The women stirred up the most excitement at the 90th National AAU Indoor Championships Friday night, but there was evidence that women have a long way to go to reach equality on the track.
Francie Larrieu outkicked Jan Merrill to win an exciting mile in a meetrecord 4:37.0, then embellished her victory lap by tossing autographed pictures to the crowd.
"My coach (Tom Jennings) had them printed up to give away at a clinic I was giving in Michigan," Larrieu said. "But nobody came to the clinic, so I've been giving them away whenever I run."
If Larrieu is not highly regarded as an instructor, she had enough charisma to win both a standing ovation from the crowd of 13,739 and the media's vote as the outstanding female athlete of the meet.
Deby LaPlante turned in a more creditable performance, establishing a world indoor record of 7.53 seconds in the 60-yard hurdles. In the process, she defeated six-time champion Patty Van Wolvelaere and Olympic finalist Ester Rot of Israel.
LaPlante received only two votes from the five-man selection panel, mine and that of veteran track buff Jesse Abramson. Her record was never announced to the crowd and was not noted on the result sheets. Yet she had slashed .15 of a second off Van Wolvelaere's record. Houston McTear, in reducing his own 60-yard record by .07 of a second, received both public-address recognition and the outstanding male athlete award.
"Yes, I'm aware of it," LaPlante said, smiling, when she was asked about the record. She added that "I'm kind of used to not getting recognized here. Last year they told me I won and set a world record (hand-timed 7.3, no longer recognized). Then they reversed it and said Jane (Frederick) won and they wouldn't even give me credit for the same time. I'm still angry over that one, and I was thinking about it tonight. We tied. I saw the photo."
LaPlante was an Olympic semifinalist in the 100-meter hurdles, but she has fared poorly internationally with lack of competition a primary reason. so she is hoping to turn in another excellent performance in the United States-Europe meet at Milan, Italy, March 14.
"I want to go to Italy and do well, because I'm trying to arrange a trip to Europe in June," LaPlante said. "My outdoor seasons have been bad, because I have no races to run in. I usually have two races before the nationals, and then it's over. And the only time I race against Patty and Jane is in the nationals.
"I can't be competitive that way. I have to run against Patty and Jane and Ester. Even (Johanna) Klier (of East Germany), who would beat me, but she'd pull me along."
LaPlante's training situation has improved. Her husband, Fred, is now assistant track coach at Columbia, and LaPlante is able to use the university's indoor facilities.
"At least I can go inside now," LaPlante said. "Last year Fred was unemployed and we were living in Michigan. Except for a couple of times when I sneaked into the University of Michigan, I just ran outside, doing what I could.
"Now I can run at Columbia, against Fred's one sprinter, and practice against his one hurdler. Can I beat him? I don't know. We just train together."
One woman with problems Friday night was kathy Mills of Penn State, the early pace setter in the twomile. Twice Mills came around a turn to find an official -- the same one --walking along the track toward her. Each time she had to swerve to avoid him.
The eventual winner of the two-mile was Brenda Webb, a 5-foot-2, 92 pounder from the University of Tennessee. She set a meet record of 9:55.8.
There are 14 women's events in the National AAU Indoor Championships. Not one meet record is more than a progress, even if clinics go unattended year old. That's a definite sign of progress, even if clinics go unattend and world records go unannounced.