Normally, there would be little interest in a Navy-La Salle track meet. But last week when the two competed, an unusually large throng gathered inside Halsey Field House to watch.
The group paid little attention to such events as the 100-yard dash, the mile or the 440. They had come from all over Maryland to see Leo W. Williams II jump over a bar.
If Williams was in good form, as he was two weeks ago when he cleared 7 feet 1/2 inches for the best mark in the world this year, he might even treat them to one of his special sky bounds of seven feet or more.
But everyone left disappointed. Including the track coach's wife, one of the team's most ardent supporters.
They left unfulfilled because Williams, a sophomore from Muncie, Ind., walked calmly out to the runway, raised the bar to a height of 6-10, four inches higher than the best mark of the day, and flipped his 6-3, 178-pound frame over it easier than most people could step over a puddle of water. Having won the event, he retired for the evening.
"My wife was mad at me because Leo took only one jump that evening," Jim Gehrdes, the Navy track coach, said today. "She didn't like driving all the way out here to see Leo jump just once.
"Neither did all those other people who came out for the La Salle meet. They all left right after that. Didn't even stay around for the last two events."
That little episode may move Gehrdes to reschedule the high jump competition as the last event in Navy's future home meets. The main event after the preliminaries, so to speak.
"Leo's the best high jumper in the world," said Gehrdes. "Has he reached his potential yet? Hell, no."
Williams, whose father narrowly missed qualifying for the 1936 Olympics, hopes to realize that goal about 3 1/2 years from now when the 1984 Summer Games are scheduled to begin in Los Angeles.
"You might say making the '84 Olympics is my main objective," said Williams, hands folded and carefully resting on the bright yellow "N" of his navy blue sweater. "I placed 12th of 61 jumpers in the 1980 trials and they took the top three. I was disappointed that we didn't go to Moscow (because of the U.S. boycott) but that was the president's decision. And he's my boss. But we will be at the Games in '84. I'm sure of it."
Williams, who is becoming a celebrity around town, says he doesn't feel pressured by the new attention. He isn't bothered by much, if anything.
He speaks matter-of-factly about having to delay entrance to the Naval Academy for one year because his SAT verbal scores weren't high enough. He spent one year at the Navy's prep school in Rhode Island.
"Our school really didn't concentrate a lot on English," said the mathematics major, who can pronounce the name of every Soviet and East German jumper who has ever cleared seven feet.
Williams himself became a member of the elite 7-foot club last year as a freshman when he jumped 7-3 in Franklin Field to place second behind Franklin Jacobs, who missed one less time at the same height.
Williams hs won five straight meets, including non-Naval Academy-affiliated performances during Christmas vacation, in which he took "military hop" flights to attend.
In the Runners World Invitational in San Francisco, Williams jumped 7-3 and defeated world star Dwight Stones by two inches. "I'd like to say it was a big thing to beat Dwight Stones, but the height is what was so important," he said.
The next week he was flown to East Tennessee for the Eastman Kodak Invitational, where he topped 7-4 1/2, the second-best jump ever in the East. The indoor and outdoor records, held by a Soviet and East German, respectively, are just a fraction more than 7-8. Williams barely missed 7-6 three times in East Tennessee.
He will perform here Saturday against Princeton, then go to New York Feb. 6 for the Milrose Games in Madison Square Garden. In less than 16 hours he will be back on campus to face Penn in a showdown Feb. 7 at Halsey.
"I'll be exhausted, I know," Williams said. "But it's a big meet. You aren't tired when you face Penn."
He already has qualified for the NCAA national championships in Detroit, where his mother and once-famous father will travel from Muncie, Ind., to see him perform.
"My mom is the real fan," Williams said. "She keeps me informed of things going on (in track and field)." His father, retired from the Postal Service, constructed a pit and bar in the backyard of their home, and started Williams jumping at five feet onto a blanket spread across the grass.
There's no big story about Leo," said Gehrdes. "He's just a solid character. The humor is a mile per minute when he's around. He is going to mean a lot to this program. But don't make any mention of his being initially recruited by the basketball team. They may want him back."