SI Vault
 
Philly is Dwight's delight
Joe Marshall
January 31, 1977
It seems that every time Dwight Stones travels to the Bicentennial City he manages to leap into instant history
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 31, 1977

Philly Is Dwight's Delight

It seems that every time Dwight Stones travels to the Bicentennial City he manages to leap into instant history

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

It remained for Dwight Stones, the outdoor and indoor world-record holder in both the high jump and use of the first person singular, to supply last Friday's Philadelphia Track Classic with a measure of excitement. Almost an hour after the other events had concluded without a U.S. record, let alone a world record, there stood Stones all by himself on the floor of the Spectrum, riveting the remnants of the crowd of 10,123 to their seats. Earlier in the evening he had dispatched the rest of the competition with a leap of 7'4�", a meet record. Then he had bettered that with the highest indoor jump of the current season, 7'5�". And now he had asked for the bar to be set at 7'7" in an attempt to break his own world indoor record of 7'6�".

Votes for Outstanding Performer of the meet had already been tabulated and Stones was the runaway winner. "Performer" is a particularly apt word. Stones is a showman, and he was strutting and fretting in splendid isolation on his stage. "I'm good copy," Stones said, as if stating a well-known fact. A moment before attempting the world-record height he turned to speak to fellow jumper Bill Jankunis. Jankunis eagerly leaned forward, expecting some pearl of wisdom from his specialty's top artist. "Do you know the guy from the L.A. Times?" Stones asked. "That's him over there."

Stones was orchestrating the action now. In fact, his jump of 7'5�" wasn't exactly that height but 227 centimeters, fractionally higher. Dwight had asked that the bar be put at the metric height because it was one centimeter more than the highest indoor jump of the season, 226 centimeters by Alexander Grigoryev of the Soviet Union. That was news even to track nuts, but it was instantly accepted as gospel because Stones, the nuttiest track nut of all, said it was so. Unfortunately, meet officials said they couldn't comply with Stones' wish because they didn't have a metric tape. No problem, said Stones, delving into his equipment bag, he would lend them his.

Thus did Dwight Stones bring excitement to Philadelphia, a city that is rapidly becoming his favorite. He had pointed out earlier that last summer he set two outdoor world records in the City of Brotherly Love. He jumped 7'7" at the NCAA meet in June and then broke the record with a leap of 7'7�" in the Bicentennial Meet one week after his disappointing bronze-medal performance in the rain at Montreal.

"Do you realize," he stated in another curious aside for a man about to attempt a world record, "if I clear this, all the 7'7" jumps in history will have been made in Philadelphia?" Alas, it was not to be. Stones failed to clear the bar in three tries, but still got appreciative applause for the single superior performance of a not-so-classic Classic.

Before Stones' heroics, the best bet for a world record had seemed to lie in the 1,000-meter duel between America's two top women milers, Francie Larrieu Lutz and Jan Merrill. "I think a world record could be set tonight," said Lutz before the meet, "because the old record [2:40.2] is slow. I know because I hold it." Lutz also holds the indoor mark in the 1,500, the mile, the 3,000 and the two-mile. From 1969 until last year, in fact, she pretty much had these distances all to herself in this country. Then along came Merrill. The first time they ran head to head was in Madison Square Garden in the 1976 Millrose Games. " Julie Brown and I were duking it out." remembers Francie. "Then, with about 2� laps to go, Jan ran right by both of us. At the time I just said 'What the heck,' and let her go. But the next night I hated myself for it. I've been around so long that when I lose people say, 'Well, Francie's over the hill,' even though I'm just 24."

Lutz began to point for her races against Merrill. They met indoors twice more last season and Francie won both times by pacing herself and kicking on the last lap. "Jan is the only person I run tactical against." Lutz says. "I'll do anything to beat her. Against others I only do what I have to do to run a fast race."

Outdoors Merrill has fared better. While Cyndy Poor surprised both of them in the Olympic Trials, Merrill finished second, well ahead of Lutz, who was third, and went on to perform far better than Francie in the Games. Lutz was eliminated in the semifinals, in which Jan set an American record of 4:02.6 and made it to the finals.

Montreal only deepened the rift between them. Lutz is an outgoing, bubbly type; Merrill is withdrawn and greatly protected by her coach, Norm Higgins. Merrill and Lutz lived together in the Olympic Village with Poor, but as Lutz says, "Jan wouldn't acknowledge our presence."

On the track circuit Merrill is considered a recluse. Higgins accompanies her on all trips, screening her from distractions such as interviews. She remains distant from her fellow athletes, who wonder aloud if she enjoys herself. "It's their weakness when others say she doesn't have fun," says Higgins. "It's the same with Nadia Comaneci. She said in an interview if the others didn't concentrate so much on smiling maybe they could concentrate more on their performances."

Continue Story
1 2