Indoor track is a winter sport, but the 1978 campaign will be remembered for its spring. Franklin Jacobs, the 5-foot-8 basketball player from Paterosn, N.J., transformed the high jump and gave the whole sport an upward lift when he leaped to a world indoor best of 7-7 1/4 in the Millrose Games in New York.
Dwight Stones, whose five-year reign as America's jump and jive king ended that night, recalled thinking as he watched Jacobs' explosive takeoff, "His form is so terrible, if he makes a world record he'll set the high jump back 20 years."
Frank Costello, Maryland track coach and former national high jump champion, said, "Jacobs is from another planet. If he sets a world record, I'll quit coaching. How can you teach kids to jump when a guy can do something like that with such bad technique?"
Jacobs conceds his lack of form, but with spring like that it doesn't really matter. Onc can now envision track coaches searching the playgrounds for slam-drunking kangaroos with potential as eight-foot jumpers. Among them will be Castello, who decided to stay in business, largely because of people like Renaldo Nehemiah and Bob Calhoun.
Those two ineptly dubbed Terrapins are so good in their specialties that they have Costello slavering over a possible NCAA title, not to mention the IC4A crown.
Freshman Nehemiah is the new indoor record holder for the 60-yard high hurdles, while junior transfer Calhoun has high-jumped beyong 26 feet twice this winter. Throw in shot-putter Ian Pyka, hurdler Greg Robertson, high-jumper Brian Melly and 60-man Mark Fields and the Terrapins are capable of winning the NCAA Indoors at Detroit, March 10-11. They are longshots but that's better than being the no-shots of previous appearances.
Flu-ridden Villanova is indoor IC4A favorite in a meet geared to teams with lots of running talent. BUt even if Maryland should come up second again at Princeton March 4-5, it seems a virtual lock to retain its outdoor crown.
The two collegiate meets, the National AAU at New York Feb. 24 and this weekend's San Diego-San Francisco hookup are the major remnants of what has been a most interesting season.
The start was mind-boggling. Mike Tully set a pole vault mark of 18-4 the first week, then Dick Buerkle established a mile standard of 3:54.9 and Greg Joy boosted the high-jump record to 7-7 here at College Park the second week.
When Buerke was idled by a foot fracture. Eamonn Coghlan returned from a New Zealand tour to take over the jub of beating poor Filbert Bayi in the mile. Joy's joy faded with Jacob's jump in New York. Meanwhile, Tully, who had hoped to match Dan Ripley's 1976 success at raising the vault mark a quarter inch a week, has found first place at any height a fleeting item.
Tully and Francie Larrieu had been close rivals for the Vitalis award to the outstanding athlete of the indoor season, but Saturday in Cleveland, Tully managed only 17 feet and fell three points behind Larrieu, who should wrap things up this weekend.
Larrieu lost once to Jan Merrill and once to Mary Decker in that trio's heating rivalry, but otherwise Larrieu maintained her reputation as the queen of American runners. She even found time to compete, with modest success considering her tiny frame, in the "Superstars" between meets.
Larrieu's likely triumph as the best of the indoor competitors is just one more indication of how the women are making an impression on a circuit where a few years ago their appearances in rare races used to inspire dashes to the refreshment stand.
There are clouds hovering over indoor track. The Mason-Dixon Games in Louisville Saturday drew only 4,000 persons and its future is in doubt. Weather dealt a servere financial blow to the Philadelphia Track Classic, and for the second straight year the College Park meet was hurt by dreadful conditions outside. The incredibly botched telecast of the Millrose Games, in which starters were not identified and Nehemiah was unknown to the announcers, certainly hurt the cause of track and field. And attempts of some coaches to unload chaff at maximum expense with their golden stars resulted in the absence of both from several meets.
Nevertheless, Jacobs, Buerkle, Houston, MoTear, Nehemiah, Mike Boit, Mark Belger, Stan Vinson, Herman Frazier, Tully and those long-legged ladies have magnified interest in the sport. Once virtually ignored in non-Olympic years, track is demanding its place amid the hoopla. Foremost in leading the assault is that old basket maker, Franklin Jacobs.