SI Vault
High, wide and handsome
Joe Marshall
March 10, 1980
Earl Bell (vertical) and Larry Myricks (horizontal) measured up in the Garden
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March 10, 1980

High, Wide And Handsome

Earl Bell (vertical) and Larry Myricks (horizontal) measured up in the Garden

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Last Friday night in Madison Square Garden the officials for the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships had presented Earl Bell with a dilemma. Bell had just won the pole vault by sailing over a bar he thought was positioned at 18'1", the same height as Dan Ripley's 1979 meet record. That had been the only time all night that Bell had cleared the bar. He hadn't bothered with any practice jumps, had missed twice at his opening height of 17'8�" and had decided to forgo his third attempt at that height to take a single whack at 18'1". But in remeasuring to certify Bell's tying of the meet record, the officials discovered that the bar was not at 18'1" but at 18'2�"—the highest first clearance ever and, of course, a meet record. "Well, what d'ya know," said Bell.

Thus arose Bell's dilemma. The very officials who had measured the bar at two different heights just moments before were now asking him how high he wanted the bar set for his next attempt. Bell decided to try to break the indoor world of 18'6" set by Konstantin Volkov of the U.S.S.R. last month. In the pole vault, world records usually progress in fractions of an inch, so Bell wanted the bar set at 18'6�". But dare he request such a precise measurement from officials who had managed to be 1�" off on his last vault?

Perhaps he should simply have the bar moved to 18'5" in the hope that it would remeasure out at better than 18'6". But then again the officials might go the other way, and he could end up with a surprise in reverse. After all, just the previous weekend in San Francisco, Bell had been given an ovation when he apparently had become the first man to vault 18 feet in the Cow Palace. But a remeasurement of the height came out at 17'10�". To play it safe, therefore, perhaps Bell should now ask that the bar be raised to 19 feet; that way he would have such a wide margin for error that the bar certainly would still be above 18'6" even after the officials had at it.

This dilemma proving hopelessly unsolvable, Bell simply asked for 18'6�", crossed his fingers and readied himself for three tries at a world record.

Bell's vaulting brought a brief spark of life to a lackluster meet that had been billed as " America's Epic Athletics Event." That's not athletic, mind you, but athletics, as in the Athletics Congress, the newly formed body that has taken over the management of track and field in America from the AAU, as well as the running of these annual indoor competitions, which used to be known as the AAU indoor championships. But as has so frequently been the case in the past, the most epic thing about this year's meet was the list of no-shows. This time around, the roll of the missing included hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster, milers Steve Scott and Don Paige, high-jumper Joni Huntley and middle-distance runners Mary Decker, Francie Larrieu and Jan Merrill.

While the field may have been missing many stars, there were some noteworthy performances. Rod Milburn, 29, capped his comeback season from pro exile by winning the 60-yard hurdles; Texas A&M football star Curtis Dickey took the 60-yard dash in a blazing 6.09; Eamonn Coghlan won the three-mile in 13:02.8, nearly five seconds faster than Tracy Smith's 1973 meet and U.S. record; and a Philadelphia Pioneer Club sprint medley relay team turned a blistering world-record 2:01, highlighted by Herman Frazier's unofficial 20.9 220-yard third leg. Before the competition began, a representative of the Athletics Congress had, at the request of the athletes, phoned the White House to invite President Carter to attend the meet and discuss the Olympic boycott. The President was another no-show, so in lieu of a direct encounter, the competitors drew up a petition, just as they had at the earlier meets this season. Only instead of supporting the boycott, their petition opposed it. And many American athletes signed it.

Perhaps Evelyn Ashford best summed up the athletes' growing frustration while also explaining their generally flat performances since the boycott was proposed on Jan. 20. "All the talk of the boycott has really taken a lot out of me," she said after winning the women's 60-yard dash in 6.76 seconds. "I've been pretty depressed. It's been difficult. Realistically, I know we probably won't go to Moscow. I'm still hoping—I have to hold on to that hope. But it has affected me. I don't have a goal anymore. I don't know what to do now. I've tried to set new goals, but the Olympic Games were going to be everything."

Another competitor who had been focusing all his energy toward Moscow was long-jumper Larry Myricks—and with good reason. Myricks made the U.S. Olympic team in 1976 but broke an ankle in Montreal while warming up. He has been waiting for a second chance ever since, and after winning last year's World Cup at 27'11�", the second-longest jump in history to Bob Beamon's 29'2�", it appeared that he would go to Moscow as the favorite for the gold medal. But as if the boycott weren't frustrating enough, Myricks discovered last week that he couldn't even get a moment in the spotlight at his own national indoor championship.

Myricks was one of the star attractions at the Garden. One could easily argue that he has been the top American male on the indoor circuit this year. In January at a meet in Johnson City, Tenn., he broke Beamon's 12-year-old indoor world mark of 27'2�" by three inches. Two weeks ago in San Diego he increased the record to 27'6". But last Friday, the long jump was scheduled at 3 p.m., when almost no one but other athletes could be in attendance.

Among the multitude that didn't get to see Myricks jump were his parents, who had flown in from Jackson, Miss. After calling the Garden and being assured that no finals would take place before 7 p.m., they spent part of the day with relatives in New Jersey. Still, they headed for the meet early. Fighting traffic and ticket lines, they finally entered the arena about 5 p.m., moments after their son had won his second straight indoor title with a 26'11�" leap.

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