It was almost as though the folks were afraid of heights. The last relay was over at the 93rd annual U.S.A. Indoor Track Championships Friday night and suddenly the majority of the 15,891 fans was heading out the exits.
Only about one-fifth of the crowd remained to see most of the evening's excitement. Within one minute, Jeff Woodard of the University of Alabama cleared 7 feet 7 3/4 inches to establish an American indoor high-jump record and Thierry Vigneron of France leaped 18-4 1/2 to set a meet mark in the pole vault.
After Nat Page narrowly failed to match Woodard, France's Philippe Houvion on his second try equaled his countryman's vault. Suddenly, on opposite sides of the Madison Square Garden infield, athletes were seeking world indoor bests.
Woodard was aiming to become the first man over 7-9, indoors or out, and he made two respectable attempts at that height before running under the bar on his final try.
"I'm really excited," Woodard said. "I don't know how to handle this sort of thing yet."
When the 6-foot, 170-pound Woodard learns to control his emotions and launch his takeoff a shade closer to the bar, he should handle 7-9 and threatend the 8-foot barrier. Frank Costello, the bearded Maryland coach who once jumped pretty well himself, thinks Woodard has the most potentioal of any jumper who ever lived.
The ascent of Woodard, 22 a native of New Albany, Ind., who is redshirting during what could have been his senior at Alabama, also marks the end of the Dwight Stones-Franklin Jacobs domination of the sport in the United States. Stones placed third Friday at 7-4 1/4, Jacobs tied Maryland's Bill Thierfelder for fourth at 7-1 1/4 and neither has gone as high as 7-5 this winter.
It is not an unpleasant change of command. The soft-spoken, modest Woodward is a breath of fresh air after the mercenary, self-centered attitudes of Stones and Jacobs. Of course, the spotlight might alter him, as it did Jacobs. Woodard has come on the scene so quickly that his name was spelled "Woodward" in the meet program here.
In the vaulting pit, Houvion, 24, had a chance only on his first try at 18-8 3/4. But Vigneron, 20, had the height on his first attempt before losing control of the pole and dislodging the bar. It was Vigneron's first miss of the entire 22-man competition which began at 6 p.m. and concluded, after Vigneron ran under the bar on his third try and lay on the mat in near exhaustion, at 11:10.
The 19-foot vault should come this summer and it would be no surprise to see either Frenchman do it.Hovion went 18-11 last year, while Vigneron's outdoor best is 18-10 1/4.