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Shortly before the start of the 800-meter final at the AAU track and field championships last weekend in Eugene, Ore., the veteran intermediate hurdler Ralph Mann was counseling a promising young half-miler from Utah State named Mark Enyeart. "With a little weight work and a couple of years' maturity," the 26-year-old Mann told the 21-year-old Enyeart, "you're going to be running really well. But right now don't expect any miracles."
Thus advised, Enyeart, a converted quarter-miler who moved up to the longer distance only this spring, pulled off the miracle of the two-day meet by outrunning the supposedly unbeatable Rick Wohlhuter from start to finish to hand the defending champion his first defeat at 800 meters or 880 yards in two years. Wohlhuter had won the AAU title in 1973 and 1974 and is the current world-record holder in the half mile (1:44.1).
Starting from the extreme outside lane, Enyeart whipped around the first turn and took a solid hold on the lead as the field entered the backstretch. Wohlhuter, who had not trained for the race as well as he would have liked, moved up quickly into second place and dogged Enyeart the rest of the way. Everyone expected the long-striding master to bolt past the rookie in the stretch, but with a remarkable demonstration of poise and courage Enyeart maintained his form, held off Wohlhuter and won by two yards in a fine 1:44.87, his career best.
Enyeart really had no business beating Wohlhuter, but in two days of competition at the University of Oregon's famous Hayward Field the unexpected became commonplace. Who would have guessed that high jumper Dwight Stones, the world-record holder, would leap 7'4" and finish third? Or that three top performers in the 110-meter high hurdles would all fall down? Or that Steve Williams, long considered the best sprinter in the world, would be soundly trounced in both the 100 and 200 meters by Jamaica's Don Quarrie?
John Powell, another world-record holder, successfully defended his discus championship, but that was a mild surprise, too, since the night before the competition the burly Powell never was able to get to sleep. That was fully in keeping with this bizarre meet. Marty Liquori, the 3:52.2 miler, skipped the 1,500 meters to run instead in the 5,000. He ran a brilliant tactical race to finish first in a meet record 13:29 flat, despite a pre-meet lunch of a peanut-butter sandwich washed down by a glass of wine, a gourmet meal that left him, Liquori said, with a mild stomachache.
Even Mann, the self-styled oldtimer who had been national champion in the 400-meter hurdles in 1969, 1970 and 1971, pulled an upset of his own on Saturday by running past the faltering defending champion, Jim Bolding, in the stretch. None of his rivals, including Mann, had been nearly as fast and as strong as Bolding in Friday's heats and semifinals. Coasting through the last yards of each of his races that day, Bolding nevertheless had been timed in 48.9 and 49.4, convincing evidence that breaking John Akii-Bua's world record of 47.8 (set at the Munich Olympics) in the final was a reasonable prospect.
And Bolding ran the first half of the final as though he meant to set a record that would last forever, blasting past the 200-meter mark in 22 seconds flat, according to at least one watch. His pace barely slackened as he raced around the second turn, but then he hit the homestretch, an oncoming wind and the ninth hurdle, in that order. "When you hit one of the last hurdles," Bolding said, "it's tough to finish strong. I came off the turn and felt that wind, and I knew I wasn't as strong as I had been on Friday." He developed a bad case of spaghetti legs near the finish and Mann came on to catch him in the last 10 yards to win in 48.7, which was, at least, a meet record.
"It's tough," the talkative Mann agreed. "After two races yesterday, you know where your head is but not where your legs are."
The 110-meter high hurdles saw two favorites fail. Guy Drut, a Frenchman with a mop of curly hair, and Charles Foster, the bald eagle from North Carolina Central, had each won his trial and semifinal easily, but in the final Drut tripped and fell at the first hurdle and Foster was leveled by the fourth. Outsider Gerald Wilson won in 13.38, another meet record. Even so, Drut and Foster fared better than 32-year-old Willie Davenport, the three-time Olympian, who was winning his semifinal when he tore a tendon between his kneecap and shin as he came off the last hurdle. "I didn't hit the hurdle," Davenport said later. "My knee gave way. I'm scared about it, but I'll be back. I'll be in the Olympics again one way or another." Maybe, but the gallant Davenport had to undergo surgery in a Eugene hospital on Saturday.
Liquori and Frank Shorter were more successful in their efforts, despite Liquori's esoteric diet. Shorter, who did not reach Eugene until midday Friday ("I was afraid I'd be tempted to run in the 5,000 if I got here any earlier," he said), was inexorable in the 10,000, striding away from his field to win by more than half a lap in meet-record time of 28:02.2, despite an insistent wind. That clocking was 18.6 seconds behind the late Steve Prefontaine's American record, but the Oregon crowd gave Shorter the longest applause of the meet, probably because Shorter attacked the race the way Prefontaine used to, driving hard all the way.