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Deprived of Seeing Red, Crowd Ends Up Cheering for Gray

February 24, 1986|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — While the cold war among the pole vaulters was escalating several decibels, there was a quieter, but telling conflict among a couple of runners.

The battle between Johnny Gray and Earl Jones was hardly international in scope. Since they're both members of the Santa Monica Track Club, it was strictly a family matter.

But Gray credited his world record in the 1,000-yard run to a pre-race snub by Jones, whom he regards as a brother.

"I knew he was out to get me," Gray said after running a 2:04.39 Sunday in the Michelob Invitational.

"Normally, we warm up together, but he didn't even speak to me today. It would've been harder to get the record without Earl challenging me."

A crowd of 10,010 at the San Diego Sports Arena was deprived of a chance of to see Sergei Bubka of the Soviet Union in the pole vault.

He declined to compete, saying he had a sore shoulder. That left it to Joe Dial and Billy Olson to provide the drama in the meet's most visible event. Dial won with a vault of 19-0.

It was Gray, however, who created the day's most important achievement.

After beating Don Paige's four-year-old world and American record of 2:04.7, Gray took a victory lap with Jones and a third member of the Santa Monica lodge, David Mack.

Gray went into his version of Showtime, holding aloft his teammates' arms, then shaking and wiggling his hips, as he once saw Butch Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys do on television.

"Al Franken (the meet promoter) told me I could steal the show," Gray said. "So, we did the victory lap to wake up the crowd."

Describing his record as "soft," Gray predicted he probably will break it himself. As long as he's got Jones as a rabbit, that is.

"I know I can go faster than this," Gray said. "I think I might even break 2:00.

"I wasn't tired at the finish today. I didn't take the lead until two laps to go. Earl had jumped me, maybe figuring I would die. To him, challenging me is like a victory."

Gray was relaxed, running behind Jones for much of the race. He said it's easier to gauge how the competition is developing if he's not leading.

"I was going to take off with two laps left, no matter where I was," he said. "I try to run this race like an 800 and then really blast the final two laps."

He'd been hoping for a record in Friday night's Times/GTE meet at the Forum, but felt "out of it."

This time, he made good on his pre-race feeling that a record was attainable.

It was also a satisfying day for Greg Foster, who won both the 50 and 60-yard hurdles in meet record times.

Foster became the first man to better 6.00 here in the 50 as he out-sprinted Stephan Caristan. His time was 5.99

Less than 10 minutes later, he came back with a 6.94 in the 60.

"We usually get 30 minutes or longer between races, but this wasn't bad," Foster said. "It let me know I'm in pretty good shape."

His only problem was with the trigger-happy starter.

"That was the quickest gun of my life," Foster said. "The man had barely finished saying 'Set' when the gun went off.

"A couple of the guys were complaining they didn't have time to come up in the set position. I think I managed to get up more than they did."

Foster said the straightaway here isn't as fast as the one in Los Angeles. The San Diego oval is known as a fast track, but it wasn't apparent in the featured Michelob mile.

Australia's Mike Hillardt bested a field that included Steve Scott, John Walker and Eamonn Coghlan with a time of 3:56.6.

That was well off Coghlan's meet record of 3:50.6, set in 1981.

Coghlan, a local favorite, was ill (stomach bug) and was not a factor in the race.

Coghlan had considered pulling a Bubka and not competing. However, Walker suggested that he run, and Scott underscored the point by reminding Coghlan of an obligation to the fans.

"It was very courageous of him to make a go of it," Scott said. It was clear he viewed Bubka's act in less flattering terms, as did Dial and Olson.

The mile has traditionally been the most publicized event in the San Diego meet. It was overshadowed this year, and it lived down to expectations.

Hillardt passed Scott on the final turn and kicked home.

"I came up to Steve's shoulder, and he didn't seem to go faster," Hillardt said. "I had enough to sprint past him at the wire.

"I knew Eamonn wasn't feeling well, but I had thought Steve would get inspiration from the hometown crowd."

Actually, Scott did feel pretty well, relative to recent appearances.

"I've been barely holding on in the final laps this year, but today I felt strong," Scott said.

"I just didn't have the confidence to take the lead early and apply pressure (on the field). I've really been feeling my way because of the lousy season I've had."

The pace was equally slow in the women's mile, won by Maricica Puica in 4:31.2.

She was hoping to run the world's fastest time of 1986, but said the absence of big-name competition held her back.

Valerie Brisco-Hooks ran a 23.64 to win the women's 220. Her time was more than half second off her own world and American record in the event.

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