Olympic champions Hasely Crawford, Arnie Robinson and Mac Wilkins share the spotlight with the missing men of Montreal, Filbert Bayi and Mike Boit, in the 89th National AAU indoor track and field championships today at Madison Square Garden.
Crawford makes his second appearance of the winter, following a Jan. 15 disqualification in Los Angeles, to challenge unbeaten Steve Riddick in the 60.
Robinson, although he has competed infrequently this indoor season, became the prohibitive long-jump favorite yesterday when defending champion Larry Myricks withdrew, citing the failure of his foot, broken in Olympic competition, to heal properly.
Wilkins, the Olympic kiscus king, is the best of a shot-put field weakened by the loss of Olympian George Woods with a knee cartilage problem.
Bayi, the Tanzanian who set a Madison Square Garden mile record of 3:56.1 in this meet a year ago, winds up a disappointing American toru by opposing Niall O'Shaughnessy of Ireland, Graham Crouch of Australia and Brigham Young graduate Paul Cummings.
Bayi was prevented from meeting New Zealander John Walker here by the same Tanzanian boycott policy that kept Bayi out of the Olympics.
Asked whether he expected to face Walker at some future date, Bayi expounded, "What I know is what everybody knows. And what everybody knows, I don't know."
As for tonight's race, Bayi said, "I'm not promising anybody I'll brek a record. I'm not like Muhammad Ali. He can predict he's going to win and when he's going to win, because he's a professional and there's only two people in the ring, him and somebody else, in track, there's 12 people in a race and you just can't say who's going to win."
Boit, a Kenyan who was a Montreal boycott victim but may now run against anyone, is a graduate student at Stanford. Last week in San Diego he clocked 2:05.5 for 1,000 yards, only four-tenths of a second off Mark Winzenried's indoor record, and he is the class in that event tonight.
The usual large Washington, D.C., entry has an unusual twist this year, with Fred Sowerby, the coach of the D.C. Striders, defending his 600 title against one of his pupils, Stan Vinson.
Sowerby and Vinson finished one-two last year, when Vinson ran for the Florida Track Club and Sowerby, feuding with coach Brooks Johnson, vowed to beat "anyone the Florida team put on the track."
"I think Stan Vinson is the fellow I'll have to beat," Sowerby said of tonight's race. "I hope he remembers I'm the coach and doesn't get across the finish line first."
Another familiar name, Maurice People, will participate in the competitive 600, along with Benny Brown and James Robinson.
The Strinders' quartet of Bert Jacobs, Dennis Walker, Sowerby and Vinson set a Garden record of 3:13.8 in the mile relay at the Millrose Games in January. They are among the favorites tonight, along with Arizona State and the defending champion Philadelphia Pioneers.
Another Washington entry, Howard, promises a strong challenge. The Bison team of Gosnell White, Reggie Sojourner, Michael Archie and Richard Massey ran 3:12.5, the nation's fastest time this year, on the 220-yard Tartan track at Newark, Del., on Sunday. The Garden, of course, houses a 160-yard banked board track, and fast times are harder to achieve.
"It's tremendous challenge," said Howard coach Bill Moultrie. "We're kind of excited about it. We're delighted to be mentioned in the same breath with the Striders. They're consistent, with excellent personnel, but we're going to give it a good shot."
Men's track has suffered through a humdrum indoor season, while the women have provided some of the more exciting moments. The same should occur in today's 28-event program with Jeanette Bolden leading the 60 field and Rosalyn Bryant contesting the 220.
Robin Campbell and Jan Merrill clash in the 880, then Merrill comes back a half hour later to battle Francie Larrieu Lutz in the two-mile. Lutz, also attempting a double, has 70 minutes to rest after her mile exertions.
The list of injured dropouts is probably more impressive than the starting fields - Steve Williams, Frank Shorter, Dan Ripley, Marty Liquori, Myricks and Woods are invalids. Walker and Eamonn Coghlan have returned home. Mike Tully has exams at UCLA.
Then there's Todd Scully, the Olympic walker who breeds pigs in Big Island, Va., It's litter time in the pig business and if nature calls today, he'll have little time for the trip to New York.