phenomena that we are not meant to describe," said Steve Williams the day
before the Jamaica Invitational Track and Field Meet. Williams was speaking of
the compressed emotion of sprinting, the mysterious uncertainties of
adrenaline. But last Friday evening, as traffic jammed all roads for a mile
around Kingston's National Stadium and the tropic air became thick with
expectation, his words encompassed the wondrous influence a passionate Jamaican
crowd—35,000 strong—can have on runners. Two years ago on the stadium's Chevron
track, Filbert Bayi broke the world record for the mile in Kingston, almost
without intending to. Although there were no world records this time, there
were four emotion-lifted races, climaxed by a magnificent 200 meters between
Williams and Jamaica's Olympic champion, Don Quarrie.
But for a pair of
notable absences, the meet was first-rate. The most worrisome of the
nonappearances was that of the 1972 Olympic intermediate-hurdles gold medal
winner, John Akii-Bua of Uganda, whose presence would have reassured the world
that he has not been swept away in Idi Amin's purge of Akii-Bua's Lango tribe.
Ominously, Akii-Bua sent no word at all.
Such was not the
case with the absent Alberto Juantorena. Kenya's Mike Boit arrived in Jamaica
fresh from running the year's fastest 800 meters, a 1:45.87 on a cold, rainy
night in Eugene, Ore., to discover that the Cuban Olympic champion had
withdrawn. Teammates said he had economics exams. Other spokesmen said he had
aggravated an old injury. Finally, a coach admitted Juantorena simply wasn't in
condition to contend with Boit.
principals in-the 800 took the world-record holder's absence with mixed
feelings. "If he's pretty sure he'll lose, what has he to gain?" said
Bucknell's Tom McLean. "Besides, it's still a tough field, with Boit and
Mark Belger and James Robinson." Belger, a Villa-nova junior, is a direct,
outspoken young man. "It ticks me off," he said. "I expected Mike
and Juantorena to have a dynamite race and I wanted to be part of it."
Belger then dilated on how the event would develop in Juantorena's absence.
"Boit will take it out and hit around 51 seconds for the 400. No faster
than 50 flat. Watch McLean. He runs the same as Boit, not a big kick but a good
hard drive over that last 300. If you run 51 for the first 400 no one has a
kick. It's just a sustained drive. Me? I'm just in it to break 1:46."
For his part, Boit
revealed something of the delicacy of 800-meter pacing. "I have to hear the
time for 200 meters," he said. "If it is 23 seconds, I must quit, for I
am already ruined; 24 and I must float and relax; 25 is perfect; 26 and I must
go harder. Hearing only the 400 split is too late for an adjustment."
To avoid the added
strain of leading the entire race, Boit persuaded Seymour Newman of Jamaica to
set the pace. A friend of Boit's stationed himself at the 200-meter mark to
shout the crucial split. Running easily behind Newman and the fired-up Belger,
the Kenyan heard "25.1." "That was fine," Boit said later. But
Newman gradually slowed. The 400 split was 52.4 for Boit, then in second.
Newman eased further on the third turn, and by the time they reached the
back-stretch the world record was out of reach. Boit launched his drive and
pulled four yards ahead, but Belger quickly got around Newman and pulled up on
the lean, flowing Kenyan.
Around the last
turn it appeared that the powerfully muscled Belger would run at Boit. Then,
just before the stretch, he abruptly stepped off the track. "My right
hamstring cramped on me before the race," he said later. "The trainer
said it would be O.K., but with 120 yards to go I was out of it. Everybody was
kicking and I couldn't do anything. So I bailed out." McLean rushed through
the gap and held off Newman for second. Boit's winning time was 1:44.7, 1.2
seconds slower than Juantorena's world record. "I could have gone
faster," he said. McLean ran a lifetime best of 1:45.2, Newman 1:45.3 and
James Robinson of Berkeley, who had been fastest of all in the stretch, 1:45.9.
McLean had the good fortune to cramp after the race was over. Rubbing ice on
his left hamstring, he said, "I'm in shock. I've been doing stamina work,
laying the foundation for a long season. I've done no real speed work at
Ed Moses has. The
Olympic 400 hurdles champion had run the 110 highs only twice this season, but
blandly predicted that he'd have a shot at winning the event in Kingston.
Because Olympic silver and bronze medalists Alejandro Casanas of Cuba and
Willie Davenport of Baton Rouge were in the field, such talk seemed
inflammatory, no matter how it was said. Yet Davenport, for one, reacted
cautiously. "Never underestimate anybody," he said. After Moses had
blown by everyone over the last hurdle and won in 13.5, his best ever,
Davenport added, "especially Ed Moses."
Back on the track
55 minutes later, Moses won the intermediates in 48.64, a second slower than
his world record. Quentin Wheeler and Wes Williams ran smoothly to times of
49.34 and 49.44, but the race needed Akii-Bua. "The last time I saw him was
just before he had to leave Montreal because of the African boycott," said
Moses. "He left saying, 'Since I won't be here, you better win it.' I told
him I was planning on it."
In the 1,500, Bayi
returned to a favorite track and to weather similar to that of his native
Tanzania. But as he has done so often, the world-record holder took his marks a
tired man. He had suffered a three-week siege of malaria following the indoor
season and arrived in Jamaica at the end of an exhausting 20-hour trip from
Italy. After checking in, he and Tanzanian teammate Suleiman Nyambui wandered
down to their hotel's poolside buffet. They sleepily filled their plates while
behind them spectacular limbo dancers, some topless, all astonishingly strong
and lithe, squirmed beneath flaming poles. Finally Nyambui noticed the
entertainers. He and Bayi turned from the lobster and stared—wide-eyed
innocents out of Africa.