constant balancing of skills, decathletes in recent years have had to contend
with intrusions of science, some welcome, others not. The Soviets have tinkered
with physiological monitoring of athletes and, in some cases, have used
electrical stimuli on muscles in place of weight training.
new automatic timing system activated by the starter's gun and stopped by a
photoelectric cell, renders clockings roughly two-tenths of a second slower
than timing by hand. It takes that long for humans to start their watches after
the firing of the gun. Decathletes naturally tend to dislike the device.
"Electric timing takes about 85 points off everyone's score," said
Jenner. "The most we can hope for is that it breaks down in a race or two.
Then they'll have to hand-time everybody." Jenner was also annoyed when the
flip long jump was banned last year. Doing a forward somersault in the air, he
had gone 24 feet. Using the traditional style he had done barely more than 23,
a difference of 61 points. "These technical guys," he said. "Always
were voiced softly, however, because he had entered the meet through the back
door. In the AAU decathlon in July he had failed at the opening height in the
pole vault and scored no points. Fred Dixon, the first-day leader at the AAU,
had fouled three times in the discus. Neither had finished among the top eight,
yet both were placed on the international team by official fiat—a move
criticized as undemocratic in some quarters.
For spectators to
appreciate the varied and complex ways of winning a decathlon requires both
prior study and a manic alertness. Basically, the competitors try to surpass
their personal records in each event and build toward a high total score. As a
result, gleeful gymnastics sometimes occur after a ninth-place finish in the
dash; conversely, looks of despair follow a victory in the shotput which,
nonetheless, was a foot or two short of expectations. At times in Eugene it
seemed that the spectators were required to follow 25 private track meets, and
that may have accounted for the sparseness of the crowd. Only 3,741 turned out
to watch the first-day events.
By the time they
had ended and the U.S. had compiled a 24,805-23,718 lead over second-place
Poland in team points, a number of things had been made clear. First, the
combination of a fast track, good weather and stimulating competition was
producing an unprecedented number of quality performances. Ten men were on
their way to scoring more than 8,000 points. Not even in the Olympics had more
than four ever accomplished this feat in one meet. Second, the electric timing
had indeed failed. In the fifth heat of the first event, the 100-meter dash, a
technician was distracted by an official and did not press a button in time.
Just as Jenner had hoped, hand timing had to be used for all the races. The
differences were spectacular. Fred Samara, the AAU champion and a fidgeter of
some violence in the starting blocks, had recorded the fastest electric 100, a
10.67. But the field timers had him in 10.3, a 93-point improvement. Jenner
picked up an extra 75 points when he was given an un-electric clocking of 10.7.
"The kid's on his way," he yipped.
officials were pleased to go back to punching watches. "The electric eye
takes all the fun out of being a timer," said one. It was decided to do
away with Accutrack for the duration, except in the women's pentathlon. That
omission brought gutteral protest from the Soviet coaches, whose English
suddenly became more than basic: "We have heard this thing you say,
'affirmative action.' Might that mean timing the same way for men and
women?" Said an embarrassed American official, "I think we ought to
send for Kissinger."
In the long jump,
Avilov, whose personal record is 25'6�", managed only 24'1�". Then he
ambled serenely about the infield, in sharp contrast to Jenner, who jumped
23'6�", grunting mightily on impact. "Keep it going. Keep it going"
he said, and did, putting the shot 50'�", a lifetime best by more than two
feet and second only to mammoth Rudolf Zigert's 54'7�".
Between events a
number of competitors sought shade under a large green plywood box normally
used to store foam landing pits. Jenner peered out at the women's pentathlon
shotput, then at Frederick, who sat apart in the sun quietly watching. "She
doesn't feel like talking," said someone. "I don't blame her," said
Jenner. "I'm the one who threw the Frisbee. She was just trotting a little
to catch it and stepped into a hollow in the lawn. 'Oh, my God,' I said, 'you
didn't sprain your ankle?' 'I'm afraid I did,' she said." Jenner turned
silently into the shadows. Zigert, a jovial Russian bear, crawled in,
scratching numbers in the dry sod to compare scores. Dixon, the individual
leader after the first three events who would go on to finish second with 8,277
points, whispered to the prostrate Jenner, "What you going for in the high
six-seven. Might as well. I'm hotter'n a pistol." His eyes widened.
"I'd like to be 4,250 after five events. I know I can score 4,300 the
second day. But I'm a high jumper now. Can't look ahead. Cannot look
is so casual out there," said Dixon. "If he doesn't wake