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Roy Terrell
July 02, 1956
In the AAU championships at Bakersfield, nine meet records were set, yet greater events lay ahead in the Olympic Trials
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July 02, 1956

And Now: The Biggest Battle Of All

In the AAU championships at Bakersfield, nine meet records were set, yet greater events lay ahead in the Olympic Trials

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"Well, in our country," said Alice, "you'd generally gel to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country," said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place; if you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that."

As far as anyone knows, not even the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce really believes or has bothered to claim that Alice found her Wonderland in the middle of the Los Angeles Coliseum. But those astute gentlemen could, for once, be overlooking a good thing. This weekend the vast athletic arena in southern California will take on all the aspects of a Wonderland when more than 250 of the best track and field men that the United States—or any other nation—has ever produced will find their problem strangely similar to that of Alice: to get farther they are going to have to run at least twice as fast.

What they are chasing is a plane to Melbourne, Australia, and although it will not leave until November, to be on board as a member of the U.S. track and field team for the XVI Olympiad they must place among the first three in one of 17 events at the final U.S. Trials at the Coliseum on Friday and Saturday. Or else they will find out that running very fast for a very long time—and some have been chasing that plane for nearly four years—will indeed have got them nowhere at all.

In the final analysis the Trials are no more than the name implies: a method of finding out who is deserving to represent this nation at Melbourne. But for those who love the sport, this week's program will be far more than that. They believe that the Coliseum will be the scene of the greatest track and field meet the world has ever seen. Not in the matter of drama and glory perhaps, for there the Olympic Games are supreme. But in the matter of colossal races and stupendous times they feel that nothing that has gone before will compare to the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials. This being Hollywood, not even those particular superlatives sound out of place. Perhaps they wouldn't anywhere else either.

The world, for example, has known eight 15-foot pole vaulters. They are all U.S. citizens and the six still competing will be at Los Angeles—and three of them will not qualify for the trip to Australia. Again, what nation has three 60-foot shotputters? Or, for that matter, what other nation has even one? This season alone seven U.S. high hurdlers have done 13.8 or better and three of them have equaled or been under the Olympic record of 13.7. The best time ever recorded in the event by a foreign athlete is 14 seconds flat. And where else can our record-smashing sprinters and 400-meter men and 26-foot broad jumpers find the competition they will get right here in their own backyard?

So, in many events, the biggest test of this Olympic year will come not in Australia but in Los Angeles. The attention of some 50,000 fans at the Coliseum and uncounted millions more watching over a national television hookup will be drawn most irresistibly to a special group of events.

One is the 400 meters. It is here that Lou Jones and Jim Lea and J. W. Mashburn get together again for the first time in over a year to continue a quarter-mile feud that has been going on, in one form or another, for more than four years. And if world 400 meter record holder Jones and world 440-yard record holder Lea and two-time NCAA champion Mashburn should stumble, then there are others ready to take over. Like Charley Jenkins, AAU champion in 1955 and runner-up this year. Or Tom Courtney, the wonderful half-miler who switched from his specialty last week to beat out Jenkins for this year's AAU title and in the process ran the fourth fastest 400 meters ever turned in around two curves. Or Johnny Haines, the tremendously versatile sprinter from Pennsylvania who is having much more trouble trying to make up his mind whether to go after the 100 or the 400—or perhaps both—than he is running once he gets on the track.

Then there is the 800 meters. It is an event on the fringe of the are where the rest of the world takes over nestling between the shorter races so dominated by the United States and the distance races in which we frankly have little chance. But we have a very good chance at 800 meters because of Courtney—and because of Arnie Sowell. At the Coliseum, for the first time this year, these two friendly enemies will tangle outdoors, on the one hand the-little wraith from Pittsburgh who holds the American 800-meter record, on the other the powerful-striding Army private from Fordham by way of Fort Dix who held the record until Sowell broke it. And again, should these two falter, there are others almost as good: Lon Spurrier, holder of the world 880-yard record but never able to beat the other two; amazing old Mai Whitfield, twice an Olympic champion and ready for one magnificent effort to win a third; and Lang Stanley of San Jose State.

And there are, of course, the dashes. The year 1956, in America, has been a year of great sprinters: there is Bobby Morrow of Abilene Christian, at 20 an old pro with his flashing speed and wonderful poise and a young man who in recent weeks has almost ended all speculation about the world's best dash-man. Trying to revive that speculation at 100 meters will be Dave Sime of Duke, who before an injury in the NCAA 200 meters at Berkeley would have been at least a co-favorite with his Texas rival to win both races. There is Ira Murchison, the chunky little Army star who, like Morrow, has tied the world 100-meter record of 10.2 this year. There is also slender little Leamon King of California who, like Sime, has tied the 9.3 record for 100 yards. And to chase Morrow in the 200 are the two veterans who ran one-two in the 1952 Olympics and, while Morrow rested on the sidelines, did almost the same last week at Bakersfield—Andy Stanfield and Thane Baker.

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