Thanks to a bunch of guys who wouldn't know Sam Houston from Sam Spade, Lady Bird from Big Bird or the Alamo from a Pizza Hut, the team championship of U.S. collegiate track and field now resides in the proud state of Texas.
No 10-gallon ovations need hail this acquisition, since not one Texan—or many Americans—contributed to the University of Texas-El Paso's victory last week in the 54th NCAA championship meet at Provo, Utah. On the teal-blue track of Brigham Young Stadium, foreign athletes stole most of the show and made their rivals break out in flags.
UTEP, for which passports have long been as important as spiked shoes, added its first outdoor title to the NCAA indoor championship it won in March by scoring 55 points during the five-day competition. Eighty percent of the Miners' total was amassed by athletes from Sweden, Kenya and Australia. Combined with the forces of nature and negligence, the Texas aliens were more than enough to hold off a domestic entry named UCLA, which scored 42 points to finish second. USC, almost everyone's pre-meet favorite, paid dearly for its youth and came in third with 37 points.
The fall of Troy resulted in the championships ending with the Bruins grouped on the field waving tiny American flags. It was their way of indicating that, while they might have finished second to UTEP, among their countrymen they were first.
Moments before the Miners' victory became official, UCLA Coach Jim Bush said, "I feel this way. Going against all the foreigners on UTEP's team with all the bad breaks we had and still getting second is one heckuva job. We're going to lay claim to the title of No. 1 American team. That's the only way I can make people realize how the foreigners are dominating this meet."
Non-Americans did not totally dominate the meet, but they accounted for eight of the 19 individual titles and three of four meet records. John Ngeno of Washington State, a Kenyan who set stadium marks in winning the three-mile (13:22.79) and six-mile (28:20.66), was the only one of the eleven 1973 champions on hand to successfully defend his crown; he had won the six-mile last year. Villanova's Eamonn Coghlan, an Irishman with a superb finishing kick, won the meet's glamour event when he took the mile in 4:00.06. The most dramatic performance was that of Illinois' Charlton Ehizuelen, a Nigerian who watched Danny Seay of Kansas long-jump to a meet record of 26'7�" and five minutes later, on his last try, won the event by leaping 26'11".
UTEP's march to the title began with a setback. Greg Joy, a Canadian high jumper with a season best of 7'4", failed in the qualifying round to clear 7'1", the height required to advance to the finals. UCLA got off to an even poorer start. Mike Tully, a freshman pole vaulter who has jumped 17'10", was out of the meet when he missed three times at 16'8", and Jerry Herndon, the 1974 NCAA long-jump champ, finished 31st when he could do no better than 23'1�" in the trials.
The Bruins' luck worsened as the championships progressed. In one of the biggest gaffes in meet history, a semifinal heat of the 120-yard high hurdles was bollixed up, the last row of hurdles being set up almost four yards closer to the finish than it should have been. The hurdlers would not have been more surprised if a chain had replaced the tape. UCLA's Clim Jackson, leaving part of his shin on the last hurdle, stumbled to victory in the heat, but Kansas State's Vance Roland and Colorado's Derek Ligons were not as lucky. Both fell.
The ordering of a rerun generated a heated protest from Bush. He pointed out that with the final scheduled to be run in less than an hour, it was unfair to make Jackson and his rivals from the first semifinal run two preliminary races while the other qualifiers ran only one.
"You can't do that," he said to BYU Coach Clarence Robison, the meet director. "Those guys only have so many races in them a day. If you make them run, make everybody else run, too."