For openers the West Germans figured they'd blitz the young U.S. track team in the four throwing events. The French scared them in Paris, now we'll run them right out of Stuttgart, they thought. But what the Germans forgot to take into account was the AAU. Nothing can inspire a touring U.S. track team like its own sponsor.
Grim when they arrived, after reading stories from the States that this was a Micky Mouse team, the athletes became even grimmer when they learned that the AAU had suspended many of the nonteam Americans competing in Europe. A track promoter, Hermann Hoffmann, claimed that he had paid three U.S. athletes sums up to $1,000 to compete. Famous for his passion for publicity, Hoffmann made his charges in the newspapers. Naturally, he named Lee Evans and John Pennel, didn't name the third American and said he had no proof, only his word. Acting on only what he read in the papers, Ollan Cassell, the AAU track chief, suspended Evans, Pennel and Russ Hodge. Then he sent telegrams to other European promoters saying that if any nonteam Americans showed up turn them away. Next he told the athletes that if they cared to travel to Stuttgart he'd be glad to hear their side of the story. That's what is known as AAU justice.
"When I read about Hoffmann's press conference in Zurich," Cassell said. "I informed the European federations that these athletes should not be permitted to compete until we have conducted an investigation."
"You condemned them on the basis of a newspaper article? Without any proof?"
July 26, 1970
Cassell, who until 1966 was competing on the same European circuit, nodded. "Yes, if they indeed got money they have to be barred. They are suspended now until they are cleared."
"Isn't that a little harsh, a suspension based only on a suspicion? Before even hearing their side?"
"You may think so," Cassell said. "Other people may look at it differently."
Other people did look at it differently. The Europeans almost fell over laughing. If a world-class foreign athlete has ever competed in the U.S., including the AAU championships themselves, without being well paid his name has never been recorded. It's easy to uncover, just ask most of them. But the AAU blithely ignores this. There are rules and then there are rules.
"If an athlete can get money, he should take it," said Horst-R√ºdiger Schl√∂ske, a West German 400-meter runner. "And almost all Europeans do. Our top distance runner, Harald Norpoth, is very expert at making expenses, collecting double air fares and so forth. But I haven't seen him lately. He was supposed to be at a couple of meets but didn't show up. That's how they are: if the money isn't right they don't compete."
On Tuesday, the day before the meet began, the condemned athletes began gathering in Stuttgart. Evans came in from Switzerland, Pennel and Hodge from Munich, Bob Seagren from Finland. Others came from Innsbruck. "If they don't get reinstated," said George Frenn, the hammer thrower, "I'm quitting the team. I wouldn't want to be a part of that hypocritical group anymore."
"We're having a hard time getting Cassell to talk to us," said Pennel. "He's not very helpful."
Cassell asked the Swiss federation to look at Hoffmann's books. Hoffmann refused to show them. Somewhat reluctantly Cassell gave up the witch hunt. He ordered the athletes to sign three sets of papers stating that they had never accepted money. Then he lifted the suspensions. They all took off for a meet in Mainz, Germany. "Your AAU is stupid," a German athlete said.
That crisis past, the U.S. team turned its full attention to the Germans. The meet went pretty much according to form. The American women lost 82-53; the American men won 122-100. The highlight of the meet—and a shock for the Germans, who were heavily favored to sweep the event—was the 800 meters. On the way to the stadium, Mark Winzenried and Ken Swenson of the U.S. had a talk. "I'll just go like a bat out of hell and run them off the track," said Winzenried. Which he did, running the first 400 in 51.6 and knocking off Franz-Josef Kemper, the No. 1 German. Winzenried held the incredible pace until the final turn. Then he faltered. Walter Adams passed him on the inside, a few yards ahead of Swenson. "That last 100 was tough," said Swenson. "I was so tired I didn't even think about catching him. I just ran." He caught Adams 50 yards from the finish, passed him and won in 1:44.8, lowering Jim Ryun's American record by 1/10th of a second. Said Stan Wright, one of the men's team managers, "You've got to admit that the German win was a hell of a victory for a Mickey Mouse team."
So now only Russia—and, presumably, the AAU—stand between the U.S. and a European sweep.