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The power of the Olympic Trials, the emotion that has made them sometimes more compelling than the Games themselves, has always resided in their final, unavoidably cruel demarcation of the nation's finest athletes from the merely superb. So harsh is that division that we must leave it to the athletes to settle it themselves, in head-to-head competition, because what panel of official selectors could make these choices with a clear conscience?
Yet the onlookers at the Olympic Track and Field Trials, which commenced a nine-day run last weekend in Eugene, Ore., were justified in wondering what sort of emotion there can be in the selection of an Olympic team that will attend no Olympics. The answer was plenty, although by determinedly insisting upon the style and language of past Trials, the officials created a logic that seemed to shimmer in and out of focus and that kept several of the country's best from competition.
The early event that produced truly Olympian occurrences was the pentathlon, fired as it was by the two best American women ever to take on the one-day, five-event test of 100-meter hurdles, shot-put, high jump, long jump and 800-meter run. One was Jodi Anderson, 22, of the Naturite Track Club of Los Angeles. Already the national record holder in the long jump (22'7�"), Anderson has been working at the pentathlon for 2� years under Coach Chuck DeBus. A junior majoring in physical education at Cal State Northridge and possessing an interest in sports medicine, Anderson took the past semester off to prepare without compromise for the Olympics and then, after the loss of the Games, to try for the American record. "She doesn't need a personal record in any event to get it," said DeBus before the start of the Trials. "She just needs to be consistent."
The record she sought has belonged since 1974 to Jane Frederick of the Pacific Coast Club, who raised it to 4,708 points a year ago in Gotzis, Austria. At 28, Frederick has been competing in the pentathlon for 15 years. Her last defeat by an American came in the 1972 Olympics. Yet it has been only in the past few years that she has come to acknowledge that her sport is foremost among her interests. A woman of many dimensions, she is an artist, gardener and seamstress and is but a dissertation away from a Ph.D. in the comparative literature of 19th century Italy. She lives in a Santa Barbara, Calif. bungalow amid four cats, ferns and Vivaldi chorales, training with perhaps the consummate coach of multievent athletes, Sam Adams. But during the last year, while her devotion increased, she became strangely brittle and unlucky. Bruised ankle bones kept her from finishing the Pan American Games pentathlon. Colds, muscle pulls and a bruised colon, suffered in a swimming accident, kept her from competition prior to the Trials this year. Her feet seem too delicate for the stresses her 5'11", 165-pound body places upon them; she must soak them in ice water after every workout.
The Monday before the Trials she mishit the board on a practice long jump and felt a twinge in her left hamstring. Adams prescribed nothing but rest until competition began last Saturday. Thus on the first morning of the Trials she was nervous, misplacing her participant's pass, not recognizing friends. "God, just let me get the hurdles out of the way," she said, "and I'll be better."
By contrast, the much smaller—5'5", 125 pounds—Anderson was bouncily confident. "Running the pentathlon hurdles is easy," she said. "The pressure is off, because I'm usually the fastest." She was that in the first heat, winning by nine yards in 13.85 seconds on the automatic timer. Frederick was in the third heat. As she warmed up, her tender hamstring "went like a rock." Frederick knew better than anyone the long odds against nursing such an infirmity through a whole pentathlon. "I wanted to compete so much," she said later, "I didn't have the courage not to start." To Frederick's surprise the leg held together through a solid, clean hurdle race, which she ran in 13.93, less than a 10th of a second slower than Anderson. However, the automatic timer had failed during the second heat. That race had to be clocked by hand, which yields times a 10th or two faster than automatic clocking. To be fair, hand clockings had to be used for the hurdlers in the other heats. Frederick had been caught in 13.8 by hand. But the real beneficiary was Anderson, who was given 13.5. "Remember, though, to break the record you have to use the automatic time," said DeBus.
They went to the shotput. DeBus had set down a list of goals for Anderson that would result in a score of 4,743 points: 13.7 in the hurdles, 43'9�" in the shot, 5'11" in the high jump, 21'11�" in the long jump and 2:08.3 in the 800. Anderson had surpassed the first, and now she got the second with a personal record of 44 feet on her first throw. Frederick, tentative and off-balance, fouled twice. Down to her last put, she nestled the shot against her neck and let her instincts take over. "I just remember waking up in the front of the ring, having thrown. Some drama, huh?" she said. The shot fell to earth 47'8�" away, giving her a 25-point lead over Anderson. Frederick stepped from the ring with eyes raised in relief.
In the high jump, Anderson worked her way up to 5'10�" with only one miss. "If she gets this, she's in very good shape for the record," said DeBus. "I told her, 'This is the last pentathlon of your life. This is for history.' That's because next year they add two events, the javelin and 200."
Frederick had scattered quite a few weak jumps in with her good ones. At 5'10�" she missed her first two tries. "I'd rather she made it," said DeBus, "to spur Jodi on." Anderson had barely missed her second try. "It's there," said DeBus. "It's there."
On her third attempt, Frederick slipped over, leaving the bar trembling but in place. Anderson was galvanized. "As soon as Jane made it, my adrenaline just flowed," she said. She cleared cleanly, to a shout of "I told you so" from DeBus. Neither athlete could go higher, so they concluded three events still 25 points apart, 2,781 for Frederick to 2,756 for Anderson. Both are fine long jumpers. Thus the contest seemed certain to go down to the 800.