This piece is the first in a series on the 1968 Olympic Trials and 1968 Olympics, written and compiled by Mike Fanelli. Mike is a real estate agent for rarefied real estate in the region of Northern California. I have known Mike for nearly 40 years. In April 1981, at the NorCal Invitational, we ran in a 10,000 meters won by Hugh Stahl, both setting 10,000m lifetime PBs in the cool, late spring evening. Later in the 1980s, while Mike was Manager of Marketing at Reebok, Mike sponsored a project for coaches, The Coaches Advantage, on which I was involved. I was at Runner’s World at the time, and the project impressed upon me the power of track coaches in our sport. That project changed the trajectory of my life. From that project, I was inspired to launch my first magazine, American Athletics, a magazine geared to track and cross country coaches, which I began with my ex-wife, Christine Johnson. Mike Fanelli is a life long runner, who loves the 1968 Mexico City Olympics above all other track events. His Track Garage is a shrine and a museum to the sport of Olympics.
Mike Fanelli will be providing stories on the LA semi-trials, the Echo Summit Trials, and the 1968 Mexico Olympics. This is his labor of love. You can see more of Mike Fanelli, ultimate track geek, at his Facebook site, Mike Fanelli.
And now, to the ‘Semi’ Olympic Trials.
ROAD TO NOWHERE: The 1968 ‘Semi’ Olympic Trials, by Mike Fanelli
As we are on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of one of the all-time most dramatic Olympic Track & Field Trials ever held, now is as good a time as any to cover the total flop of a prelude to said esteemed contest.
In June of 1968, a two day meet was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was actively billed as the ‘United States 1968 Men’s Olympic Track And Field Trials’…an absolute required meeting in order to represent in Mexico City. Only it wasn’t.
This wasn’t the first time that American track athletes had to first contend with a semi-Olympic Trials. There had been one in 1964, but at that meeting’s end, all individual winners were selected to the Team. In ’68, the athletes had been led to believe that if they won their event in Los Angeles, that they’d then be selected as Olympians, just as long as “they maintained a degree of excellence” through the next Trials, to be held at Echo Summit in September. But in the end, participation in L.A. really meant nothing more than an invitation to the final Final Olympic Trials. In fact, of the 224 pre-Tahoe Olympic aspirants, 210 became invitees to the high altitude Olympic Training Camp and corresponding Trials competition.
Regardless, there were some mighty fine performances at this non-event. Highlights included Art Walker’s surprise American record in the triple jump…his 55′ 1 3/4″ performance was the fourth best in world history. The men’s 100 meters took more than a half an hour to sort out a winner, as Jim Hines, Charlie Greene, and Ronnie Ray Smith all blitzed 10.2s while Mel Pender finished just an eyelash in arrears, at 10.3.David Patrick (194) over Sam Bair (Oregon uniform), Marty Liquuori (149), photo by Don Chaidez/Track&FieldNewsPictured here is perhaps the meet’s biggest casualty-to be, Dave Patrick winning the 1500 over Sam Bair and Wildcat teammate Marty Liquori. But we’ll save the rest of that story for our upcoming coverage of all things Echo Summit.