This Day in Track & Field–February 24

1954—Columbia’s Al Thompson won his 2nd straight IC4A Shot Put title at Madison Square Garden with a toss of

52-10  ¾ (16.12).

After serving as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserves, Thompson graduated from Columbia’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery in 1960 and had tended to the dental needs of many members of the NYC-area T&F community before he retired. And he was one of the few medical professionals in the U.S. to include Track and Field News among the magazines in his waiting room! (Thompson passed away in 2021 at the age of 89)

   Finishing 4th in the shot was 6’-5” (1.96) Roosevelt  “Rosey” Grier (Penn State), who went on to have an 11-year NFL career as a defensive lineman with the NY Giants and Los Angeles Rams. He is the last surviving member of L.A.’s famous defensive unit, the “Fearsome Foursome“ (The others were Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen, and Deacon Jones).

  Grier was with his friend Bobby Kennedy when the presidential hopeful was assassinated in 1968, and, along with Decathlon legend Rafer Johnson,  helped subdue the shooter, Sirhan Sirhan.

Other meet highlights

  Thompson was 3rd in the Weight Throw, Tom Courtney won the 1000y in 2:14.9, John Haines won the 60, Lou Jones beat Bill Persichetty in the 600y 1:12.0-1:13.2




1962—Jim Beatty, the defending champion, won the Mile at the U.S. Indoor Championships in front of 16,864 fans with a Madison Square Garden Record of 4:00.2. A 45-minute delay to the start of the race might have been enough of a distraction to keep Beatty from breaking his recent World Record of 3:58.9.

Another successful defender was 18-year old Canadian Bruce Kidd, who won the 3-mile in 13:48.8.

There was a sub-plot to the mile. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth 1,000 words. However, there are occasions when a picture doesn’t tell the whole story. A prime example was the photo that appeared on the front page of the NY Times sports section the next day (see below). One look at it and you’d swear that Villanova freshman Tom Sullivan had just pulled off the biggest upset of the indoor season by beating Beatty!

Sullivan, who had set a U.S. High School Outdoor record of 4:03.5 in 1961, explains:

 “I was put into the Mile as a last minute chance for Jumbo (Elliott) to score points for the Nova team (they would win the team title over the NYAC). I had just run a 1000y heat earlier in the evening but fell on the first lap and rolled over, got up and the pack was a good half lap ahead of me. Jumbo always stands at the bottom of the final turn and as I passed, I saw him wildly waving his arms at me. I thought he was yelling for me to catch them and qualify for the points he needed. Each time I passed I saw him waving and screaming at me. I caught the back of the pack but failed to qualify.

When I saw Jumbo, he was angry at me. He said he was trying to tell me to drop out, drop out. He wanted to use me in the Mile (which he had entered me in when he sent in the entries of our team). He asked if I felt good enough to try the Mile which was about 3 hours away. What could I say. By race time, I was not fit to run a fast mile mentally and physically.

 I looked over my shoulder as I went into the last turn with one lap to go and see Beatty behind me and my pride said: ‘Tom, you can’t be lapped-how humiliating’,  and I picked it up down the straightaway and saw the officials waving at me to move to the wall but there was no room at the wall which was filled with timers and judges. I ran past them and I believe they tried to raise the finish line over my head and then dropped it to let Beatty break the tape as he was only a few seconds behind me. I finished and don’t remember anyone in front of me as I went across the finish line.

If you can see the New York Times Sunday Sport Page (February 24, 1963) there is a picture of me breaking the tape with Jim Beatty just a few feet behind me with the headline: “And the last shall be first”. Humbling race on the front cover of the NYT Sports page!!!. They said in the newspapers that Jim Beatty ran his last lap all alone but I know he had me in his sights and I was his “rabbit” in that last lap.

I have given that picture in the NYT to my two daughters and four grandchildren and told them: ‘Sometimes you win, and sometimes it is not your day or time and lose in a big way. You move on and run your best you can in your next competition’.

1968–Martin McGrady had already established himself as the “Chairman of the Boards” (pre-Eamonn Coghlan’s reign), but now he would be facing Lee Evans for the first time in the 600y final at the AAU Indoor Championships in Oakland,CA.

            Feeling weak after returning from a meet in Moscow, McGrady briefly considered withdrawing from the race, but thought, ”The people came to see a show in this race. I guess I’m in good enough shape to give them one”.

            And what a show it was. Two afternoon heats set up a classic final that included McGrady, Evans, defending champ Jim Kemp, and Ron Whitney, the reigning U.S. champion in the 440y-hurdles.

            The fast-starting Kemp took the early lead, followed by McGrady and Evans. With a lap to go, Evans moved up to challenge Kemp, with McGrady boxed on the inside. Kemp was able to hold onto the lead as Evans and McGrady collided, nearly taking the latter out of the race. But McGrady was able to regain his balance, and, with Evans now looking like a winner, he was able to will himself past both of his rivals to nab the victory as all three men were timed in 1:09.2, just .2s second above McGrady’s World Record of 1:09.0.  It remains one of the greatest indoor races in history.

            Eleanor Montgomery set an American Record of 5-10  ½ (1.79) in the Women’s High Jump.

            Sports Illustrated Vault: