Since 1946, Russian track and field women have been ripping off one astounding performance after another. They were the talk of the '52 Olympics and today hold world records in three of the nine events on the Olympic program, share the record in two others and are represented among the first four in the remaining events.
Last week the Russian girls once again demonstrated just how they intend to monopolize the Games at Melbourne. Rubbing his hands, Gabriel Korobkov, chief Russian track coach, said "prospects for Russia's women athletes look bright," but on second thought Korobkov warned of overconfidence: "Americans," he mused, "often say their women athletes are not good, but often they are much better than expected."
The American response to Korobkov was a quick one. Two days after the finish of the Soviet shindig in Moscow (see page 12), nearly 200 American track and field girls "did better than expected" at Philadelphia's sun-trapped Franklin Field. Competing in the National AAU championships in stewy 95° heat, the girls established four new American records in sprinting, jumping and throwing and still saved most of their energy for this Saturday's all-important Olympic try-outs in Washington.
Star of the meet was 24-year-old Mae Faggs of Tennessee State, one of America's alltime greats who has represented the U.S. in every important national and international contest since the 1948 Olympics. Running in seven heats, semifinals and finals, Mae won the 100-meter event in the good time of 11.7; her specialty, the 200-meter, in 24.6; and anchored the 400-meter relay team to a very fast 47.1.
There's a thrill in watching Mae perform, from the moment she walks out onto the track, shoulders back and head erect. She prances up her lane to get the feel of the track, shoots around a curve in a short burst of speed to warm up muscles and test her spring. Back at the starting line, she is most meticulous about placing her starting blocks in just the right position. As the less experienced runners fidget, Mae quietly treads in one spot, first lifting her knees slowly, then increasing the speed until they are driving like pistons. At the call to the blocks, like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle, she drops into position, head down, knee deeply bent but her back level and straight. At the crack of the gun she's like a trout rising swift and clean. Halfway through the race her rivals are strung out behind her, and from there on in she just floats to the tape.
Anyone with enough nerve to challenge her plays right into Mae's hands. "I'm not a self-propelled record breaker," says Mae. "I need somebody breathing down my neck." "But," say her competitors, "soon as you push Faggs, she just hydraulically shifts gears and, with no break in stride, stays out in front all the way." Barbara Jones of Chicago, the somewhat erratic but very talented Pan-American champion and member of the 400-meter U.S. 1952 Olympic champions, usually gives Faggs a good push. Although she took a painful header last week, Barbara got up, brushed the cinders off and will defend her place on the team on Saturday.
The only girl consistently to trade top honors with Faggs is Mae's own protégée, young Isabel Daniels, also at Tennessee State on an athletic scholarship. (The one and only Notre Dame of women's track, Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University in Nashville has a total of eight girls on scholarships. All train hard under the experienced eye of Coach Ed Temple—no loafing is tolerated when so many hopefuls are beating on the doors.) Daniels took her share of the honors Saturday as she romped away with the 50-meter run, pushed hard on Faggs's heels in the 100-meter and ran on the Tennessee State relay team.
As these two girls rushed for the tape, they left behind many talented but less experienced hopefuls. Sixteen-year-old Marcia Cosgrove, of Renton, Wash., fresh from victories on the West Coast, ran out of steam in the 100-meter semifinal but recouped her energies to take a creditable fourth in the 200-meter final. "See you in Washington for the tryouts" was Marcia's way of accepting this defeat.
In her teen-age jargon, Marcia spiels on and on about why she likes to run: "I tell you, I think it's just fabulous. It's just the most wonderful experience. I get so keyed up before a race that I just stand there at the end of the track and say to myself, 'I can't do it.' I can't even bend over to do calisthenics. It's like that until just before they say go to your blocks. Then I'm all right all of a sudden."
Marcia idolizes her coach, Ken Foreman (men's track coach at Seattle Pacific College), and Marcia has been quite an experience for Foreman. "Marcia is a typical girl," chuckles Ken. "She works hard, but she'll talk your ear off. We'll be jogging around the track, and I'll be getting all the inside on what she dreamed last night or the latest high school fad or Elvis Presley's latest. It's been quite a revelation to me, I'll tell you."