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Roy Terrell
July 09, 1956
That boy next door who ran or jumped so well may have been one of the 250-odd who fought for supreme athletic honor. Through the white heat of competition in Los Angeles, these 53 made the U.S. team
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July 09, 1956

Olympians Are Your Neighbors

That boy next door who ran or jumped so well may have been one of the 250-odd who fought for supreme athletic honor. Through the white heat of competition in Los Angeles, these 53 made the U.S. team

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But while the world records were fun, to the track purist nothing could quite match the wonderful 800-meter race so carefully planned and so flawlessly executed by Tom Courtney to beat the slender miracle runner from Pittsburgh, Arnie Sowell. Except for once when Arnie was pushed off the track, it was the first time in three years of hot competition that the ex-Fordham star had been able to beat his feather-footed opponent outdoors.

Everyone knew it would be a great race and some even thought Courtney might win; he had been improving steadily all season, but then so had Sowell. So the stage was set and the gun went off and Sowell and Courtney, in that order, blazed to the front at the first turn and the race was on.

Just a few days before, Assistant Olympic Coach Bob Giegengack of Yale had said: "Deliver me from guys who think; just give me the ones who can run." But Courtney was determined to do both. He decided right away the pace was a little too fast and he dropped back, letting first Mal Whitfield, the two-time Olympic champion, go past, and then Lang Stanley and Lon Spurrier, the world 880-yard record holder, as well. But back in fifth place, Courtney remained unworried even though Sowell clipped off the first 400 meters in 51.7 seconds. "Just as long as he didn't get too far ahead, I didn't care," explained the big Army private. "I had planned to do the first 400 in 52.5 and that's about what I did."

On the backstretch, marvelous old Mal Whitfield made his bid, trying with one cunning and desperate move to steal the race and qualify for his third Olympic Games. But although Sowell let him go, it didn't last long; Arnie moved out on the turn and began to sprint, going past Whitfield and apparently heading for another of his brilliant victories. But then here came Courtney. He began his move at the turn and, while nearly 40,000 in the stands were watching Sowell and Whitfield, he pounded his way up even with both. And when they reached the stretch, it was Courtney who had the kick left. "Usually, Arnie is passing me on that last straightaway," he grinned later. "Today I thought as I went past, 'Now it's my turn.' "

And it was. Courtney won by four yards in a new American record time of 1:46.4; Sowell ran 1:46.9 and both Spurrier and Stanley drove up to catch and pass Whitfield before the finish line.

The two other major records, while unimpressive by international standards perhaps, were still fine performances nonetheless. One was the 14:26 flat 5,000-meter race run by Oregon's handsome, little Bill Dellinger, which was an American record ("He will be under 14 minutes before the year is out," said his coach). The other was the American citizen's record of 51 feet 4� inches in the hop, step and jump by Ira Davis, from La Salle.

There were surprises, of course. Fred Dwyer and Bobby Seaman, America's two fastest milers in the absence of the uninvited Wes Santee, both failed to qualify in the 1,500 meters, which was won in the quite acceptable time of 3:47.6 by surprising home town boy Jerome Walters.

But mostly, it was a meet which ran according to form. There was, for example, the shotput. The world's three 60-footers, Olympic Champion Parry O'Brien, NCAA and AAU Champion Ken Bantum of Manhattan and Kansan Bill Nieder, the national collegiate record holder, all made the plane to Melbourne. (Although O'Brien was the only one to get over 60 feet.) In the hammer, America's three ranking stars, the only three to get past 200 feet, mounted the victory stand together: Al Hall of Cornell, Cliff Blair of Boston U and the steady veteran, Harold Connolly of the Boston AA. Jack Davis who has a world record of 13.4 up for recognition, and Lee Calhoun, who beat him the week before at Bakers-field, ran a photofinish dead heat in the 110-meter high hurdles.

In the javelin, it was Olympic Champion Cy Young and NCAA Champion Phil Conley; in the pole vault the remarkable Reverend Bob Richards, over 15 feet once more; in the discus happy-go-lucky Fortune Gordien, the world record holder and, at 33, all frisky to get down to Australia and take his third try at winning an Olympic title as well; and the two broad jumpers who have been consistently the best in the nation for two years and who fittingly enough ended up in a tie at 25 feet 8� inches at the Coliseum, Greg Bell and John Bennett.

Some, of course, missed. Who will forget the tragic picture of Dave Sime limping across the track to fall on his knees and elbows on the infield grass while Morrow flashed away on down the white-lined straightaway toward the Olympic Games. Dave Sime, who had pulled a groin muscle two weeks before the trials and was never able to run, even in practice, at more than half speed. When he crouched at his blocks in the 100 heat on Friday, it was the first start he had attempted in two weeks. It was probably just as well. At the first stride, the muscle pulled again and by the end of five he was through. The fans said what a shame, but another eastern runner who had been watching Sime all year told the story better than they. "Now," he said, "these people out here will never really know—or ever believe—how great he really was."

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