With one headliner a no-show and two others leaving teeth marks on the hands that feed them, it was anxiety time for the International Track Association last Saturday in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Staging its fourth meet of the indoor season in the afternoon instead of at night didn't help the attendance, particularly since the pros were bucking TV coverage of UCLA's basketball Bruins in the NCAA regionals. That didn't matter too much because the meet was being taped for presentation that night in a trimmed, edited version on NBC-TV in the Johnny Carson time slot. What mattered more was that the ITA was laying an egg much too soon for Easter. Midway through its long afternoon, tediously running behind schedule, the meet looked less like an Emmy candidate than a rerun of Gilligan's Island, and the meager crowd—reported to be 6,568, many of whom had paid their way in—was sitting on its hands. And the production might be bombing yet but for Ben Jipcho, a man of many talents who is most of all a trouper.
Jipcho, 32, the superlative runner from Kenya who is ITA's brightest star, not only stole the show but saved it by running the finest indoor distance double ever. He won the two mile in 8:27, pro-indoor-record time, and came back 55 minutes later to turn the third-fastest mile in indoor history, a 3:56.2 that broke his own pro mark. For his remarkable efforts, he was rewarded with $3,000 and a trophy put up by Vitalis. More important, he saved ITA's future with the folks who fret over Nielsens. Until Jipcho's performance, bad reviews were oozing out of critical typewriters, and off camera the athletes were griping at ITA the way they used to mutter at the AAU in their amateur days.
Harmonious cooperation, however, got Jipcho his double and improved his won-lost record against professional rivals to 26-2. Aided by Tracy Smith, who shared the pace in the two mile, Jipcho's 8:27 broke his ITA record by seven full seconds. In the mile he was pushed to victory by Keith Munson, one of two pros ever to beat Jipcho. Munson dipped under four minutes for the first time at 3:58.5 while third place went to Jim Ryun, whose 4:00.3 was his fastest mile in two years.
His warm smile glowing at 10,000 watts after the race, Jipcho said, "I feel good, ready now for an 800, if I had to. I want to show that pro milers are good, like the amateurs. We are very great."
Jipcho's old pro record of 3:56.6 was set in Madison Square Garden last year, and his new one has been bettered only by Tony Waldrop's 3:55 and Marty Liquori's 3:55.8. Asked what times he might have achieved if he had concentrated on a single race, he said,' 'It would have been the same. It is always the same with Jipcho. The two mile didn't take anything out of me. I'm not a very good front-runner, but if I get people chasing me, I can run a very good race. If another push had come at the end of the mile, I might have run 3:53."
One of the people who was supposed to chase, and maybe beat, Jipcho was Kipchoge Keino, a fellow Kenyan who has yet to make his 1975 pro debut. Scheduled to run in Los Angeles, Keino withdrew two days before the meet because of his father's recent death. Yet it is doubtful that Jipcho could have gotten more help from Keino than he got from Munson in the mile and from Smith in the two mile. Smith and Jipcho traded the lead back and forth as the two moved far ahead in their race for the special $2,000 first prize. Smith led at the mile in 4:12.8 but Jipcho took over with nine laps left. With 4� to go, Jipcho waved Tracy ahead of him for three more laps. Tracy valiantly tried to move away from Jipcho, but Ben exploded past him and won by nearly 20 yards. Smith finished in an excellent 8:29.4.
In the mile, Munson forced the pace and even took the lead for three laps after Jipcho had run a 59.3 first quarter and a 1:58.5 half. Munson led at 2:58.0 at the 1,320-yard mark before Jipcho stormed to the front again with three laps to go. The ITA pacer lights were set for a modest 3:59 mile and might have hindered Jipcho, except that he forgot to look at them.
Jipcho's splendid performance in the two mile stirred up both the crowd and his pro peers, who broke two more records. Young Tommy Fulton, in his first try at the 1,000, ran 2:06.3, the best of the indoor season, pro or amateur, to knock six-tenths of a second off Chris Fisher's pro standard. Larry James took one tick off his own 440 record, finishing ahead of John Smith and Lee Evans in 47.2, exceptional time for an 11-lap track. All of which should have guaranteed a fine afternoon for the fans and some socko late-night television for ITA.
But things did not work out that smoothly. Shotputter Brian Oldfield and Pole Vaulter Steve Smith, the ITA's two most voluble athletes, were particularly annoyed. Disappointed by his second-place showing in the shot—he fouled on four of his six heaves—Oldfield vented his rage against television, charging that delays in setting up cameras had bollixed his performance beyond repair. The event was won by Randy Matson, who threw 67'5�".
It wasn't mentioned on television, but the occasion was even more embarrassing to Oldfield because ITA had obtained a special sanction to allow Al Feuerbach, the nation's leading amateur thrower, to exhibit his skill after the last pro event. Feuerbach one-upped the pros by throwing 68'7".