The tall, blond youngster, moving with a graceful, precise and economical stride, took the lead almost casually as the Baxter milers moved into the last two laps of the race. Dyrol Burleson slid by Jim Beatty, running confidently, and began the long, hard, finishing drive with which he usually kills off his competition. He seemed sure that it would kill off Beatty; the crowd in Madison Square Garden last week, responding to his bid with a steadily mounting roar, seemed sure of it, too. But Beatty, a short, deep-chested runner whose stride is choppy by comparison with Burleson's, refused to die. He hung a step behind as the pair left the field far back. Then, as they came out of the last turn, Beatty began his own drive, a powerful burst climaxed by a lunge which catapulted him into the yarn an Adam's apple ahead of Burleson. It was the best mile race of the indoor season (4:05.4) and, more importantly for track fans, revealed an exciting new competition between two of the finest distance coaches in the business.
Mihaly Igloi, Beatty's coach, is a small, sandy-haired humorless man who is fanatically devoted to teaching the art of running far and fast. Bill Bowerman, Burleson's coach, is a big, outgoing man with a somewhat violent sense of humor who is just as obsessed with track as Igloi. Igloi, who defected with other Hungarians after the 1956 Olympics, now coaches the Santa Clara Youth Village, a club for track hopefuls near San Jose, Calif. Bowerman is coach for the University of Oregon.
In indoor track meets from Los Angeles to New York and Philadelphia, the two men last week proved their pre-eminence in the matter of producing distance runners. Bowerman, who has developed more home-grown distance stars than any other American coach, was spreading his talent in unprecedented fashion. He had Jim Grelle (first in the 1,000) and Bill Dellinger (second in the mile) at Los Angeles; George Larson and Dick Miller (third and fifth in the mile) at Philadelphia; and Burleson and Vic Reeve (fourth in the mile) at New York. Igloi, with a smaller stable, beat Bowerman's Oregon runners at Philadelphia with Laszlo Tabori in the mile, and he beat them again in New York's Baxter Mile with Beatty, a North Carolina graduate with a heretofore undistinguished record.
Igloi, who fusses over his runners like a mother hen, was at Philadelphia and New York. Bowerman, a much more relaxed type who nonetheless shares Igloi's intense personal regard for his athletes, remained in Eugene, Oregon to teach a class in skiing, sure that his preparations had been as complete as he could make them and that his boys would perform well on their own.
Bowerman knows his runners well enough to be sure of their reactions to any situation. Like Igloi and, indeed, following in the tradition of most European coaches, he has a deep regard for the psychological problems of his athletes, and his success in developing this country's first nucleus of distance runners comes as much from this aspect of his coaching as from his considerable technical gifts.
"Bill is always thinking about you and helping you," Dellinger, who is one of America's strongest hopes in the Olympic 5,000-meter, said in Los Angeles. A 25-year-old graduate student, he has been under Bowerman's tutelage for six years. "Last year I was still in the Air Force and I was going to run in the Coliseum Relays. I was lying in the hotel room trying to decide whether to run in the mile or the two-mile. The phone rings and it's Bill. 'What are you going to run in tonight?' he wants to know. I told him I didn't know. 'Try the mile,' he said. 'We been working toward it, and I think you're ready.' I don't even know how Bill knew where to find me. But he did."
Grelle, who won the 1,000 at Los Angeles, is typical of a Bowerman-trained runner. He's almost painfully slender, and he's devoted to Bowerman. "If he has one idea that takes precedence, it's that he likes you to watch your weight," Grelle said. "When you check in with him, he says 'You better lose a couple of pounds.' He says it without hardly looking at you. You could probably be dying of beriberi and Bill would say, offhand, 'You better lose a couple of pounds.' "
Bowerman has a detailed schedule for each of his athletes to follow, based on what he considers their capability to be. He has, for instance, five-minute milers, 4:24 milers, 4:04 milers, and the boys in these categories stick to the schedule he gives them. Eight of his runners are capable of 4:10 or faster.
"Every kid thinks he can run a four-minute mile," says Bowerman. "But if he's at the schedule point where he's a 4:12 miler, there's no use kidding himself. He works at that pace and schedule."
Igloi's runners are usually much more mature than the youngsters Bowerman develops. Tabori, for instance, is 28, and Beatty, who came to Igloi after finishing four years of college, is 25. Dellinger, 25, and Grelle, 23, are the oldest of Bowerman's stable; the others range from 18 (Reeve) to 21 (Miller). Burleson, who may be the best miler in the U.S. come time for Olympic trials, is only 19 and can reasonably be expected to improve until he is in his late 20s.