"This is only my second season as a hurdler," Cromwell said before Friday's race. "I don't know if I'm in the same class with Mann." He laughed. "Still, I'll take Montreal if it comes."
At the moment, his schedule seems self-defeating. Each afternoon the 6'2" strongboy spends an hour in spring football drills. He then works another hour and a half at track—as well as hurdling he also runs the leadoff leg for the Kansas mile-relay team.
In the last few weeks Cromwell had won the hurdles at both the Texas and Kansas Relays, but, as he pointed out, Mann hadn't been there.
When they met at Des Moines on Friday, Mann was away strongly. But at the 200-meter mark Cromwell made his move and took a surprising lead. "He's an animal," Mann said later. "I was jogging along in the fourth lane, making faces at him, hoping he'd take it easy. He just growled at me and burned. But I knew if I could just get over that last hurdle I could catch him."
They both cleared the final hurdle cleanly, with Cromwell coming down a step in front. With 10 meters to go, Mann drew even, then pulled ahead to win. He tried to congratulate Cromwell for having run a fine race. "He's...he's nasty," Mann said, laughing. "I kept saying nice things and he kept snarling, so I followed him around telling him how good he looked. Boy, is he intense. His head will be burned out before we get to the trials if he doesn't learn when to relax. But he's the best young prospect I've seen in six years."
The other major race on Friday was the invitational 800, matching Rick Wohlhuter, the world-record holder in the 880, Mike Boit and Mark Enyeart, last season's half-mile newcomer sensation. A week previous Wohlhuter and Boit had run in a 1,500 at the Kansas Relays, with Wohlhuter winning, but Wohlhuter wasn't letting himself be lulled by that victory. During their careers he and Boit had met 13 times at two-lap distances and Boit held the edge 7-6. Said Wohlhuter, undefeated this year, "Mike had to run a couple of races before that 1,500 in Kansas. He's tough, and that defeat won't bother him."
A senior at Eastern New Mexico, Boit won the bronze medal in the 800 at Munich. He promised a fast 800 for the Drake. "I like to run like Bayi," said the 27-year-old Kenyan, "I like to run fast and in front. Otherwise it's easy to get boxed in. If you do, the faster people escape and then it is too late."
True to his word, Boit jumped to the lead, took the field through a slower than expected quarter, and then waited for Wohlhuter to make his move. The slim Chicago insurance salesman came at the Kenyan going into the last turn.
"I saw him coming," Boit said, "but I knew he wouldn't try to pass me on the turn. I waited until the straightaway and then kicked before he did." Boit finished in 1:46.2, Wohlhuter in 1:46.6 and Enyeart, never a factor, was ninth.
"I let the first quarter go too slowly," said the disappointed Wohlhuter. "But maybe this will help. I guess I won't see him again before Montreal. When I do, I'll remember this race."