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The slender runner moving steadily around the track looked faintly comic. A knitted red cap was pulled over his ears, and the white sleeves of an overlarge undershirt showed beneath his uniform. His face, as the race went on, turned peaked and cold from the damp, gusty wind whipping across the track, but the steady rhythm of his running never faltered. When the gun cracked to signal the final lap, Al Lawrence found a hitherto untapped source of strength. He sprinted the last quarter mile, to the delight of the handful of people huddled last week in Houston's Jeppesen High School Stadium, and with a time of 29:36.4 broke the U.S. record for the 10,000-meter run.
Twelve days earlier before a huge crowd in New York's Madison Square Garden, this same Lawrence, an Australian who runs for the University of Houston, provided the single biggest thrill of the indoor track season when he completely overpowered his opposition in the National AAU three-mile run and shattered the indoor world record by almost 11 full seconds (SI, Feb. 29). His remarkable performances, indoors and out, helped to focus attention on the fact that at the Olympics in Rome this summer Australia may well have the individual favorite in three of the classic distance races: Herb Elliott in the 1,500, Albert Thomas in the 5,000 and Al Lawrence in the 10,000.
"I might have done better except for the wind," he said. "And I miscounted a lap, too."
Lawrence set his records in a meet especially arranged by Houston Track Coach Johnny Morriss so that Lawrence could run the 10,000 meters under conditions which would allow his time to be certified as qualification for the Olympics. (The qualifying time is 29:40; Lawrence was almost 4 seconds better than that.)
Lawrence was third in the 1956 Olympic 10,000, and his goal now is to run both the 5,000 and the 10,000 meters in Rome. He left Houston last Saturday on a 9,500-mile trip to Australia to make good his bid for a place on the Australian team; he'll run at Melbourne next weekend and at Sydney on March 19 and return to school on March 21.
THE AUSSIE CHAPS
"The chaps I must run against are Albert Thomas, Dave Power and Bob Vagg," he said the day after his race in Houston. He was in a small apartment he shares with two other Australian runners, Barry Almond and Pat Clohessy. "They're due for a bit of a surprise," he went on. "I was a sitter when I used to run in Australia. It was only after Coach here gave me confidence that I began to run from the front."
"They used to shout at him in Australia," Almond said. "You know how those chaps are. They want to make sure that everyone in a race is doing his share of the work. They'd yell 'Take a lap, Al,' meaning he should lead the field for a lap. But he never would."
"I had to run my race," Lawrence said seriously. "I was a bit afraid of them. No confidence. I'm a better runner now for learning to run in front. I believe I can beat those chaps now."