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The device looks like a haversack-cum-oxygen mask designed by Rube Goldberg, and it is called the PO Aerobic Exerciser. The brainchild of Dr. Melvyn Lane Henkin, an anesthesiologist, and technical designer Jordon Laby, the PO is a high-altitude simulator, and for the past five weeks runners at the University of Oregon, including Alberto Salazar, a past NCAA and AAU cross-country champion and winner of the 1980 New York City Marathon, have been evaluating its worth in increasing cardiovascular efficiency.
Henkin and Laby patented the first model three years ago for patients undergoing rehabilitation after a heart attack, but it soon became evident that the simulator could be used by athletes. Joe Brutto, the vice-president of sales and marketing for InspirAir, the company he, Henkin and Laby have formed in Mission Hills, Calif. to market the device, says, "One of the prime points that came out of a Mexico City Olympics training symposium in 1968 was that the world-class athlete of the future would be one who could train at sea level and high altitude almost simultaneously, the altitude to build endurance, sea level to build strength. Until now this was impossible, but this unit allows an athlete to work out and train at altitude while living at sea level."
By restricting the amount of oxygen that can enter through the mask, the PO can be set to simulate any altitude up to 30,000 feet. The model Salazar is using simulates 7,500 feet, while the Army Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass. is experimenting with models set for 13,000 feet. "It's definitely helping a lot," says Salazar, who now runs 90 of his 115 miles a week with the PO. "It forces me to work a lot harder on my easy runs."
Ordinarily, Salazar's pulse rate is 125 beats a minute after an easy run, but with the PO it rises to about 150. A blood sample analyzed after his fourth week in training with the unit showed an increase in his red-blood-cell count as well as hemoglobin, both important in the transport of oxygen. "The first week or two it's hard to breathe though the mask," he says. "You really have to suck the air in, but it's building those respiratory muscles, and that's another benefit."
Sometimes Salazar goes for a four to eight mile run with the PO just before he does his interval training. "When I take it off there is an amazing difference." he says. "It feels like air is being shoved into my lungs."
During the 1960s, when tennis was a low-profile sport, its greatest player, Rod Laver, used to dispatch his opponents with his trusty wooden Dunlop Maxply. With the game's boom came big money, and Laver was one of the first players to sign a lucrative endorsement contract—but not with Dunlop. He played for five years off and on with a Chemold aluminum model, but he felt his game suffered to such a degree that he returned to his Dunlop Maxply.
Dunlop led the world racket market in Laver's era but never paid the top money, and before Laver retired most of the emerging stars had signed with rival companies. Now Dunlop is back at center court, having lured U.S. Open champion John McEnroe away from Wilson. McEnroe will be paid a reported $3 million to use a Dunlop for the next five years. That equals the reported $600,000 a year Donnay, a Belgian racket company that is now the world leader, pays Bjorn Borg to use its racket. The big loser in the escalating endorsement war thus far is Wilson. Besides losing McEnroe to Dunlop, the company recently lost Tracy Austin to Spalding and Vitas Gerulaitis to Snauwaert.