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Still, the flap over U.S. relay team selections seemed to support the suspicion that if the organizers—meaning the coaches, officials and especially the International Amateur Athletic Federation barons who thought this meet up in the first place—could organize as well as the athletes could run or throw or jump, the World Cups wouldn't leave the bittersweet taste that they do. The ideal to which they aspire, a perfect track meet with no preliminaries, just the eight best athletes in each event, is commendable, but the selection process, with composite teams picked to represent five continents, plus national teams from the U.S. and the two strongest countries in Europe (East Germany and the U.S.S.R. this year), means that while the one or two best athletes in each event are sure to qualify, strong regions must leave wonderful athletes behind, and weak ones are allowed some of dubious distinction. Counting absences because of injury (Alberto Juantorena), fatigue (Sebastian Coe), dumb team selection (Brendan Foster, Rod Dixon) or more important things to do (John Walker, home attending the birth of his child), last week's meet at times seemed a very pale Olympics indeed.
"You could stage a meet with better athletes," conceded Adriaan Paulen, the autocratic and aged IAAF president, "but what we want is to get the athletes from all regions involved and improving their performances." The IAAF does plan a true world championship in 1983, with high standards in force, then another along about 1987—evidence that a generation of officials can outlive five generations of athletes.
As expected, some Olympic hopes leaped in Montreal and none died. Mike Tully defended the pole-vault title he won in 1977 at World Cup I in Düsseldorf with a jump of 17'10½", and Franklin Jacobs, after an erratic year, triumphed in the high jump at 7'5¼", saying, "I purposely didn't apply myself during the 1979 season. I wanted to go back to being the underdog. People expect too much when you're the favorite. I can handle it, but I work harder as the underdog." This seems to portend a peculiar, cyclical career for Jacobs, endlessly shifting between favored and forgotten.
Strange indeed were the men's middle distances. Pan-Am champion James Robinson, who never in his life has set the pace in a major race, led in the 800. Steve Scott, who can usually be depended upon to set the pace, refused to in the 1,500. Consequently, both races went haywire. Robinson didn't react quickly enough when half the field swept by with 250 meters to go, and so missed catching Kenya's James Maina, who won in a slow 1:47.7. Without Scott's guidance, the 1,500 field drifted through its second lap in 69 seconds, an eerie pause in an otherwise unremarkable race. West Germany's Dr. Thomas Wessinghage won in 3:46.0. Scott was fourth, eight-tenths back. "It's been too long a season," he said, truly weary.
Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter never seems to tire. Nor has the world figured out how to blunt his kick. Craig Virgin of the St. Louis Track Club threw a hard, steady pace at him through air as thick as seaweed in the 10,000 Friday night, and Yifter responded by cutting through the final 200 meters in 25.6 seconds, leaving the overwhelmed Virgin 40 meters back. In the 5,000, runners who should have known better—especially Russia's Valeri Abramov, whom Yifter outkicked in last month's Spartakiade—rolled over for the Ethiopian, never trying a breakaway, and Yifter happily bolted the last 300 in 39.3 to win again.
The two most elegant field-event victors could look back on dismal Olympic memories. In 1976 Larry Myricks broke his right ankle in the same stadium while warming up for the Olympic long-jump final. With one jump to go in World Cup II, Myricks lay third behind Lutz Dombrowski of East Germany and David Giralt of Cuba. Later, Myricks recalled, "I thought, 'Well, this would be a fine place for a good jump.' " He put most of his 9.3 speed to use on the runway and hit dangerously, wonderfully, close to the end of the takeoff board, soaring far out and to the right, doing a 2½-step hitch kick before striking the sand.
All the judges crouched around the board peering at the strip of Plasticene that would have shown a toe print had he fouled. At last, the white flag went up and the second-longest jump in history was official, 27'11½". Myricks was overjoyed but did not fall into a swoon as Bob Beamon had when he jumped his 29'2½" in 1968, when Myricks was 12.
"That jump of Beamon's was the most outstanding thing that ever happened in track," said Myricks. "It shows that you can't limit yourself, so in a way I wasn't surprised with my distance. I honestly believe Beamon's record can be broken. Beamon hit it just right. So somebody else can hit it just right."
The gift of a special day, of hitting it right over and over, belonged to Canada's splendid high-jumper Debbie Brill, who had no-heighted in the 1976 Olympics. Although only 26, she has had a 10-year career in international competition, a career of many changes, swinging from being obsessed with winning to almost complete rejection of the worth of competition. "Now I jump because there is nothing in my life right now that is as challenging as this," she said Sunday. "That constant challenge is to be better than I am, not only in jumping but in everything. The winning of an event is important only if you can use it to add a part to yourself."
With the bar at 6'4¼", only Brill and Italy's world-record holder Sara Simeoni were left in the competition. Brill cleared it by at least two inches, feeling as good as she has in her life. "I was the best prepared I have ever been," she said. "In the Olympics I was over-emotional. The high jump is a control event. You don't do it better by trying harder. Here I was in control."