SI Vault
Kenny Moore
July 19, 1976
Markedly improved overall, the U.S. men's team has an excellent chance to win 16 of the 23 track and field events at Montreal
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July 19, 1976

Ready Or Not, Here They Come

Markedly improved overall, the U.S. men's team has an excellent chance to win 16 of the 23 track and field events at Montreal

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As a lens can scorch a page with sunlight, so the Olympics focus the world's good wishes into killing pressure. Experienced competitors like George Woods, twice a silver medalist in the shot, speak of the mysterious discoveries occasioned by Olympic stress: "It is amazing how you can have performed this relatively simple set of movements hundreds of thousands of times, and you get to the Olympics and it feels wrong." There is amusement in Woods' tone, a wry acceptance that perhaps explains why he is back for a third try. "In the Olympics, in this event, it's not who rises to the occasion the best, but who crumbles the least. It's the guy who stands up under the weight of it."

Woods bases his predictions for Montreal upon this hard reality. "The man who relies on raw strength, not intricate technique, will drop less in the pressure of the Games. If you're nervous, you can't fix things. The East Germans—and the Soviets' Alexander Baryshnikov [who set a world record of 72'2�" last week]—all have a lot of technique that really has to click. So does Al Feuerbach. I pick the toughest guy in any competition and concentrate on beating him. In Montreal I'll be concentrating on Geoff Capes of Great Britain. He's big [6'6", 310], strong, with leverage. In fact, he's similar to Wladyslaw Komar of Poland whom nobody expected to do much in 1972. Komar won, and the lesson is keep your eye on these big strong guys."

Woods is one of the American men who are serious contenders for gold medals in 16 of the 23 track and field events. Especially improved are those in the field; there are potential U.S. winners in the discus, pole vault, high jump and shotput, all events won by Eastern Europeans in 1972, as well as in the long jump where Arnie Robinson could well replace Randy Williams as the gold medalist. Mac Wilkins, the new world record holder in the discus (232'6") has won 16 of 17 meets this year, losing only to Wolfgang Schmidt of East Germany, who no doubt will mention that signal occasion when Wilkins steps into the ring in Montreal. Earl Bell and Dave Roberts genteelly have exchanged poles and the vault record ( Roberts has it now, at 18'8�") and excel under pressure. They'll have to, because they face the vaulting Poles, Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz and Tadeusz Slusarski, both of whom cleared 18'5�" this year.

Dwight Stones is a sound choice in the high jump, endangered as much by teammate Bill Jankunis—who beat him in the Trials with a 7'5�"—as by Sergey Senyukov of the Soviet Union (7'5") and two Canadian 7'4�" jumpers with up and down names, Greg Joy and Robert Forget.

In the decathlon, Bruce Jenner will surely join in a glorious struggle with Russia's Nikolay Avilov, with a world record certain to go to the victor. And the young American sprinters, Harvey Glance and Millard Hampton, eager and loose, may well surprise Valery Borzov, although Jamaica's Don Quarrie is another matter.

The 400-meter hurdles is an event which has seen remarkable performances in the last two Olympics—and it's due for another. Uganda's John Akii-Bua defends the title he won in Munich with a world record 47.82, but the U.S. sends a man of staggering talent. Edwin Moses, a junior at Morehouse in Atlanta, in his first serious year at the event, has become the only man in recent times to keep 13 strides between hurdles the whole way. When he reaches the second turn and everyone else changes to 14 or 15, Moses rolls on by. He has already set an American record of 48.30.

American women have chances in the sprints with Brenda Morehead and young Chandra Cheeseborough, and placid Kathy Schmidt is the co-favorite in the javelin with East Germany's Ruth Fuchs. But when it comes to the heavier implements, this country must experience a profound change in its view of what constitutes femininity before its women can become truly competitive. Faina Myelnik of the U.S.S.R. has thrown the discus a world record 231'3" this year. The American best is 185'3". Ivanka Khristova of Bulgaria has put the shot 71'9�" and will duel with East Germany's Marianne Adam (71'1�"). The American record is 56'7". Similarly, Eastern Europe's female runners have increased their margins of superiority. Tatyana Kazankina of Russia is fresh from becoming the first woman under four minutes in the 1,500 (her 3:56.0 is the equivalent of a 4:15 mile) and teammate Valentina Gerasimova has a second and a half on the world in the 800 with her 1:56.0.

In the jumps, two Americans have hopes. Kathy McMillan stands third in the world this year with her 22'3" but is capable of popping a 23-footer. East German Sigrun Siegl's new world record is 22'11�". High jumper Joni Huntley, a superb performer in major competition, has a best of 6'2�". East German Rosie Ackermann has done 6'5". That, too, is the world record.

The best American middle distance runner is Rick Wohlhuter, a precise and careful man, thorough in his Olympic planning, who will double in the 800 and the 1,500. The 800, his best event, is the shortest race in which tactics are a factor, so Wohlhuter has a book on his main challengers. "Luciano Susanj of Yugoslavia and Ivo Van Damme of Belgium both close quickly with 200 or less to go," he says. "It's plain strategy. Mike Boit of Kenya...I'm not so sure he has a strategy." Generally, the leggy, gap-toothed African sets a searing pace. "I will tend to follow that," says Wohlhuter, "but move earlier than Susanj or Van Damme, relying more on strength than speed."

Wohlhuter is also the world record holder for the kilometer (2:13.9), and, indeed, it seems his ideal distance is somewhere between 800 and 1,500 meters, perhaps three-quarters of a mile. "I thought I was running a record three-quarters in the Trials," he says, recalling that remarkable 1,500 which saw Ohio State's crazy-brave Tom Byers drive through the first half mile in 1:51.3 with Oregon's Matt Centrowitz and Wohlhuter giving chase in 1:52.8 and 1:52.9. When Byers, discovering he was not yet Filbert Bayi, began to stagger, Centrowitz took over through three quarters in 2:52.3, world record pace with only 300 meters to run. "The clock didn't make much sense to me," said Centrowitz later. "I'd never seen those numbers before." Yet Wohlhuter won in 3:36.5, solid time but more than four seconds above Bayi's world record of 3:32.2. "We didn't finish very strong," he said afterward, "but in the Olympics you give it everything you've got.

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