The 13th annual National Invitational indoor track meet will take place at Cole Field House tonight, barring earthquake or other disaster. It would take an earthquake for No. 13 to prove more unlucky than previous editions.
For three straight years, the meet has been hounded by ice and snow, making driving around the Beltway more hazardous than the first turn of the 500-yard run. So when the weatherman forecast more rain for this evening, meet officials cheered the news more than a world record.
Records are unlikely tonight, as the implications of an Olympic year have placed training above performance for most world-class athletes. For further consternation, longtime Cole participants Villanova and Georgetown have opted for other weekend destinations.
Villanova Coach Jumbo Elliott assigned one member of his limitless stable to Cole, however, and the presence of Don Paige in the mile run lends excitement to the major event on any indoor program.
Paige, who accomplished the difficult 800-1,500 double in last year's NCAA meet, will oppose Thomas Wessinghage, the West German who won here last year, and Paul Cummings, the 1979 runner-up.
Other stars in a somewhat limited galaxy include Renaldo Nehemiah, Maryland's hurdler supreme; Jerome Deal, the NCAA sprint champion; Olympian Dick Buerkle, who has made Cole his private playpen; pole vaulters Earl Bell and Mike Tully; Robin Campbell, the Washington native now attending Stanford, and veterans Fred Sowerby and Byron Dyce.
The mile glues every indoor meet together and this one has some powerful mucilage. Cole is renowned for a fast track, so there is rarely a need to advertise for middle-distance talent.
Paige, known prior to 1979 as a half-miler, would prefer to run the shorter race tonight. Since Elliott has the last word, the senior from upstate New York will provide glitter to the 11-lap event.
Wessinghage stalked the pace-setting Cummings until the last 80 yards a year ago, then charged past to win by six yards in 3:57.2. He has a formidable kick, as he demonstrated in August by winning the World Cup 1,500 at Montreal.
All three are Olympic hopefuls in the 1,500, but they need to escape the shadows of the truly great, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. So it is perhaps not surprising that they are facing each other so early in an Olympic year; they have ground to make up.
Most of the other giants of the sport are easing into their training, oblivious of the early indoor campaign. Marty Liquori, for example, a longtime fixture at Cole, hit the road for the first time this week.
Nehemiah will fight illness, abbreviated training and a field of questionable ability to make the folks at Maryland happy. This is neither the time nor the circumstances he would otherwise choose for his 1980 debut.
The principal challenge to Mr. Hurdles probably will come from Kerry Bethel, who whipped Deby Cooper and Rod Milburn in the Muhammad Ali meet in Long Beach, Calif., last week. Larry Shipp, a four-time Cole champion, is beginning a comeback and another with upset ideas is Garnet Edwards, the man who won the IC4A indoor title when Nehemiah circled the last hurdle.
Deal, a native of Aberdeen, Md., was the surprise winner of the 100 meters in the NCAA meet, beating James Sanford and Harvey Glance. He will face Cliff Wiley, Jesse Williams, Bob Calhoun and Neville Hodge.
Buerkle is the two-mile favorite and two surviving meet records demonstrate the impact he has made at Cole. In 1974, he upset Steve Prefontaine in an 8:26.2 two-mile. In 1978, he set an indoor record, since eclipsed, of 3:54.9 in the mile.
Bell leaped 17-6 a year ago to upset Tully, who won at the same height the year before. The rest of the field, in an event that draws "oohs" and "aahs" for clearance at any height, includes Maryland's Jon Werner, a transfer from UCLA; Billy Olson, Bruce Simpson, Geoff Stiles, Chris Kolm and Jim Adlam.
Campbell, Washington's first Robin, has overcome a series of injuries and clocked a good 2:05.2 for 800 meters to win her first 1980 test at San Francisco a week ago.