One of our Olympians, Shotputter Al Feuerbach, sat in the press box last Saturday afternoon and watched a cold rain falling on the 4,570 entrants in the Drake Relays at Des Moines. "If I wasn't such a dummy," he said, "I'd be out there freezing and getting soaked with the rest of those dummies." The former world-record holder shifted his heavily muscled legs and winced. Earlier in the week, while fooling around in an impromptu 50-yard dash, he had pulled both his hamstrings. "I guess it's like the old joke about shotputters," he said. "A guy says, 'I heard you shotputters were big and dumb. But you don't look so big.' " But April is turning into May of an Olympic year, and there are few world-class athletes who can find any humor in even a suspicion of an injury.
There were three big relay meets last week, and when they were over, the hale had turned in some hearty performances. Mac Wilkins set a world record in the discus and Canada's Debbie Brill upset American record holder Joni Huntley in the women's high jump (6'2�") at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif.; Marty Liquori ran the 5,000 in 13:33.6—fast enough to convince himself that what everyone had been telling him is correct; and the University of Tennessee 800 relay team tied the world record (1:21.5) at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia; and even on the sodden field Feuerbach was viewing, competitors like Decathlete Bruce Jenner, Sprinter Harvey Glance and Distance Runner Francie Larrieu had excelled. Still, it was obvious that our Olympic hopefuls are at a stage where they are competing against the clock and the tape measure and will be worrying about winning later.
Four years ago Ralph Mann finished second in the 400 intermediate hurdles at Munich. He had run a 48.51. At Des Moines he ran just strongly enough to beat Nolan Cromwell by a head. Mann's time was 50.1. "At this point if I had to go one-tenth of a second faster to win I wouldn't have," Mann said. "In April of an Olympic year you aren't looking to set records. Or to tear up muscles."
Adding emphasis to Mann's statement was the fact that the field for the Drake Relays had lost some of its glamour because of injuries and fear of injuries. Among the scratches were Frank Shorter (5,000, ankle), Mark Winzenried (800, ankle) and, of course, Feuerbach. Also missing was 400 hurdles favorite Jim Bolding (a death in the family).
Shotputter George Woods, twice an Olympic silver medalist, agreed with Mann. It was Woods' first competition since February of 1975. He arrived in Des Moines late Saturday morning, finished a sopping second with a toss of 63'4�" and was on a plane back to St. Louis that evening. "With Feuerbach dry in the press box and me cold and wet on the field, I wasn't quite as psyched as if it had been Montreal," Woods said dryly.
Earlier in the week, before the rain, Jenner scored 8,250 points to win the decathlon. That is 274 points under his world record. "Two days from now that Russian ['72 gold medalist Nikolai Avilov] will know what I did here," Jenner said. "The point total won't get him excited. That's the way I like my competition...unexcited."
Mann and his wife Jackie arrived at Des Moines two days before his race. He and Feuerbach had been named to the Drake Relays Hall of Fame, and Mann had been designated as grand marshal for Saturday's parade.
"I was second choice for marshal," Mann said. "Rumors I hear say they went after Rin Tin Tin first. Two years ago they had Ronald Reagan. I guess they want a dog every other year."
Last week the 26-year-old Olympic veteran finished his dissertation in biomechanics at Washington State. Next month he'll receive his doctorate. Between the dissertation and training, he found himself crisscrossing the country for job interviews. Sleep had become a luxury. "Right now I've only got two worries," he said. "One is falling asleep during the race. The other is making sure the rain doesn't fall on my parade."
With Bolding out of the race, Mann's only competition was Cromwell, a wishbone quarterback for the University of Kansas who only lately discovered that he can run over hurdles as well as people. Cromwell should be used to late discoveries. Two seasons ago he was a defensive back. Then Bud Moore arrived from Alabama as the new head football coach and began searching for a big, strong-running wishbone quarterback. Exit 195-pound Cromwell from the defense. About the same time, after a brief fling in the 440 dash, he discovered the intermediate hurdles.