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Joe Marshall
July 17, 1978
Soviet high jumper Vladimir Yashchenko beat Franklin Jacobs, but the U.S. team scored a rare triumph over the U.S.S.R.
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July 17, 1978

Not Quite As High, But A Bit Mightier

Soviet high jumper Vladimir Yashchenko beat Franklin Jacobs, but the U.S. team scored a rare triumph over the U.S.S.R.

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Whenever the Soviet Union dispatches a track team to this country, there is concern among fans that the Russians might stock their squad, as they have been known to do, with second stringers. But to organizers of last week's U.S.- U.S.S.R. dual meet in Berkeley, Calif. the only concern was that the Soviet coaches might for some reason leave Vladimir Ilyich Yashchenko, their 19-year-old high-jumping sensation, at home. Yashchenko holds the world indoor record of 7'8�" and the world outdoor mark of a fraction over 7'8" (2.34 meters) and he has become one of the biggest gate attractions in track and field. There was a time when even the Wright Brothers would have been happy to clear 7'8".

Yashchenko made it to Berkeley, and while he didn't make it to 7'8", few minded. In his one previous trip to the U.S. a year ago, as an unknown member of the Russian junior team competing in Richmond, he had set a world record of 7'7�" before only a handful of witnesses. By contrast, when Yashchenko strode onto the field on the second day of the two-day meet in Berkeley, a capacity crowd of 22,000 and a national TV audience were looking on. He proceeded to win the high jump, beating Fairleigh Dickinson's Franklin Jacobs on the basis of fewer misses, after both had cleared 7'5�" and failed at 7'7".

Yashchenko's win did not save the Russians, however. For only the third time in 16 dual meets between the two countries, and the first time since 1969, the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R., 190-177, in combined men's and women's scoring. The American men won handily enough, 119-102, but then they usually do; it was their 11th win in the series. What sewed up the victory was the fact that the U.S. women, who have won only once in the 16 meets, fell by just four points, 75-71. And at this meet few of the Russians could have been considered second stringers.

The American men tended to dominate the running events, the Soviet men the field events. The U.S. women excelled in the jumps and especially the sprints, in the latter thanks largely to UCLA's Evelyn Ashford, who won both the 100-and 200-meter dashes. And while the Russian women generally dominated distance races and weight events, Maren Seidler became the first American woman since 1959 to break up the Russians' one-two stranglehold on the shotput. Seidler, who at the end of last year became the only American woman to better 60 feet, finished second with a throw of 59'9�". In the 100-meter hurdles Deby LaPlante set an American record of 13.13, only to lose to the U.S.S.R.'s Tatyana Anisimova, the 1976 Olympic silver medalist (12.96), and Natalya Lebedyeva, the Montreal bronze medalist (12.98).

The crowd at the University of California's Edwards Stadium greeted each American victory with a thunderous ovation, and many of the winners responded with jubilant victory laps. Yet despite the clear temptation to celebrate the American showing as a harbinger of things to come in 1980, the truth is that last weekend's meet produced not a single performance by either side that might reasonably be expected to earn a gold medal in Moscow.

Take the men's 5,000-meter run. Marty Liquori and Matt Centrowitz sprinted away from the Soviets with a lap to go and finished one-two, with the identical time of 13:53.4, a whopping 45 seconds off Henry Rono's world record. Still, Liquori and runner-up Centrowitz took a victory lap to a standing ovation. "In Europe we probably would have been booed for the slow pace," said Liquori, who had run a 13:16.2, 1.1 off his American record, at Stockholm three days earlier.

But there was excitement just the same, a case in point being the men's 400-meter relay, Friday's final event. Going into that five-point, winner-take-all race, the U.S. trailed the U.S.S.R. 88-85. There was particular drama for the crowd because for the Americans the second leg was being run by former Cal standout Eddie Hart, a hometown favorite and one of the U.S. Olympians who didn't get to compete in the 100 at Munich because they were misinformed about the starting times of their quarterfinal heats. Hart retired after that fiasco and now, nearly six years later, was making a comeback. And running anchor for the Russians was Valery Borzov, who won the 100-and 200-meter dashes in '72.

The Americans got themselves into a hole in the relay with an Alphonse-and-Gaston baton-passing routine. First, lead-off man Don Coleman made a poor pass to Hart. Then Hart ran a leg that, as he said afterward, pleased him greatly. It also, apparently, impressed Clancy Edwards, the year's sprint sensation, who was to receive the baton from Hart. Edwards got so caught up watching Hart that he neglected to start running, and Hart ran past him. By the time Edwards got in gear and took the baton, he was 10 meters behind. He made up half of that before passing to Steve Riddick, who had earlier upset him to win the 100-meter dash by .02 of a second in 10.37. Riddick made up the remaining five meters, blowing by Borzov and raising his arms in victory as he broke the tape in a meet record 39.14. "I got my stuff going before Borzov got his going." said Riddick. "There was nothing he could do about it. The fact that it was Borzov don't mean nothing."

For Riddick, later named the meet's outstanding American male, it was a welcome return to the limelight. In the 1977 indoor season he won 15 of 16 races, but little has been heard from him lately. At the AAU meet in Los Angeles this June he finished fourth in the 100 meters and qualified for the U.S. team that faced the Russians last weekend only because two of the three finishers ahead of him were not Americans. "This is the last race on TV in the States and I really came to run here," said Riddick. "I can't run every weekend like younger guys. I'm going to be 27 soon. I try to preserve myself. I have to be careful about aging. I really want to run in the Olympics in the U.S., in Los Angeles in 1984." Here was a fellow looking forward not just to Moscow, but right past it.

If Berkeley didn't produce Olympic-caliber clockings, it did showcase a couple of individual matchups one might anticipate at Moscow. On Friday there was the triple jump with America's James Butts, the silver medalist in Montreal, going against Anatoly Piskulin, who was ranked second in the world last year.

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