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Phil Coleman is an outstanding American athlete. He was a national champion in the one-mile run and the 3,000-meter steeplechase and a member of both the 1956 and 1960 U.S. Olympic teams. Disturbed by the constant bickering over the rightness or wrongness of payments to so-called amateur athletes, Coleman was moved to write this argument for the case of the pure amateur, the lover of sport, the athlete who asks no other reward than the opportunity to compete. His essay is in the form of a reply to Mike Agostini, the runner who calls himself a "shamateur" and whose story ('My Take-home Pay as an Amateur Sprinter,' SI, Jan. 30) began, "I am writing this story on my own typewriter. It was an illegal prize for running...." The fee for Coleman's story has been paid, at his request, to the University of Chicago Track Club.
I am writing this story on my own typewriter. I paid $50 for it (used), $10 a month until it was paid for. If the money didn't come from my salary as a part-time teacher, it came from my wife's newspaper job. I can't trace the money precisely, but I know that it did not come from any earnings at track meets. I know, because there have been none. I contrast with Mike Agostini, the confessed shamateur, as one who may appear to be the Last of the Mohicans—a simon-pure amateur athlete.
I have not had the much-traveled career that Mike has had—Al Cantello, the Olympic javelin thrower, always refers to him as the Gypsy—and I have never led the world in any of my running specialties. But I've been a member of two Olympic teams, and I've spent several seasons running in the big indoor track meets. Last year I won six major indoor mile races—in Boston I tied the American citizen's indoor record-and yet the $300-$800 fees that Mike mentioned so casually in his story have never come my way. There is a big difference between my track world and Mike Agostini's. I've seldom been offered money in excess of expenses, and I've never felt compelled to take it. I know that many other athletes feel the way I do, and I want to set the record straight.
That amateurism is dying I not only will concede, but affirm, and with as much relief as sorrow. But amateurism has been as workable a system as the one Agostini suggests to replace it.
Wes Santee, the American miler who in 1956 was banned from amateur athletics for life because he accepted money in excess of expenses, was quoted after his fall as saying that the only athletes who aren't getting paid are the ones who aren't good enough. After he reads my story, he may add "or smart enough," and in his own way he'll be right.
I remember running my first board-track mile six years ago. Santee was the principal attraction, and he sprinted out ahead to win easily. Floundering along 40 years behind, I managed to come in second. Third place went to a well-known American distance man, running his last season. I asked him after the meet if he thought I should try the longer races indoors or stick to the mile.
"The mile," he said. "That's where the big money is." I remember not only what he said but how he said it—as if he had bitten into a lemon. I think I know why he was bitter.
Mike Agostini says that running is the important thing in his life. While there have been other important things in my life, I think that here Mike and I are on common ground. Running has meant a minimum of two hours a day for the last 10 years with at least six miles covered in that two hours. Running is a reprieve from my desk, a chance to get some blood back in my legs, take my eyes off a book and focus them on something in the distance. But my workouts alone on the grass roads of the University of Illinois agronomy farms are not the joy of a casual communion with nature, a frolic through the woods. Instead, they are a series of controlled, frantic bursts, interspersed with slow, inward-turning jogs. They are challenges, lessons in self-persecution that make races seem easy.
Competing is important to me in a very different way. Psychologists would probably disagree as to whether I am compensating for an extreme inferiority complex or asserting aggressive tendencies that I can't express otherwise, and both views would be right. But they wouldn't be completely right. The urge to run must surely have instinctive roots that can't be traced. I know that when a race is going well, when I have control of the pace or a comfortable assurance that the race is mine when I want it, I am a 12-foot-tall light-as-a-feather god tasting a vintage wine. And even when things are going badly, when the pack pulls away and rigor mortis sets in, to run and be defeated is much better than not to run at all.
What does this have to do with my preference of amateurism to shamateurism? Couldn't I have run my races and enjoyed them just as much if I had been paid? I don't think so.