In Oklahoma when, as the song has it, "the winds come sweepin' down the plain," the track team at Oklahoma Christian College, a small NAIA school on the northern edge of Oklahoma City, takes a beating. According to the National Weather Service, Oklahoma City is the windiest city in the U.S. during March and April, when the outdoor track season is on, with velocities averaging 14.9 mph. And because the OCC campus is on the highest elevation in Oklahoma County, and the track is built on an incline above the campus, and its second curve faces the southwest—whence the winds normally come—it can be semiscientifically deduced that the second curve at the OCC track is just about the windiest corner in the U.S. in early spring.
When I attended OCC, I saw a 114-pound two-miler named Larry Zawicki get blown off the track. Rumors abounded about sprinters being blown into wrong lanes and warmup suits disappearing over the fence. Jeff Bennett, a two-time All-America pole vaulter at OCC and a decathlete in the '72 Olympics, made one of the most remarkable vaults ever seen at OCC or, indeed, anywhere. "The runway goes only one way and, on a particular day, I had to practice against the wind," he recalls. "I ran down the runway, went up and balanced at the top, teeter-tottered in the wind and then started going backward. I ended up on the runway, luckily on my feet."
Although the situation of the track affects all runners, the quarter-milers may get the worst deal. They must sprint full tilt into the second curve, the traditional gut-it-out area for 440 men, who have dissipated a lot of energy during the initial 330-yard burst. For them, hitting the wind is like running into a wall.
However, sprinters, when running before a steady southwesterly gale, often achieve personal windblown bests. The track record for 100 yards is a blistering 9.2, run in 1968 by one Tom Griffith. He was abetted by a nice 35-mph tail wind.
That's the way it is, at the breeziest track in the U.S.: The wind giveth and the wind taketh away.