SI Vault
Kenny Moore
August 16, 1976
There's many a slip for one known for lip, as Dwight Stones learned in Montreal's rain, but four days later he was the toast of the town with a world record in Philly
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August 16, 1976

He Takes His Very Dry, If You Please

There's many a slip for one known for lip, as Dwight Stones learned in Montreal's rain, but four days later he was the toast of the town with a world record in Philly

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Dwight Stones stood on the crisp green AstroTurf crown of Philadelphia's Franklin Field, his eyes tracing the approach he would take to the high-jump bar. He was appearing in last Wednesday's Bicentennial Meet of Champions, which gave him and some of the other Olympians who failed in Montreal an opportunity to redeem themselves, and several Americans who did not make the team because of injury a chance to show their prowess. Stones looked down and began to rock, and the crowd grew still, save for the gravelly shouts of soft-drink vendors. Abruptly Stones ran at the pit, curling to the left on his last two steps, and jumped. He touched the bar lightly, but as he crumpled onto the landing cushion he knew that it had held, that he had raised his own world record to 7'7�". He came to his feet on the bouncy foam, seeming to quiver along with the gently dancing bar—and regarded it for an instant with rigid exasperation.

Moments later Stones was speaking rapidly, as is his manner, saying he was overjoyed to jump so well only four days after settling for the bronze medal in the rain at Montreal, that the Franklin Field jumping area with its slightly downhill approach and firm footing was ideal for him, that he wanted to thank everyone who had cheered him on after his Olympic misfortune. Yet the memory of the look in his eyes—clearly one of agony—lingered after the torrent of Stones' words had passed.

Understand this. Dwight Stones lost in Montreal only because of the rain; technique, not emotion, had tripped him up. Stones has jumped higher than any other human not because his legs are the springiest but because he has developed the ability to transform forward speed into upward motion better than anyone else. Where another jumper will approach the bar slowly and leap up, his thrusting foot acting merely as a launch pad, Stones charges the bar, turning his jumping foot into a pivot that must take great lateral stress without slipping. "My style just won't hold in the rain," he said. "I go too fast and have too much torque." So if Stones proved anything with his world record in Philadelphia—the site of his 7'7" in June—it was something about the capricious nature of Olympic success. "I could have done this last Saturday," he said. Having done it on Wednesday instead seemed only to intensify the sense of injustice.

"There is no justice in sport," said Dick Quax of New Zealand, who had run second behind Lasse Viren in the Olympic 5,000 meters. Weakened then by stomach flu, Quax was healthy for the Philadelphia two-mile, while Viren had to be tired; he had won the 5- and 10,000 and finished fifth in the Olympic marathon all in a span of less than a week. Yet the Finn insisted he was ready. "My legs are fine," he said. "I just ran out of energy in the marathon." Quax was disbelieving. "If I don't beat him tonight, I'll shoot myself."

After Phil Kane of Villanova took the field through three laps, Quax went to the fore and hit the mile in 4:08.5, six laps in 6:15.6. By then just two men were with him, Viren and Duncan Macdonald, the Honolulu medical student who had not made the Olympic 5,000 final. Feeling the pace ease, Macdonald went ahead, only to be passed by Viren with 600 meters to go. As in Montreal the Finn was in front going into the last lap, resisting the best efforts of the fast finishers. But this time Quax had too much, bursting past down the backstretch and sprinting home in 8:17.1, 3.3 seconds off the world record. Macdonald passed Viren with a furlong remaining to take second in 8:19.9, a remarkable 28-second improvement over his previous best. "Is that a good two-mile?" asked the relatively inexperienced Macdonald. Told that it was only 2.7 seconds away from Marty Liquori's American record, his eyes widened. "If I had known I was that close, I'd have kicked a little harder."

Quax is a man experienced in adversity. He is running well after surgery cured painful shin splints that plagued him for years. "You can't ever compensate for a disappointing Olympic performance," he said. "As the years pass, the silver medal will probably be cause for some satisfaction, but beating Viren tonight, after all he's been through, certainly doesn't change much." Viren offered no public excuses, but a delay—after the runners were at the starting line—probably did Viren in. "I was warm and ready," he said. "But then we had to stand and chill."

Steve Williams and Houston McTear could have used a delay of another month or so. In the 100 meters—won in 10.24 by Steve Riddick, who had failed to make the Olympic final—Williams and McTear showed that, had U.S. coaches entered them at Montreal, they would not have been factors. McTear aggravated a thigh injury incurred in the Trials on the second of two false starts and withdrew. Williams started effectively, but at 20 meters felt "a little pop" high in his right hamstring muscle. "It wasn't a pull, so I continued," he said, but he did so in an awkward, leaning fashion to finish fourth. "I ain't going to die, I've had my death for the year," said Williams later.

Until now Williams has been inspiring in his acceptance of misfortune, but with this latest frustration he said. "I think I could have played on the beach and only practiced my starts and won the Games in 10.0 and 20.1. Instead, I moved to Florida for coaching and worked hard, trying for a 9.8 and 19.6 kind of human excellence. I'll never make that sacrifice for athletics again."

The Philadelphia meet had been assembled around a "Dream Mile" featuring world record holder (3:49.4) and Olympic 1,500-meter champion John Walker. But the New Zealander's thoughts on a late-morning run were anything but dreamy. "I wasn't allowed to change out of my wet things for hours after the Olympic final, and I caught some sort of flu," he said. "I've been living on antibiotics for three days and haven't trained at all." After just three miles, Walker asked a companion running with him if they might walk.

"If I was your coach," said the friend, "you would not be racing."

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