Since British police officer Geoff Capes stands 6'6", weighs in the vicinity of 300 pounds and is proficient at judo, one can safely assume that in his home village of Brampton, not far from Cambridge University, would-be troublemakers wisely choose to cross only at the corner. Capes is not only built like a buffalo, but he could probably consume one for dinner and still have room for two helpings of English trifle, so it is a good thing that neither the Cambridge-shire constabulary nor Capes himself is entirely responsible for his grocery bills. A dairy company provides him with three quarts of milk a day and a national chain of butcher shops supplies three pounds of steak daily. The merchants are being patriotic, you see, for Capes, in addition to his duties as a cop, happens to be the best shotputter in the history of the United Kingdom.
It would be far more impressive, admittedly, if Capes were the best seaman or best actor or best rock guitarist, for Great Britain has not been blessed with heavers of the shot and whirlers of the discus. Capes is exceptionally good, however, as U.S. track and field fans first learned two weeks ago at the National Invitational meet in College Park, Md., where he defeated Al Feuerbach. Last Friday night Capes did it again, winning at the Sunkist Invitational in the Los Angeles Sports Arena with a put of 68'10", a new British Commonwealth and European indoor record.
In the 18 modern Olympiads, starting with the Athens Games in 1896, the U.S. has dominated the shotput, winning 15 gold medals (Ralph Rose and Parry O'Brien won two apiece). Finland, Germany and Poland each have won one. Britain, where track and field is called "athletics," has not won a medal since 1908, so Capes is not being falsely modest when he calls himself a dark horse.
"I reckon it's going to be really tough for me to win a gold medal in the Olympics," he said after the L.A. meet. "I think I'm an outsider because, let's face it, a British athlete putting the shot and winning the Olympic Games?...I'm here to remedy that, you know, and to put it right.
"My personal record indoors was 68'9", so 68'10"—at least it's an inch in the right direction, you know. I think, with the next five meetings, it's going to go as well as it's gone today. I'm hoping for longer things, not bigger things.
"My coach said, 'Irrespective of the distance, of how far you throw over there, you just have a good time training.' It's raining in the U.K. It's wet and windy and terrible. I came over here, first, to train and, second, to compete, but it seems to be turning the other way around. It's working well together."
Capes will spend 5� weeks competing in the U.S., representing the Enfield Club, near London. He trains with an extraordinary group of weightmen who live in and around San Jose—pro Brian Oldfield, who is preparing for the TV Superstars competition; discus thrower John Powell, like Capes, a policeman; Feuerbach, who finished a disappointing fourth in the Sunkist; and Ron Semkiw of San Jose State. Capes' wife and two children stayed home.
The son of a Lincolnshire farmer, Capes, 26, worked on the farm until he was 19, at which point he followed his grandfather, uncle and three older brothers into police work. He walked a beat and worked out of a patrol car for a few years and now is a physical education instructor for other police officers. Normally he prefers to train in seclusion, locked away in a police gymnasium, much in the manner of George Woods, who is skipping the indoor season and will emerge from his Edwardsville, Ill. cocoon in April to compete in outdoor meets leading up to the Montreal Games. Woods probably will be the Olympic favorite, but Capes is not far behind in potential, says his coach, Stuart Storey, once an imported hurdler at Western Kentucky.
The Sunkist was a good showcase not only for Capes but for a lot of other people. The Sports Arena was packed with more than 13,000 fans—a few hundred latecomers were turned away—and if the orange-and-lemon-striped track didn't remind everyone of the sponsor's citrus products, the barrels of oranges sitting in the infield put an exclamation point on the plug. Among the broomstick limbs of the distance runners and the slender legs and muscular torsos of the pole vaulters, the bulky Capes stood out in his gray sweat shirt and dark beard, which he grew in 1970 to keep the shot from irritating his neck. He looked something like a giant Pluto among a throng of Popeyes and Olive Oyls.
Two of the biggest names in U.S. track, Frank Shorter and Marty Liquori, were on hand, and both were beaten. Shorter, running the two-mile, lost to Paul Cummings of the Beverly Hills Striders, Cummings winning easily in a creditable 8:29.6. Liquori, who is pointing toward the 5,000 in Montreal, ran the mile in Los Angeles and finished third behind Tony Waldrop and Danie Malan. Waldrop's time, 4:02, was seven seconds off his world indoor record, but it was his first major indoor victory since his phenomenal 1974 string. In the women's mile Francie Larrieu won, as expected, in 4:37.2.