It was February 19, 1965, a few months after the Tokyo Olympic Games. A collection of international track stars, many fresh from medaling in Tokyo, gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the AAU National Indoor Track Championships.
Billy Mills, the first and only American to win the gold in the 10,000 meters in the Olympics, won the three-mile race. In a rematch of the Tokyo Olympics men’s long jump, USSR’s Igor Ter-Ovesyan outdistanced America’s Ralph Boston. Tamara Press repeated as champion in the shot put. Iolanda Balas of Romania continued her dominance in the high jump. And Mary Rand was also in town.
But the women’s long jump champion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics faded quickly in Madison Square Garden, crashing out in the preliminary rounds by fouling two of her three jumps. The runway for the long jump did have a quirky quality: there were two take-off boards on the runway, the white indicators that tell the athlete exactly how far they can step before they launch themselves into the air. But she didn’t feel that was the reason for her poor performance, as she wrote in her autobiography, “Mary Mary“.
We were having problems because on the long jump approach there were two take-off boards very close to each other. You had to pass over the first one just before taking off, which was a bit distracting. I wasn’t jumping particularly well. In fact I was fed-up with my jumping more than irritated by the other board.
So Rand was in her hotel room when she heard a knocking on her door. It was American long jumper, Whillye White, silver medalist in the long jump at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and silver medalist in the 4X100 relay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. White came to explain to Rand that she had protested the outcome of the preliminary round because the first take-off stripe should not have been on the track in the first place. White said to Rand that she had told officials that the first stripe upset her, and it must have upset the other competitors as well, and that she said Rand could join the other six in the finals.
I might have said something about it being “stupid” – but I would never have dreamed of protesting. I said I wouldn’t come back unless it was absolutely all right with all the other jumpers, because it did mean that I might go ahead and win. But Willye had already put it to all the other athletes, I was told, and they had all agreed.
So Rand returned, and she landed a jump of 20 feet 4 inches, over a foot shorter than her Olympic record in Tokyo, but good enough for first place in New York. Thanks to Whillye White!