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It is five o'clock on a Thursday afternoon in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side. Ellsworth Pennington III, 50, wearing a sweat suit over a shirt and a carefully knotted black knit tie, is well into his third workout of the day. He has finished a six-mile warmup jog on the grass around the perimeter of the University of Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg Field and he has hopped a left-legged 220 on its all-weather track. Now he is shinnying, with consummate ease, up a soccer goalpost at the south end of the field while a dozen raggedy little boys, who have been using the high-jump pit as a trampoline, stop to gape.
Who is Ellsworth Pennington III, and why is he doing these things?
"Honey," says Olympic long-jumper Willye White, who has been practicing starts and is now in the third row of the gray wooden grandstand, unwinding an Ace bandage from her knee, "you'll have to ask him that. Nobody knows why Penny does anything."
Pennington is an eccentric but valued member of the University of Chicago Track Club. When fund-raising time comes around each year he passes his cap among his co-workers at a dog-food factory and returns with $20 or $30, which makes him one of the club's major contributors.
Rick Wohlhuter, 26, world-record holder at 880 yards and 1,000 meters, has finished a day of hustling insurance in Chicago and has jogged to Stagg Field from his apartment on South Shore Drive. His is a light workout today—stretching, jogging and some 220s to keep the kinks out—because in the morning he will be leaving for a meet on the West Coast, where he will attempt to lower his world record for the half mile.
Wohlhuter is a slight man, but in his black warmups with narrow red stripes down the side, he stands out from the tatterdemalion legion of runners, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers who mill around him, a thoroughbred colt amid a herd of shaggy ponies.
"Who's that?" asks a girl runner, new to the Stagg Field practices.
"That's Rick Wohlhuter, the worldrecord half-miler," says a white-haired man, who happens to be his coach.
"I knew he had to be some kind of dude to be wearin' an outfit like that."
Andrew Goodman, 12, chess player, stamp collector, oboist and distance runner, is in the seventh grade at the university's lab school. He has been running with the club since he was 10, and his best time for the mile is 5:43. He averages 30 miles a week, even in winter, but today, because he has a friend along who is new to the game, he has jogged only four miles on the Tartan track.