On saturday night in Boston a fusillade of pistol shots will signal the beginning of the indoor track and field season. There has been a smattering of small indoor meets already this winter in this place or that, but now, in the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus meet on the 160-yard board track of Boston Garden, the big men come together for the first time this year, the crowd draws its breath, the starter fires his gun, and indoor track is off and running in a helter-skelter swirl of colliding bodies, sharp elbows, spills on the turns and all the splinters anybody could ask for. It will continue its mad, if fascinating, pace each weekend from this one until that of March 24, in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and various way stations like East Lansing, Michigan, and Hamilton, Ontario. At its conclusion the keen observer will be able to say with reasonable assurance just which competitors were outstanding in which events, but anyone who thinks he will be able to go further and point out that this man or that is a sure bet for the U.S. Olympic team next November will be dead wrong. For the Olympics are run outdoors and the relation between indoor and outdoor running often is nebulous.
Right now, then, might be as good a time as any to recall with reasonable accuracy a remark made by an ardent devotee of indoor track and field a few years ago to an ardent devotee of outdoor track and field who had been deriding the indoor sport as a carnival.
"What you have to remember," the indoor man said in rebuttal, "is that they're two entirely different sports, even though the same people compete in both. The main difference between them is this: outdoors the fastest runner wins, indoors the best athlete wins."
This was, of course, a didactic, dogmatic remark and completely unacceptable to the outdoor man, who repeated that indoor meets were nothing more than garish and fraudulent imitations of true (meaning outdoor) track and field competition.
Maybe so. But there is a germ of truth in the indoor man's definition. Outdoors on a broad cinder track where 12 men can line up abreast, and where a half-mile race may turn only three curves, the winner of any race almost inevitably will be the fastest runner in that race on that day. Indoors the fastest runner should win, but it is in no wise inevitable. Consider. On a standard banked board track (which measures 11 laps to the mile and 160 yards to the lap) it is not possible to line up more than five or six men abreast at the start. And in a fast start if more than two of these are still abreast at the first turn there is trouble, with runners who ordinarily would be concentrating on racing full speed ahead trying instead to keep from hurtling off the boards. Add the fact that even a half-mile race indoors has 11 such trouble-making turns and one can begin to appreciate that radical delineation of the difference between the two forms of track. The athlete with the greater sense of anticipation, the greater awareness of the relative positions of himself and his opponents to one another and to the beginning or end of a straightaway or a curve, the greater presence of mind in a moment of great physical stress, the greater fire and feel for direct competition, stands a much better chance of surviving the fury of indoor running than the man who lacks these qualities, no matter how fast the latter can run.
HERE COMES HEWSON
That is the big reason, of course, why the forthcoming visit of England's Brian Hewson is anticipated with such relish by track and field buffs.
Hewson is the good-looking young Englishman pictured on this page who last May accomplished a rather remarkable feat. He ran a one-mile Race in less than four minutes (3:59. to be exact) and yet finished third, which was certainly not so serious nor sad a thing as the disappointment Robert Scott experienced when he reached the South Pole only to find that Amundsen had gotten there a month earlier, but which in a way was probably as frustrating.
That was the memorable race in which the Hungarian Laszlo Tabori won in 3:59, with Chris Chataway second, inches ahead of Hewson. Frustrating or not, it clearly demonstrated that Hewson was one of the fastest milers in the world, faster even than our own David Wesley Santee (who has a 4:00.5 to his credit, but whose difficulties with the Amateur Athletic Union over his expense money may yet keep these two superb runners from meeting). But how well he will run indoors against such as Santee is the question that entrances the indoor track bug.
Last year Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark learned the nuances of board running so well that he went home with a new world record for the indoor mile. This, a 4:03.6 performance in the Wanamaker Mile, was the result of a combining of a perfect tactical race and a lightning-like finishing sprint. In other words, the fastest runner also knew how to run. But Nielsen had had four indoor mile races before that one. Hewson has to do what he can do in two: either the Baxter Mile in the New York Athletic Club games on February 11 or the national championship mile in the AAU meet on February 18. Santee (if he runs) will try to regain the prestige he lost against Nielsen last year. Little Fred Dwyer, who scored a smashing tactical triumph over both Santee and Nielsen in the Baxter Mile last year, is nursing a bad leg, but he may fulfill his own promises to himself. He did 4:01.8 last June. Ronald Delany, the Villanova sophomore from Ireland whose finest performances up to now have been at the half-mile and 1,000 yards, may enter the mile lists this year, and if Hewson misfires and Santee doesn't run and Dwyer stays hurt, Ronald, who has run a 4:05.8 mile outdoors, may be the hero of the year. If Bobby Seaman (4:01.4 last June) or Bill Dellinger or Billy Tidwell go east, the mile may have its greatest indoor year ever.