Sprinters as Quarter Milers

(1941) RESOLVED: That no truly great or world champion sprinter ever became a truly great or world champion quarter-miler.

That was the question, and it was precipitated when one of the nation's best track and field minds advanced the opinion that Harold Davis could become the greatest 440 man in the world if he desired to do so. The writer took the position that if Davis could do that, he would set a precedent in track and field.

"What about Jeffrey?" asked one.

"Don't you remember D. F. Lippincott?" fired the man who suggested that Davis might set new records in the quarter.

"Charley Borah could have run the legs off any quarter-miler," opined another.

It brings up an interesting point. I went straight home and consulted my records, coming up with the following findings:

The men who came closest to disproving the affirmative of the above question were Lee Orr of Washington State and Canada, Clyde Jeffrey of Stanford, Eric Liddell of Scotland and Lon E. Myers of New York. I believe that each fell just short of the mark.

Orr is the nearest relation we have to a great sprinter who became a great quarter-miler. Orr was good enough to beat Klemmer at 440 yards, and he ran the quarter in 46.7 seconds. He might have won the 1940 Olympics at 400 meters. Certainly he was a great quarter-miler. But was he a great sprinter?

Almost, but not quite.

In the 1936 Olympic Games Orr ran third in his trial heat of the 100 meters, being eliminated by Osendarp of Holland and Pennington of Great Britain. In the 200 meters he ran second in his semi-final and placed fifth in the final being beaten by Owens and Robinson of the U. S., Osendarp of Holland, and Haenni of Switzerland.

Later, while at Washington State, Orr ran 100 yards in 9.5s., 220 yards in 20.8s. and the 440 in 46.7s. He was a great sprinter, all right, up to a point; but he was not quite a world champion---never quite a Davis, Wykoff, Tolan, Metcalfe, Paddock, Simpson or Jeffrey. But he was close enough to it to become the example that almost proves the rule. Maybe he does prove it. But I can accept no other.

Jeffrey was the world's greatest sprinter of 1938-39. He was entitled to rating as world champion. It was said of him that he could break all known world 440 records. He tried but never did. His marks of 9.5s., 10.2s., 20.5s. and 47.9 entitle him to rating right behind Orr. He was a better sprinter than the Canadian, but he never proved that he was a world champion quarter-miler.

Eric Liddell was England's best sprinter in 1923. He was as good, probably better, than Harold Abrahams, the Englishman who won the Olympic 100 of 1924. But he never proved himself to be quite a world champion in the dashes. He won the Olympic 400 in world record time of 47.0s. and thus became a great world champion at that distance. But he falls short in the sprints when compared to some of the men named above.

Lon E. Meyers was a great athlete as measured by the standards of the '80's. He won the National AAU championship twice at 100 yards, four times at 220 yards, six times in a row in the 440 and three times in the 880 &emdash; 14 national title in all, from 1879 to 1885, inclusive.

Then he turned professional and cleaned up on all the pros at these distances. Just to clinch his claim to fame, this 115-pound automaton took on the great English miler, W.G. George, in 1886. Three times they ran, and each time Myers was victorious.

Myers' best marks were 100 yards in 10s.; 220 yards in 23.5s.; 440 yards in 49.4s.; 880 yards in 2:01.4. He was essentially a great middle distance runner (by the standards of his day) who happened to beat a crop of mediocre sprinters every time he met them. Certainly he was not a great sprinter like Owens, Paddock or Wykoff.

Lippincott, the Pennsylvania runner, was one of the country's best intercollegiate sprinters, but he was overshadowed by his contemporary, Howard Drew. He is reputed to have bettered 48 seconds in the quarter, but I can find no record of it. SureIy he was no Jeffrey, and he never won a national championship.

Borah was a great sprinter when at his best, but he had many rather bad moments. He ran a few good quarter-mile relay laps and it was said of him that he could run the 440 in 46 seconds. But he never did.

W.T. MacPherson of New Zealand, first man to use the crouching start (1891), was a good but not a great sprinter. He was one of the best 440 men of his time, but never bettered 50 seconds.

Bill Carr, the greatest American quarter-miler, if not the world's greatest (he'd have Harbig of Germany to beat), started as a sprinter. So did Barbuti, the 1928 400 meters king. But neither was what you could call a great sprinter. Each was, in fact, quite ordinary.

Les Hables of Stanford combined ability at both distances, but was never a world champion or record holder.

Every time a new world champion sprinter comes along, a lot of the boys raise the cry: "He could break the world record and beat all comers in the quarter-mile." But no one who was a truly great sprinter ever has. Not ever Orr was able to set a world record at any distance.

(Note---McKenley, in 1952, probably came the closest to achieving the true stature of greatness in both the 100 and 400 as he won Olympic silver medals in each.)

Three Shadows for Klemmer

Los Angeles' June 18 (1941) --- As Grover Klemmer, the Golden Boy of the Golden Bear, pattered softly down the home stretch of the Coliseum cinderpath here last night, three shadows stalked beside him.

Two he knew as being among the stoutest challengers a man may meet,

One was Hubie Kerns, anchor man for Southern California in the greatest mile relay ever run in the history of track and field. The other, Time, as represented by Stanford University's world record of 3 minutes 10.5 seconds.

The Golden Boy met their challenge and won, laughing in their faces, a joyous, happy laugh of triumph and jubilation. He fought off the fast closing Kerns to break the tape by inches and carry California to a new world record of 3 minutes 9.4 seconds.

The third Shadow he did not see. It was the last shadow a man ever knows, yet whose presence he rarely even suspects.

Five minutes after Grover Klemmer had won the race, he was told that he had lost his father.

Grover Klemmer, Sr., an engineer for the State Highway Department, dropped dead at noon yesterday in Sacramento, of a heart attack.

At 4 o'clock in the afternoon Coach Brutus Hamilton of California received a telephone call. It was Klemmer's mother, breaking the sad news, but bravely asking him not to tell Grover until after the meet.

Hamilton promised that he would not and he kept that pledge. He sat there last night among 15,000 other people nursing his bitter secret, seeing Klemmer run the anchor lap in 46.1 seconds to make this one of the happiest evenings of either man's life --- and knowing all the time that he must go to this 20-year-old boy afterwards and spoil it for him.

Thus on a note of mingled triumph and despair there ended the annual dual meet between the Pacific Coast Conference and the Big Ten. Despite the fact that the Mid-Western boys made their finest showing since this series began, the Coasters won by a score of 80 to 56.

Two world records were broken --- the mile relay and high jump. In the latter event Les Steers of Oregon boosted his own world standard an eighth of an inch by becoming the first man in history to clear 6 feet 11 inches. There were other noteworthy performances, but the mile relay was the race.

(Note--- The California and USC quartets ran as separate relay teams against the Big Ten team in the mile relay, 5 points going to the winner.)

Ufer of the Big Ten won the first lap with Reese of California (48.9) second and Warren Smith (50) far back for USC. Here's where USC lost the race, for Smith, returning from an illness which kept him out of the Coast Conference meet, was a full second off his best form.

Ray Froom won the second lap for California, running 47.9. Upton pulled up, running 47.8 for USC, but the Big Ten with Thomas still was second. After this the Big Ten wasn't in it, as the third lap saw Cliff Bourland of USC run his lap in 45.8 to come within a yard and a half of Barnes (46.5).

Now it was Kerns vs. Klemmer, probably the two stoutest quarter-milers in America. It was all-out for a world record.

Inch by inch Kerns closed the gap. As they came off the curve into the stretch the margin was less than a yard. Now it was only two feet, now a foot.

As they drove for the tape the gap narrowed, and 15, 000 souls were on their feet shrieking for Kerns, clamoring for Klemmer, howling for the very thrill of the thing.

They hit the tape almost as one, Klemmer's margin being judged as four inches and the timers caught both teams in 3:09.4.

Klemmer ran that last lap in 46.1, but Kerns ran his in 45.8, same as Bourland.

And then, to Klemmer, came the bad news.

Graffio Gets a Lesson

(From Stiles' column, "Styles in Sports", February 27, 1954.)

Joe Graffio was annoyed. The fleet little Trojan sprinter was out on the SC training track practicing starts. An innocent bystander (all bystanders, you know, are innocent) was giving him a few unsolicited tips on what was doing wrong.

"Keep your head up when you come off your marks," the innocent bystander suggested. Next time the gun went off Graffio kept his head down. Again the man told him he ought to keep it up. It would help give him a "lift" off the starting blocks.

A few more starts and the head still wasn't right. And there was one more thing.

"Use your arms more when you come off your marks, " the man said, a bit meekly perhaps but loud enough to be heard.

Graffio walked over to Jack Davis, SC's unpaid freshman coach.

"Can't you get that guy to shut up?" he asked Davis. "Who the devil is he anyway? He's driving me nuts. What does HE know about it?"

"Maybe you better listen to what he tells you," Jack replied. "That man only had the fastest 'lift' of any man who ever lived. His name is Frank Wykoff!"

After that, Joe Graffio hung on every word the innocent bystander uttered ... hung on so hard he could chin himself on them. And was his face red!

Copyright© 1959, Track & Field News