."

Jipcho, however, was somewhat less than ecstatic. "The $3,000?" he said. "Take away 30% U.S. taxes. I am starting to regret pro track. There is no improvement in the money. I wish the Olympics could be open. I will miss running in them very much. I would have liked to enter the 1,500, the steeplechase and the 5,000."

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