The IAAF Mobil Grand Prix, with more than a half million dollars at stake, will begin a four-month, 16-meet run here Saturday with Bruce Jenner's Bud Light Classic. Like the recent Olympic Games, the withdrawals have generated as much notice as the competition.
Such names as Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Mary Decker Slaney, Greg Foster and Evelyn Ashford are among the missing, along with the entire shot put field and most of the discus throwers. The heralded East European representation is limited to a few Czechoslovakians and Bulgarians.
Although what remains is a solid track and field competition, the absence of so many stars has generated negative publicity that figures to restrict both attendance and general interest.
Columnists in the San Jose Mercury News, the only newspaper giving the meet much coverage, today ripped Lewis ("Lewis Ruining His Popularity With Attitude") and the televised meet ("Pullouts Leave NBC With a 'Stinker' -- the Jenner Meet").
Lewis reported a cramp in his thigh, left over from last week's failed record long jump try at UCLA. Moses, Slaney and Foster (who has pulled up in four straight meets here) also cited injuries. Ashford is pregnant. The weight men offered various alibis ranging from "tired" to "not ready" and the excuses invited translation into reluctance to go near a meet that has advertised mandatory drug testing.
Although the Grand Prix money is welcomed by many athletes, it remains a fact that Lewis and others can collect as much for one appearance as they could by taking the overall $25,000 prize offered to the leading man and woman on a point basis over the 16 meets. There are no requirements that an athlete compete in a specified number of meets, but points are awarded in each designated event on a 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
The individual event awards, from $10,000 for first to $1,000 for sixth in each of nine men's and seven women's events over the 16 meets, amount to peanuts in relation to appearance money, with the top prize averaging out to just $625 per meet.
The result is a difficult time inducing the top athletes to compete with any frequency on the circuit, which continues June 1 in Eugene, Ore., and then moves to Europe for 14 meets, including competitions in Moscow, Prague and Budapest. The televised Grand Prix final bringing together the leaders in the point standings will be in Rome Sept. 7.
Among competitors here will be Joaquim Cruz of Brazil, Olympic 800-meter champion, who will race U.S.-record holder Johnny Gray in the two-lap event. An NBC representative (the meet will be taped and shown Sunday on "SportsWorld") was only half kidding today when he said, "If Cruz drops out, we pack up and go home."
The women's 800 features Jarmila Kratochvilova, the world-record holder who never has lost at the distance. Her top U.S. challengers include Kim Gallagher, Ruth Wysocki and Robin Campbell.
The men's mile could be a good one, with Sydney Maree and Steve Scott going head to head, Scott aiming for his 100th sub-four-minute mile. That was unprecedented before his good friend John Walker broke 4:00 a 100th time Feb. 17 in New Zealand.
Olympic champion Pierre Quinon of France tops the pole vault field, but the hot hands, Soviet Sergey Bubka and Oklahoma State's Joe Dial, are otherwise occupied.
With Grand Prix events alternating each year, the women's 100 is the designated money race Saturday. Valerie Brisco-Hooks, one genuine Olympic hero competing here, won gold in the 200 and 400 -- Grand Prix choices next year.
Among the other standouts here are Roger Kingdom, Olympic high hurdles champion, and marathon silver medalist Grete Waitz, who will run the 3,000 meters.