Next week, at the TAC/USA Indoor Championships in New York, Willie Banks will be forced to perform his specialty, the triple jump, in front of a handful of midday spectators. For one night, however, Friday here in San Diego, Banks was lord of all who surveyed him, all 11,869 who watched the Jack in the Box Invitational.
Billy Olson boosted his indoor pole vault record to 18 feet 9 1/2 inches and Mary Decker Tabb lowered her indoor mile mark to 4:20.5. At the finish, however, it was Banks who received outstanding-athlete honors.
The runners in the two-mile were just approaching the halfway mark when the crowd created bedlam in reaction to a lengthy effort by Banks. The 25-year-old San Diego native checked the tape, then leaped in the air, spread his arms to the screaming fans and finally kissed the runway.
There was no doubt. Banks had set an indoor record, too, sailing 57-1 1/2 to add four inches to Keith Conner's 1981 mark. Banks went on to give a "high five" to some of the two-milers before returning to earth. Outside of the Olympic Games, there could have been no greater moment for a triple jumper.
"The crowd was just great, just super. I could feel them yelling for me," Banks said. "I knew San Diego was the place--my hometown. It was all emotion tonight. If I'm having fun, I'm going to do well, and I had a lot of fun with everybody behind me.
"They let me down in Los Angeles. Nobody paid any attention. I fouled a couple, then put one out to keep my average up. I could have jumped 57 there, but they didn't want it. They wouldn't have appreciated it. Here they appreciated it."
Triple jumpers have long been the Rodney Dangerfields of the track colony and last summer Banks was able to compete in only a couple of meets in Europe, the normal happy hunting ground for top athletes. Despite the fact that he shattered the American record four times, with a best of 57-7 1/2 in the TAC/USA Outdoor Championships at Sacramento, Banks competed overseas only because he was already there for the U.S.-Russia meet.
Last year, Banks became the first American ever to be ranked first in the triple jump by Track and Field News. He considers that a move in the right direction, but his goals are much higher.
"I want to break the world record at sea level; that's No. 1," Banks said.
The current world mark of 58-8 1/2 was set in the rarefied air of Mexico City in 1975 by Joao Oliveira of Brazil.
Oliveira was severely injured in an automobile accident last fall and Ron Livers, one of America's great triple jumpers, is slowly recovering from a broken neck.
"It wasn't a good year for triple jumpers," Banks said. "I had good marks but I pulled a muscle and I've been a long time coming back. I'm just starting to come back now."
Meet officials provided the platform for Banks' performance with an inspired change of schedule. The triple jump was set to begin at 7, when many fans were still on the way, and the long jump to follow about 8:15. When Carl Lewis scratched from the long jump, the two events were flip-flopped, giving Banks prime time.