The Chinese coaches came with their pads and pens and clustered around the American coaches. They sat in chairs covered with delicately embroidered doilies and white slipcovers, and sipped green tea and drew on their Chung Hwa cigarettes, the best yuan can buy, and nodded politely when U.S. Coach Bob Giegengack told them they would be 10 years catching up with the track and field world. They asked him why they could not do it in five.
Leaning forward anxiously in their seats, they hung on the words of Dick Hill and Leroy Walker and the other American assistant coaches, each of whom conducted separate seminars in various techniques. Walker told them champion runners were not built in a day, nor champion vaulters and leapers, nor champion throwers of things.
Giegengack is the track coach at Yale, 68 years old and set in his words. He does not dispense them just to have something to say. He uses words as oratorical trapezes, for gymnastics. There in Canton's Tung Fang Hotel, where the ceilings were high, the beds hard and the plumbing grunted ominously through the night, and again in Shanghai's immaculate Ching Chiang Hotel, in luxury even the most hardened capitalist could appreciate, Giegengack gave his Chinese seminarians "fulcrum and lever principles" as they applied to this event or that, and "the center of gravity" as it related to the proper length of a man's stride, whether he runs 400 meters or is just trying to get in out of the rain. He gave them " Archimedes' Principle" and he gave them "inertia." He commented later that while he may have lost a few in translation, "They laughed at my jokes." He recalled that it was just recently that the universities of the People's Republic of China went out to lunch for five years, their professors reintroduced to the rice paddies while the country treated itself to a "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution." In a situation like that, Archimedes is bound to suffer. Besides, Giegengack admitted, how many American coaches could relate fulcrums and levers to a 16-pound shot? The Chinese smiled and scribbled on their pads and asked for more.
"They are very bright," Giegengack concluded after the first 10 days of Yu-i-Ti-i, Pi-sai Ti-erh (Friendship First, Competition Second) in China, "and they're in a very big hurry."
To go where? To be athletically fit at the highest level, to get good enough to show the revisionist Russians a thing or two, to take a flying leap into the 1976 Olympics (providing, according to their oft-repeated proviso, that Taiwan gets booted out), to set another good example for the youth of China and other underdog nations, to make friends and influence people, maybe even to help the underdog AAU in its struggle to overcome the reactionary NCAA.
It was the AAU, after receiving the Chinese invitation last winter, that put this remarkable track show on the road, and in China these past two weeks the yu-i flowed like wine, although in the days before the border crossing from Hong Kong there had been some swelling of doubt among a pocket of Americans in the 95-man party. Because so little was known of the Chinese teams and because the Chinese had provided so little information in advance (not even a definite meet schedule or hotel assignments), sandbag theorists predicted an ambush. The American squad was reasonably representative, but for one reason or another a number of the very best athletes had stayed home. High jumper Dwight Stones told
The New York Times
that "Nineteen days with the AAU anywhere would be unbelievable."
But track and field is hardly China's national pastime. Table tennis, badminton and basketball rank far ahead of it. Yet track and field is an international attention-getter, especially at Olympic time, and it is a sport where lever-fulcrums of influence and power are, alas, not infrequently used. The Chinese obviously want to get into the act. From nowhere they finished a respectable third to Japan and Iran in the 1974 Asian Games, accumulating a sampan full of medals. Still, only one of their track and field athletes—7'6" high jumper Ni Chih-chin—had ever performed up to Olympic standards, and in the Asian Games, Ni had been off form at 7'1".
Tall, trim, remarkably similar in appearance to Taiwan's 1960 Olympic silver-medal decathloner, the UCLA-educated C. K. Yang, Ni was on hand to pay his respects when the train bearing the American squad pulled into humid Canton for the first of three two-day meets. He is now head of the athletics division of the All-China Sports Federation but, it was explained, he no longer competes. He had been injured and was getting old (32). He did not have time to talk with the American press, being "very busy" hosting and toasting the official American party.
Ni or no, the Chinese teams from southern (competing at Canton) and eastern ( Shanghai) provinces offered little in the way of competition for the American men, who won the dashes by yards and the longer races by as many as two full laps and could only hope for sterner stuff against the Chinese national team in the third and last meet in Peking on May 27-28. In four days of running, jumping and kuan-hsi, as this kind of interpersonal relationship is called in China, the Chinese led in kuan-hsi by a mile and the Americans in about everything else. Of the 66 events at Canton and Shanghai—20 for men, 13 for women at each meet—the Chinese won four, all in the women's field events. There, precocious teen-agers from China's "athletic schools," where gifted youngsters are properly coached "to bring glory to the motherland," stood out.
In Shanghai a radiant 18-year-old named Chi Hai-chen and a 17-year-old named Li Li finished 1-2 in the high jump, both, to the amazement of some Americans, using the Fosbury Flop. They said they had seen it in a film but had never heard of the original Flopper, 1968 Olympic champion Dick Fosbury. In Canton discus thrower Kao Yu-kun respectfully appealed to Linda Langford for help, then outthrew her by two feet.