The breakfast of champion sprinter Houston McTear contains no bacon, ham or sausage these days. Mostly, he dines on a curious concoction of vitamins, bran nuts and honey, with a mildly myterious label - The 4X formula.
McTear eats no pork out of respect for the beliefs of Muhammad Ali, his chief benefactor. He takes his advice on nutritions from civil rights activists Dick Gregory, the 4X man.
"Ali says keep your mind clean, your name clean and everything in your life clean," McTear said recently when asked what sort of message The Greatest had to offer a 21-year-old sprinter.
"Well, I'm not real sure what all those pills are, but I know they work. I take group I at breakfast and group II after supper. I've been doing it about a year, and it makes me feel real strong. Yeah, I'm still eating meat. Dick doesn't want me to. But I like steak. Got to have that steak."
The curious combination of food that fuels McTear's semi-squatty 5-foot-7 body clearly contains enough octane to produce favorable results. McTear is undefeated in five races this indoor season, has set world records in both the 60-yard and 60-meter events, and like his punching pal, has no hesitation in claiming "I'm No. 1. I don't think I can lose."
So far this season, he has taken on most of the world's best sprinters and proved that conclusively. Last summer on a European tour, he won seven of his eight races at 100 meters. "I knew then that this was going to be my year," he said. "That's when I got the feeling."
A lot of people had the feeling that McTear would be doing these marvelous things three years ago, when he burst upon the international track scene with some incredible clockings.
In one high-school meet, he allegedly ran a world record 9-flat over 100 yards. The mark was never allowed because of a technically concerning use of an electronic timer.
At the time, McTear was 18, a high-school junior who trained in primitive surroundings on a grass football field. He lived with seven brothers and sisters in a shanty shack in rural Milligan, Fla.
In those days, McTear was shepherded to meets around the country by his high-school coach, Will Willoughby. A pleasant and affable fellow, Willoughby seemed to enjoy all the attention, even as McTear shield from it.
McTear set no world records for sparkling converation in those days, nor did he dazzle anyone with his classroom moves. One of his teachers once said "I'm just afraid Houston would get discouraged if he went to college. I'm afraid he'd end up coming home."
Added McTear: "I don't guess school is fit for me. It scares me."
At least is used to scare him. Last week McTear became a full time student at Cerritos Junior College in Norwalk, Calif. He will be running for track coach Dave Kamanski this spring.
McTear has been in California the last two years. He decided to transfer to Cerritos from Santa Monica Junior College last year after competing in the Muhammad Ali Invitational at the school last spring.
Harold Smith, a Los Angeles promoter who put on the Ali meet, has been McTear's link to Ali. The fighter and the fast phenom were introduced several years ago, and McTear now attends most of Ali's fights.
Ali also has helped McTear and his family financially. The young sprinter says "Nobody knows him (Ali) like I know him. All that loud mouth stuff is for the papers. He's been real good to me. He's my friend."
Smith is in constant contact with Kamanski. He has told the veteran track coach he wants McTear to concentrate as much on his school work as he does on his speed.
"We can give Houston a lot of help here," Kamanski said. "We've got a tutoring program. We make sure he goes to class. Let's face it, he needs a lot of work in English. Yeah, he has trouble reading.
"We've got him in remedial courses. He took 10 credits as a part-time student last semester, and he's improving. We're not here to exploit the kid. He came to us. We think we can help him in school.
"Out on the track, that's another story. Houston has so much talent that's natural, you don't want to mess him up. As a coach, I feel lukcy to have him. When you get a guy this good you really don't have to do much. We've tried to condition him and strengthen him. He wants to run 100 meters and 200 meters in the spring, and we're going to get him ready!"
McTear has always been a terror at the shorter indoor distances because of his out-of-the-world bolts from the blocks. As one of those short people, however, he has had a history of being caught from behind by many of his taller, long-striding opponents, people like Steve Williams and Steve Riddick.
He has also been plagued by injuries, the most serious a hamstring pull suffered during the Olympic Trials in 1976. McTear made the team, but could not compete in Montreal.
"That's all healed up," he said. "I don't even think about it any more. I've never felt this strong before. All those vitamins are doing the job."
Nah, none of those dudes worry me. They can try and catch me, I don't think any of 'em can."