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The evening stars fell in California
Skip Myslenski
June 02, 1969
The big names, including the top vaulters, didn't shine at Modesto
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June 02, 1969

The Evening Stars Fell In California

The big names, including the top vaulters, didn't shine at Modesto

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The pole vault crossbar was now at 17'10", a world-record height, and at the end of the runway Bob Seagren patted his hair into place; for the last time at the California Relays the crowd was ready for something special.

"Next up in the pole vault," the man said over the public-address system, "is Bob Seagren, the present world-record holder and Olympic champion. Boy, there sure are stars all over on that field tonight, aren't there?"

Seagren looked up at the sky. "Stars?" he said. "Stars? Where are there stars?"

Dick Railsback, the UCLA pole vaulter, looked up, too. "Well, there are stars," he said. "But tonight they're falling stars."

Seagren laughed and randomly pointed across the field. "Yeah," he said, "there goes one now."

Seagren was kidding, but last Saturday's meet in Modesto—the same meet that has been the setting for 22 world and 37 American records in its 28-year history—will this year be remembered more for what it promised rather than for what it delivered. There were no world records, one American record (in the junior college 440-yard relay) and only three meet records. And in the end, no matter where you pointed, there was a star or a relay team whose luster was dimmed.

There was, first of all, the 100-meter dash. John Carlos, it was promised, would meet Charlie Greene and reestablish his claim to be the World's Fastest Human. But Greene, who is in the Army, decided "not to break training" by running in a meet, and Carlos won in 10.1. This victory, along with his win in the 220 and his anchor leg on San Jose State's triumphant 440-yard relay team, earned him his sixth straight outstanding performer award.

Then there was San Jose's 880-yard relay team, which was primed to break the world record it had missed by .2 earlier this year. "Putting our best times together we beat it [the record] easily." Lee Evans said. "We're predestined to have it." Instead, they couldn't even try. Ronnie Ray Smith, the No. 3 leg, aggravated an old hamstring injury in the 440 relay and San Jose scratched.

"We've been telling people all over we were going to get the record," said leadoff man Sam Davis. "And what we were really saying was that we were going to blow everyone off the track. Hell, for once we didn't all go out the night before a race and mess around." While Davis talked, he watched the Houston Striders win in 1:23.8, 1.5 slower than San Jose's best this season.

And, finally, there was Villanova, which hoped to set an American record in the two-mile relay but finished third behind Wisconsin and Washington State. "How can you come out here and run so badly?" Marty Liquori said. "How can each of us come out and run the worst time he's run all season long? I can't believe it."

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