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Kenny Moore
September 12, 1977
The first World Cup in track and field seemed a bit tarnished at first, with a number of top athletes absent from D�sseldorf, but after three days of sterling performances, heartbreak and controversy, the meet was, as a whole, a lustrous innovation
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September 12, 1977

The Cup Turned Into A Coup

The first World Cup in track and field seemed a bit tarnished at first, with a number of top athletes absent from D�sseldorf, but after three days of sterling performances, heartbreak and controversy, the meet was, as a whole, a lustrous innovation

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At first it seemed a dilettante's track meet, an overpriced, three-day format that put some—but not all—of the world's finest performers into regional teams and strange uniforms, limited the entries in each event to eight so there would be no wearying semifinals, and called it the nearest thing to a world championship outside the Olympics.

But once competition got underway, D�sseldorf's World Cup escaped the control of its fastidious German organizers and mushroomed into sturm und drang, featuring, as it did, an angelic heroine, an enraged hero, several disasters and one world record. In its dramatic conclusion, in which East Germany wrested the men's title from the U.S. in the final lap of the final event, the meet affirmed once again the potential power and elegance of this most ancient and universal of sports; affirmed, too, that international track and field is governed less by common sense than by old men rolling logs.

The meet was missing a number of Olympic champions and world-record holders, not men who had retired or lost interest, but eager, fit athletes like the U.S.S.R.'s 18-year-old Vladimir Yashchenko, the new high-jump record holder; New Zealand's Dick Quax, who broke the 5,000-meter record in July; Samson Kimombwa of Kenya, who set the 10,000-meter record in June; and Olympic 200-meter champion Don Quarrie of Jamaica. They were sitting around in varying states of bitterness (except Quarrie, who ran a leg on a relay team), victims of the formula for determining the D�sseldorf finalists, which placed more importance on where you live than on how good you are.

The eight "teams" were the U.S., West Germany and East Germany as national teams (with the U.S.S.R. replacing West Germany in the women's competition) and Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Americas and Europe as all-star teams. Each team was permitted one athlete per event. Regions strong in certain events, like the Caribbean in the sprints and Africa in the distances, thus were forced to exclude wonderful runners. Moreover, the U.S.S.R. had earlier chosen to send Alexandr Grigoryev, and not Yashchenko, to the European team selection meet where Jacek Wszola of Poland, the Olympic champion, won the high jump.

Quax appeared to be a victim of politics. Last February, while in heavy training and far from sharp, the New Zealander lost a trial race for the Cup team to Australia's Dave Fitzsimons. When Quax later broke Emiel Puttemans' world record with 13:12.9, the selectors refused to name him in place of Fitzsimons. "It's simple," said mile record holder John Walker of New Zealand. "Two of the three selectors were Aussies, only one a New Zealander."

Track is run by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, surely the most hidebound organization in amateur sports. Its president is crusty, 75-year-old Adrian Paulen of the Netherlands, who lists among his triumphs the banning of Bob Seagren's pole in the Munich Olympics. Paulen admitted that the team concept was less than ideal. "This is a compromise," he said. "To keep eight lanes and all finals we had to combine federations." And to keep the team aspect alive the scoring system bestowed points on everyone, with nine for first, seven for second, then 6-5-4-3-2-1. Asked when a real world championship might take place, Paulen ticked off an array of events the IAAF chose not to conflict with—the European Championships, the British Commonwealth Games, the Pan American Games, the Soccer World Cup—and arrived at the conclusion that a world track and field championship was out of the question until the year 1983, adding, "But maybe I don't live that long." To which there were murmurs of encouragement from the athletes.

And yet, once a rather tepid opening ceremony of children waving flags and turning cartwheels was over, the meet began splendidly as Edwin Moses set out to deal with some mild effrontery in the 400-meter hurdles. Exhausted from three races all across the continent in one week, the U.S. Olympic champion had recently lost in Berlin to a young West German, Harald Schmid. Schmid thereupon declared himself to be the World Cup favorite. Indeed, he led early—perhaps as much as for the first six or eight feet. Then Moses calmly flew by, running a flawless race with his flawless stride, 13 steps between each hurdle, never chopping or reaching. He won by 10 meters in 47.58, second fastest ever to his world record 47.45. "Took care of that," he said and carefully walked off the track to spit. Schmid was third behind East Germany's Volker Beck.

Moses' clean, uplifting victory was matched for grace and merit by East Germany's Rosemarie Ackermann, whose winning high jump of 6'6" has been exceeded only by her recent world record of 6'6�" set in West Berlin. A lissome 5'9", Ackermann is a serene, charming woman of 25 from Cottbus. Her direct, blue eyes had no need of the eye shadow applied by the beautician the organizers had laid on in an outburst of kitsch "to remove the traces of effort" from the women competitors.

Ackermann is a straddle jumper, as opposed to the Fosbury flop style of most of her rivals, but she refused to rule one style superior. "It's what is best for the individual," she said. In D�sseldorf she narrowly missed at 6'7", but so compelling was her performance that her hotel room was awash in roses the following morning.

The single most exciting race was the one most awaited, the 800 meters between Cuba's Olympic champion and world record-holder, Alberto Juantorena, and Kenya's Mike Boit. Prevented from meeting in the Olympics by the African boycott, they finally raced in Zurich in late August, Juantorena staving off Boit's challenge at 200 meters and winning fairly easily in 1:43.64 to Boit's 1:44.64. The night before the World Cup race John Walker went for a massage with Juantorena. "He told me he'd break the world record," said Walker as he watched the half-milers go to their marks. "I think he'll do it."

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