1968 Olympic Trials: Aerobic Attrition, by Mike Fanelli


Editors' Comment: This is the third story from Mike Fanelli on the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the U.S. Olympic Trials. We thank Mike Fanelli for his writing, and his photos, courtesy of the Track Garage, the iconic sanctuary of athletics housed in the garage of Mike Fanelli. In this, his third column, Mike Fanelli focuses on the 10,000m Men's final.

Mills, Clake, 1.jpegA fit Billy Mills training in Tahoe with Ron Clarke, photo credit: unknown

Four track events and one field discipline were held on day three of these Trials that included just one final, the 10,000 meter death march.

As there were four rounds of the 100, in an effort to mimic the actual Games agenda, there were absolutely zero eliminations from the heats nor quarter finals held this day. Charlie Greene and Jim Hines were the cream of the crop in these first two efforts while Ronnie Ray Smith was hot on their heels. Wisconsin's Ray Arrington took the first heat of the 800 qualifying round in 1:49.7 while Wade Bell outlegged Tom Farrell 1:48.6 to 1:48.8, in the second of two heats. Tom Wyatt nailed a nifty 49.2 in the intermediates as Geoff Vanderstock went 49.8 in the other heat. Chucker, Randy Matson, led the way, as all 7 qualifiers in the shot put advanced to the finals since each competitor surpassed the required 58 foot standard to do so.

lindrgn, clke, .jpegGerry Lindgren and Bill Clarke midway through the Echo Summit 10,000, photo credit: The archives of Hank Lawson

At 1700 hours, participants in the lone final on the day's itinerary, a 25 lap affair, were called to their marks. As much of an advantage that the altitude provided to contestants in events at 400 meters or less, the hindrance effect on the 10,000 meter athletes was of a far greater magnitude. Dartmouth alum, Tom Laris, led the seven starters through a first kilo of 2:59.5, then 2,000 meters at 5:58.8, 3K in 9:01.5 and a 4,000 meter split time of 12:05.4.

As is typical of the 10K, even in oxygen rich conditions, this footrace devolved into a grinding act of attrition. Bill Clark, winner of the 'Semi" Olympic Trials competition in June, fell off the pace at 4,000 meters. Five laps later, marathon qualifier Kenny Moore was off the back. Just shy of five miles, Gerry Lindgren, still hampered by a broken achilles, began to slip away...and on the very same lap, so did the Tokyo gold medalist, Billy Mills, a victim of relentless stomach cramps. By 9,000 meters Laris, Van Nelson and Tracy Smith had a 35 meter advantage over Mills in fourth, and were continuing to pull away, by virtue of a steady stream of 70 second revolutions. As the threesome emerged out of the penultimate turn, Smith leapt into the forefront and then blazed a 27 second final furlong to cinch the first qualifying spot (30:00.4). Nelson (30:04.0) and Laris (30:09.8) were left to battle for the second and third qualifying positions, before Billy rolled in for fourth and Gerry fifth.

SIDEBAR: Afterwards, Billy Mills, who was apparently in extraordinary condition for these Olympic Trials, attempted to petition his way into the upcoming 5,000 meter race. He had the backing of more than 70 athletes. But in the end, his appeal was denied.

"Dammit Billy," said good pal George Young, "you oughta' do a war dance".

"With my luck," said Mills, "it would probably rain."

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