USA Track & Field busted-its-buttons over America’s dominance at the World Athletics Championships ending last Sunday in Eugene, Oregon.
Team USA won the event’s first team trophy “with an astounding 328 points” and saw hurdler Sydney McLaughlin lower her own world record in the one-lap race to 50.68 seconds and Noah Lyles slice Michael Johnson’s 26-year-old American record at 200 meters from 19.32 to 19.31.
And U.S. men swept the 100, 200 and shot put.
But exactly 60 years earlier, about 550 miles south, another competition rated the label “greatest track meet of all time.”
In the midst of the Cold War, the Soviet Union visited Stanford University for a two-day meet that drew 72,500 fans July 21, 1962. Some 81,000 attended the next day.
A two-day crowd of 153,500.
Attendance over 10 days at the University of Oregon’s gleaming new track and field palace?
Some 146,033 ticketed fans were tallied.
Of course, the Cold War between superpowers — who months later faced nuclear oblivion in the Cuban Missile Crisis — helped fuel a rooting interest.
But as Red Shannon recalled in 2010, “The tremendous popularity and rivalry of the dual meet series was spawned by national pride and loyalty on both sides, and always seemed to extract the best performances from the athletes.”
Emphasis on performances.
At Lenin Stadium in 1961, four world records were broken in the USA-USSR dual. At Stanford Stadium in 1962, American Harold Connolly set a world record in the hammer throw and Soviet high jumper Valery Brumel straddled a world record 7-feet-5.
Shannon surmised: “The press would report that the American men won, 128-107 and the Soviet women prevailed, 66-41. No one really cared.”
Same for the track-savvy spectators at Hayward Field last week. Few would remember who took second in scoring.
It was Jamaica (110), followed by Ethiopia (106) and Kenya (104). Their combined 320 points still trailed USA’s 328.
In the Golden Years of American track — roughly the late 1950s to early 1970s — the Soviets provided the stiffest test. But with the East Bloc’s breakup (especially East Germany losing its steroid-built advantage), America has ruled the roost.
Russia — banned from Eugene for its brutal war on Ukraine — would have needed its former republic and many others to challenge for the 2022 team title.
With only 22 athletes — half its normal contingent — Ukraine tied with the Dominican Republic for 21st in Eugene. Its squad of refugee athletes won a silver and a bronze.
High jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh tied gold medalist Eleanor Patterson of Australia in height (2.02 meters or 6-7 1/2), but had more misses. Her male teammate Andriy Protsenko took third with a season best clearance of 2.33 meters (7-7 3/4), one place ahead of Italian Olympic champion Gianmarco Tamberi.
Among the meet highlights was the Day 10 pole vault world best of 6.21 meters (20-4 1/2) by Louisiana native Mondo Duplantis, eclipsing his own previous PR of 6.20.
His height over the bar was breathtaking, but his reason for not jumping again was routine.
He won $100,000 for setting a world record (in addition to $70,000 for the title). And his Puma shoe contract likely added a performance bonus.
He learned the fractional-inch-up from a legend.
After first topping the vault record with a 5.94 (19-5 3⁄4) in 1984, Sergei Bubka settled into a pattern of incremental raisings — 13 times he bettered this own record, usually by a silly little centimeter — about a third of an inch — finally ascending 6.14 (20-11⁄2).
Bubka wore a Soviet singlet.
His nationality? Ukrainian.