SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
January 29, 1979
Always keen in indoor track, in this pre-Olympic year rivalries have grown extra hot. Last week, world-record hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster led a parade of peerless pairs
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January 29, 1979

Weekend Of The Dauntless Duos

Always keen in indoor track, in this pre-Olympic year rivalries have grown extra hot. Last week, world-record hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster led a parade of peerless pairs

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In New York the 55-meter sprint field was even more formidable. Besides Riddick and McTear, Glance and Williams were entered. Williams could not make the finals. After a first in his heat, Glance powered from behind in the finals to win in 6.17 over McTear (6.20) and Riddick (6.23) and establish himself as 1979's fastest human pro tem.

"Obviously, I am particularly happy about this race," said Glance, "because I think I've been running in the shadows of Williams, Riddick and McTear for too long. Finally, Harvey Glance has arrived. Over the long run, I would have to admit that McTear is probably the most consistent indoor sprinter in the world, but Harvey Glance is right behind him. At 40 meters McTear was the clear leader, but over the last five meters I surged, which is my style. I ran, I think, a near-perfect race." Glance relishes tough competition as much as Nehemiah and Foster. "We can't really be enemies," he said. "If Houston gets better, it gives me incentive. Without each other, we could become stagnant. With this classy a field, it will be difficult to make the Olympic team, but, write it down, Harvey Glance will be there."

The weekend put still another pair of intense competitors under tight scrutiny: Francie Larrieu and Jan Merrill. A good deal of heat has been generated in the long rivalry between the country's top women middle-distance runners. Merrill has chosen to withdraw from the glare of publicity in which Larrieu thrives, and they are not particularly friendly. Still, like the sprinters, they need one another to bring out their best competitive efforts. Merrill holds the American outdoor record for 1,500 meters at 4:02.6, Larrieu the indoor mark at 4:09.8.

Last fall Larrieu moved to Austin, Texas, following her coach, Preston Davis, and began a rigorous training regime. She had divorced her husband, the former sprinter Mark Lutz. Once again, at 26, she seemed to have rededicated herself to running. Logging 70 miles a week, she shed the 15 pounds she had put on, slimming down to an even 100 pounds.

She felt fit and confident last Saturday in New York for this year's opening duel with Merrill. It was Merrill's first important indoor meet of the season, and, as she had done the previous year at the Olympic Invitational, she doubled in the 800 and the 1,500. Norm Higgins, Merrill's coach, believes in training for the outdoor season in indoor races, and an 800-meter event, win or lose, was viewed as just another workout. "She needs the sprint work," Higgins said before the race, in which Merrill finished fifth. But her time of 2:08.8 was a second faster than her clocking for the same event the previous year, when she won. "I'm satisfied with a personal record on this track," said Merrill.

An hour and 15 minutes later, she faced a fresh Larrieu and Ireland's Mary Purcell in the 1,500. Larrieu, as is her style, took the lead with the gun, followed closely by Purcell, with Merrill fifth. With 7½ laps to go, Merrill moved into third but chose to stay some five yards behind the leaders. For a while it appeared that the 800 had taken too much out of her. Then with two laps to go she began narrowing the gap, and on the backstretch she shot past Purcell and closed in on Larrieu. She moved ahead as the gun for the final lap sounded, throwing in another bit of sprint work to win by 15 yards in 4:14.1.

"Very interesting," said Higgins. "I have never seen her run that way. Tactically, she ran more like a European, much like Tatyana Kazankina [the Russian 1,500-meter gold medalist in 1976], who likes to hang back to survey her competition." "I was trying to act out my plan and run a smart race," Merrill explained. "I have never run under 4:15 at Madison Square Garden, so this is another personal best."

Unlike the hurdlers and the sprinters, Merrill says she does not put her mind to beating a particular competitor, and the victory over Larrieu was, to her, no special cause for celebration. "I don't concern myself with one person," Merrill said. "Indoor races are so highly competitive I do better when I concentrate on the race. No two races are the same. But we're just playing a little game running around in here. The important things are the ones you learn for the outdoor season."

One who would agree with Merrill is Don Paige, a Villanova junior who has become more competitor than comrade to his former teammate, Mark Belger. Belger, who now works as a marketing economist in Lexington, Mass., travels much of the time and has had to do most of his training, it seems, in parking lots. Nevertheless, Belger, who runs for the Athletic Attic, scored an impressive double last weekend by winning the 1,000 yards at Philadelphia in 2:09.5 and the 800 meters in New York in 1:51.4. But Paige, who had run a relay leg at Philadelphia, came on Saturday night to win the 1,000 meters in New York with an American record of 2:20.3, lowering Tom Von Ruden's mark set eight years ago by .1 second.

"The 1,000 is a good race for sharpening up," said Paige, whose favorite event is the 1,500 outdoors. "I ran the relay in Philadelphia, then I ran a relay leg and the 1,000 in New York. I'm getting three races out of this weekend. That's a good workout for me. The American record tells me that I'm in better shape than I thought."

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