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There are those who say Don Bragg, the Villanova muscle man, is ready to step forth as heir apparent to the pole vault crown. But the old king himself, the Rev. Robert Richards, is a long way from announcing his retirement and would like another Olympic championship himself. Both Bragg and Richards may have trouble. The field they must face includes four other members of one of sport's most exclusive clubs, the 15-footers: Occidental's Bob Gutowski, Ron Morris of Southern Cal, Jerry Welbourn of the Air Force, and the man who finished second to Richards at Helsinki in 1952, Don Laz.
And far down the list the prospects are bright. Who can say what is to happen when Harold Connolly and Cornell's Al Hall meet again in the hammer, or when Charlie Dumas and Ernie Shelton go after that ever-elusive seven-foot high jump once again, or when colorful old Fortune Gordien seeks to better his own world record in the discus with one hand while holding off the tremendous challenge of O'Brien and young Ron Drummond with the other; or when broad jumpers like Greg Bell, Ernie Shelby, John Bennett, George Brown and Ross Range get together. Somewhere down in the pit at the Coliseum Friday night a 26-footer is going to miss that plane.
Last week's AAU meet at Bakers-field was, so to speak, the final semifinal before this week's ultimate Olympic Trials. And Bakersfield proved important for our hopes. Eighteen months or so ago, when athletes and coaches and officials began to channel all their thoughts and plans toward the 1956 Olympic Games, there were those among the bystanders who wondered if perhaps the United States wasn't just perhaps, going to encounter some real trouble. A year ago, after the 1955 national championships, hardly anyone felt that way any more; the runners and jumpers and hurdlers and weight men all looked too good. But nothing was so convincing as last week's show in the sun-baked San Joaquin Valley. For one thing there was the track, a new crushed-brick and clay running surface which was built for records ("the fastest by 1� seconds for a quarter-mile lap that I have ever seen," said Jim Lea) and for another there were the athletes. Although a few who had already qualified for the Olympic Trials in the NCAA and service meets decided to take the week off, most of them showed up to join the already imposing list on hand who had been ineligible for the previous weekend's competition but now were prepared for their big chance. En masse, they set out immediately to uphold the chamber of commerce bulletins (about the track) and the glowing words in the sports pages (about themselves).
OVER HIS SHOULDER
In Friday night's first event—the hammer throw—Connolly whirled around the ring like a dervish and sailed the murderous-looking 16-pound ball 205 feet 10� inches to break his own AAU record. In the night's third event, the 800 meters, Sowell scampered into his usual early lead and then breezed to a 1:49.8 time. This not only broke John Woodruff's 19-year-old meet record but went down in the track bugs' books as the fastest 800 meters ever run in a preliminary heat while looking back over one shoulder.
Then in the first heat of the 100 meters Morrow got off to a good start and at 30 yards decided to turn it on. When he turned it off, he was across the finish line in 10.2, breaking not only the meet record but, for the second time in a month equaling the world record as well. And there were rumors afloat that more unofficial clocks caught him in 10.1 than in 10.2.
The pi�ce de r�sistance, however, was provided by Jack Davis, the big San Diego Navy hurdler out of Southern California, who finally caught and passed the world record he had been chasing with almost superhuman concentration for six years. He ran 13.4 seconds for the 110-meter high hurdles, a 10th of a second faster than the time of a former Trojan teammate, Dick Attlesey, in 1950.
"I had a good start," he said, "and at about the third hurdle I figured I was in pretty good shape. Then along about the fifth or sixth hurdle I decided this was it, so I poured it on." That was evident even from 50 rows high up in the beautiful new Bakersfield Stadium. Davis suddenly seemed to explode and ran off, from that point, to lead Dillard to the tape by almost seven yards.
It was sweet satisfaction, therefore, for Lee Calhoun to beat Davis for the first time outdoors in the finals an hour and a half later, but because of the record Davis didn't mind so much. He had already qualified for the Trials in the service competition a week before and told everyone before his trip to Bakersfield that his only purpose was to test the track and set a new world record. He almost made it look easy.
The record breaking continued. In the sixth event, king-sized Ken Ban-turn, certainly one of the most agile giants in captivity, rippled his 6 feet 6 inches across the shotput ring to unleash a throw of 59 feet 1� inches, thereby toppling not only Olympic Champ Parry O'Brien's meet record by 1� inches but O'Brien's serenity by a considerably greater margin. For this was O'Brien's first defeat since Darrow Hopper of Texas A&M pulled the trick back in the 1952 Olympic Trials. Of course O'Brien had an off night, since seldom does he go below 60 feet any more in any meet, but it still wasn't fun. By week's end he was looking forward quite eagerly to another chance in the Coliseum.