Long before the law of gravity was discovered—long, that is, before the famous apple came clattering down upon the head of Sir Isaac Newton—the Greeks were breaking it. They developed such a passion for running and jumping and heaving assorted bits of Grecian hardware around the landscape that eventually they bundled the whole thing up into one cohesive affair, and so was born the sport of track and field. Probably—although here the books are a little vague—the Greeks got the idea in the first place from some long-departed ancestor who didn't necessarily consider it fun but had to do quite a bit of running, jumping and throwing back among the woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers of the Stone Age scene.
Anyway, it has been going on for quite a while and getting better all the time, and last weekend a big version of the oldest established permanent floating athletic event in the world popped up in Des Moines, Iowa. If the ancient Greeks could have been at the Drake Relays—suitably attired in their winter tunics—they would have approved heartily and been somewhat amazed at the progress of an old favorite.
The Drake Relays in action are a three-ring circus of track and field—colorful, exciting and spectacular. In planning and execution they are not much different from a dozen other similar events which dot the spring months throughout Texas and Kansas and Pennsylvania and California; they serve the dual purpose of giving local fans a chance to see the nation's finest young athletes perform and afford coaches an early opportunity to test and evaluate their boys against strong competition in a pleasant and pressure-less setting before the big conference and national meets roll around.
Last weekend, for example, to add their names to a list which already includes such as Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, Greg Rice and Wes Santee, Harrison Dillard and Fred Wolcott, Al Blozis and Fortune Gordien and a pole vaulter named Warmerdam, came the stars of 1956. There was Bill Nieder, a muscular young giant from Kansas who is the first collegian ever to put the shot over 60 feet; there was Mai Whitfield, now a student at Los Angeles State College and still, at 31, the possessor of the same flawless stride which won two Olympic 800-meter championships and next fall at Melbourne could conceivably win another. There were also Bob Gutowski, a slender, almost skinny young man from Occidental who this February became the fourth college pole vaulter in history to soar over 15 feet; J. W. Mashburn, the big, blond power runner from Oklahoma A&M who every day looks more like the next Olympic 400-meter champion; and the great relay teams from Iowa, Baylor and Abilene Christian. And on hand for exhibitions were two former Southern California stars no longer eligible for college competition but anxious to stay in shape for the important days ahead: Parry O'Brien, the burly 1952 Olympic shotput champion and world record holder, and Ernie Shelton, who has been within a half inch of the world high-jump record and is gunning for an Olympic title of his own.
And then there were Bobby Morrow and David Sime.
The Drake officials—and the good people of Iowa, who have been known to turn out 16,000 strong for this big show—were very happy to have Nieder and O'Brien and Mashburn and Gutowski and the rest. But they were especially happy to have Morrow and Sime. For despite Drake's enviable record it has never been able to solve two big problems: how to cope with Iowa weather and how to get someone to run 100 yards in less than 9.5 seconds. Of course it would have been asking too much of Morrow and Sime to solve the first; even the Drake officials have given up trying. Rain or shine, sun or snow, they cross their fingers, hope for the best and with good grace accept what shows up. If it is a beautiful weekend, wonderful. If not, well, the farmers can always use the rain. Last Saturday, after a beautifully sunny opening day during which afternoon temperature climbed to 81�, the farmers got their rain—and 38� temperatures which threatened to ruin the Drake relays entirely.
But before the meet was an hour old, Morrow and Sime solved the second problem. Each, in a qualifying heat on Friday afternoon, ran a 9.4 100.
Now there are those, even among the track faithful, who consider the 100-yard dash—particularly when teamed up with a stop watch—an inferior product of the sport. For one thing, they will tell you, it gets over too fast. Zoom—and they're gone. What kind of a race is that? They will also mention the wonderful combination of speed and stamina it takes to run a record mile; the delicate sense of timing and pace, the psychology of position, the battle of wit as well as lung and muscle. Now that is a real race. But the sprinters—they just get out there and run. Zoom. And what if the watches do say it's good? It really doesn't mean anything. In the dashes, they could throw away the clocks, it's who wins that's important, and until a guy has beaten another good one he's nobody.
To which those who like the sprints answer simply: the dashes are the most natural race a man can run. That old cave man, for example, wasn't pacing himself when a saber-tooth showed up—he was getting out of there fast. The times? Well, maybe you're right; sometimes they are misleading, but great sprinters do get together once in a while and then you have seen a remarkable exhibition, a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Bob Karnes, the 29-year-old Drake track coach and director of the relays, was a middle-distance man himself back in undergraduate days at Kansas, but he liked the dashes just the same, and last winter he made up his mind that Drake was going to have a good 100. First he sent off an invitation to Jim Golliday, the defending champion from Northwestern, who was limping around with a pulled muscle but still might be ready in time. Golliday, who gets off the starting blocks as if he were equipped with a rocket and finishes as if he had picked up another one on the way, is a coholder of the world record of 9.3 seconds, an Army veteran generally regarded by the experts as the No. 1 U.S. Olympic sprint candidate. If he isn't No. 1, Bobby Morrow is, and Karnes sent Morrow an invitation, too. A fabulous young Texan who hadn't lost a 100 since the spring of 1953, he had never met Golliday in competition but as an Abilene Christian freshman last season ran wind-assisted times as low as 9.1, turned in 9.4 with no assistance and won the National AAU 100. And then Karnes sent an invitation to Dave Sime.