"These are not the Olympic trials. I know they aren't because I'm sleeping at night." -- Al Oerter
When President Carter took Americans out of the Olympics, he took much of the inspiration out of American Olympians. These Olympic trials may not be more than a unique all-comers meet, but they have made the athletes feel good about themselves for the first time in months.
This is the perfect location for this exercise in excellence and futility. Symbolically the near-constant, thick, ominous clouds that loom above Hayward Field are a reminder to the athletes of their boycott gloom. But the fans here care for them as no others anywhere else in the country.
Athletes who came here feeling quite low will leave her feeling surprisingly refreshed.
"I didn't lift (after Carter's February boycott decision)," said the winner of the women's high jump. Louis Ritter. "I didn't do what I'd done in the fall. It wasn't until about a month and and half ago that I got my motivation again. I was jumping well and not working hard."
Why did she resume training and come here?
"My thinking was that it took me a half a year of training to make the team and the trials, and if I redshirted (her college season) and didn't do anything, it would be silly for me to not make this my ultimate goal."
Rain is the major reason performances have been below record levels in most events the first five days. It is not the only one.
"There's not the intensity there was here in '76," said veteran decathlete Fred Dixon. "This wasn't as vicious. In '76, there were guys clawing and scratching for that third spot. It was a little more low key this time."
Historically, Americans have been a dominant force in the decathlon. Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and Bruce Jenner have used Olympic victory in the event to further their careers. The trials winner here, Bob Coffman, who was ranked No. 1 in the world last year, could not come within 450 points of the present world record.
"It might have been the rain," he said, "and it might have been getting the incentive knocked out three months ago. We all once thought it might take 8,200 points just to make the team." In fact, 8,200 points was 16 more than winner Coffman mustered.
Mac Wilkins, the '76 Olympic champion and American record holder in the discus, almost always speaks publicy about what others feel but keep to themselves.
"I'm happy to live where I do," he said, "but I'm not always happy with the way things are. The boycott is wrong. Who's guilty of what? What's guilt? Nobody tried to keep us out of Munich in 1972 because of our involvement in vietnam. When I first knew Wolfgang Schmidt (world record holder for East Germany), he talked about how much better things were in his country.
"Me, too. But how can we present our side of the story if we don't go to Moscow?"
Wilkins and many others fail to fathom that their presence in Moscow is the most forceful way to present how this country feels about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But anyone with such a vested interest would react similarly.
Sentiment about the alternate competition that has been arranged for the American team in America is mixed.When the July 16-17 meet in Philadelphia was officially announced today the immediate, private reaction by some was to boycott it.
The meet hardly comes at an ideal time for the athletes, for the U.S. team is scheduled to compete the day before in Oslo. And two days before that in London. And the two days before that in Stuttgart. That is an inordinate amount of running -- and running for planes.
"I said last week that I wouldn't compete at Berkeley (that meet was canceled) unless they gave me $1,500," Wilkins said. "I suggested they give the athletes a stipend of $700 or $800."
There may be some severe arm twisting to get all of the prominent Olympians to Washington for the presidential ceremonies honoring the U.S. team July 29-30.
Still, only injuries kept the world-class athletes from competing here. And they have as much affection for the people here as they do frustration with Carter. Only here do fans also cheer obsure runners for a fine effort that fails to come close to victory.
"If the trials were someplace else, someplace where they didn't appreciate and really understand track and field." said Edwin Moses, the '76 winner and world record-holder in the 400-meter hurdles, "then I might not be here."
"If that crowd wasn't there," said triple-jump winner Willie Banks, "I probably would have folded. They're just a bunch of fantastic people who really love track and field."
The women's shot put winner, Maren Seidler, said she probably will not join the U.S. team for its European tour. She did not hesitate to compete here.
"This is Eugene," she said, as if no additional explanation was necessary.
Of all the winners here so far, the most appealing, the one who seems most truly Olympic, is the winner of the women's javelin, Karin Smith. She is as outgoing and talented as anyone could hope, quick to share her joy with others.
An hour after she won her event Tuesday, Smith was spotted still in uniform, helping clean up the stands. Like the less famous and gifted volunteers, she was sweeping garbage into a large box, preparing the stadium for today's competition.
"People here are so wonderful to the sport," she said. "You want to give them something in return."