The sprinting heir-apparent to Wilma Rudolph in 1960, was Edith McGuire, a member of the famed Tennessee State University Tigerbelles. Clearly, SI hadn’t heard about Wyomia Tyus, who won the 100-meters championships and the crown of fastest woman in the world, but didn’t merit a listing in SI’s top three in that event.
The women’s pentathlon, like the men’s decathlon, are challenging endurance competitions that require capability in a variety of athletic disciplines. A significant weakness in one discipline could sink you. And like C. K. Yang in the decathlon, Mary Rand had difficulty throwing heavy things.
Rand was the brightest star of a resurgent British track and field team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, it’s stunning to think of the punishing schedule she had to compete in the long jump (October 14), in the pentathlon (October 16-17) and in the women’s 4X100 relay (October 20-21). So there are several factors one could take into account, for Rand’s results, including the heavy lifting she needed to do for TeamGB.
But in the end, Rand’s ability to heave a 4kg shot was her undoing.
The women’s pentathlon in 1964 was a two-day event that featured the 80-meter hurdles, the shot put, the high jump, the long jump and the 200 meter sprint. Against strong Soviet competition, as well as a fellow member of the British team, Rand won three of the five competitions: the high jump, the 200 meters, as well as the long jump, the event she was awarded gold only three days before.
In the first event, the 80-meter hurdles, the two Soviet athletes, Irina Press and Galina Bystrova, nipped Rand at the tape by 0.2 seconds. In other words, Rand had the best or second best scores in 4 of the 5 pentathlon competitions.
Here are the results of the 1964 women’s pentathlon.
You can clearly see that Rand’s shot put of 11.05 meters was poor, over 6 meters short of Irina Press’s toss. Each result in the pentathlon converts into points, and as you can see, Rand’s shot put score was 384 points behind Press’s score. The end result was that Rand was 211 total points off of Press’s total score. So let’s play the “what if” game. If Rand had thrown as well as her compatriot, Mary Peters, the additional 226 points would have given Rand the world record and the gold medal.
Press appeared to be both impressed and flummoxed with Rand, incredulous that Rand would not work harder to improve her shot putting, as Neil Allen implies in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:
[Irina Press] does not possess the extraordinary natural talent of Mary Rand; but unlike the British girl she has no weakness in her athletics armoury. Mary beat the Russian in three of the five events but her shot putting, which has always been miserably poor, let her down yesterday and not even a superb long jump today could make up the deficit. At the medal presentation Irina Press told me she could not understand why Mary, with the minimum work, could not put the shot at least over 42 ft. (12.8 meters)
So second place it was for Mary Rand. With a gold in the long jump and a silver in the pentathlon, Rand thought out loud in an AP article from October 19, 1964 that “a bronze from the relay would complete the set.”
Unfortunately for her sprinting teammates, Rand got what she wished for.
Today, the sheen off the 10-event, 2-day competition known as the decathlon has dimmed. It’s a generalist’s competition in a day and age when specialists reign, which commonly means that kids growing up do not find it on offer in their schools.
That was true for young Ashton Eaton, who competed in football, basketball, running, soccer and wrestling in Mountain View High School in Oregon. A swift 400-meter runner and long jumper, Eaton did not generate much interest from the top universities. He decided to go to the University of Oregon, and focus on the decathlon. From that point on at the University of Oregon, Eaton became a perennial favorite in the decathlon, becoming the first to ever win three consecutive NCAA decathlon championships in the US.
While Eaton failed to make the US team for the Beijing Olympics, he not only qualified in 2012, but won gold at the London Games. Now he is seeking in Rio to be the third person to be crowned “Greatest Athlete in the World” at two consecutive Olympics.
They called him the Asian Iron Man, a title befitting the only Asian ever to set a world record in the decathlon, the ten-event, two-day athletic event that is as grueling an athletic competition there is.
As the first non-Westerner to set a world record for the decathlon in 1963, experts pegged C. K. Yang as a heavy favorite to win gold in Tokyo in 1964, and prompted this profile in the August, 1964 edition of the popular magazine, Boy’s Life. In this article, they wrote about Yang’s humble origins, a small, sickly boy. Not mentioned in the article was that he was born in the poorest, most isolated part of mainland Taiwan – Taidong.
So when the arguably greatest athlete in Asian history provides his list of key behaviors for training for championship performance, the readers of Boy’s Life might have taken note:
Practice with a purpose.
Don’t just run and run, and then go home.
Watch people running.
Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you.
Let ‘s look at a couple in detail:
Determination.“Want to do it, know that you can do it, then DO IT!”
Yang came up with Nike’s famous marketing phrase years before the company was created…but he knew from experience that being determined is a good part of the battle. When he made the cut to represent Taiwan in the Asian Games in 1954, he was probably going to compete in the broad jump or the high jump. When he went to his country’s training camp in preparation of the Asian Games, he began fiddling with other disciplines. He explained this in detail in this Sports Illustrated article:
Yang’s curiosity and competitive drive moved him to experiment with other events, hitherto strange to him. He set up a bicycle and used it as an impromptu hurdle. He read a Japanese book on hurdling – Yang speaks and reads Japanese fluently because of his schooling under the Japanese occupation – and studied its illustration. “I tried to bring the whole thing together in my mind,” he said, but his coach became irritated because Yang was not concentrating on his jumping. Yang said, “I told him I just can’t jump every day. If I practice hurdling today, maybe tomorrow I can jump more higher.” And I did. I jumped 2 or 3 inches higher.
And as the article continues, Yang did the same for javelin, the discus and the shotput, excelling in this new events to the point where the coach had to say, “How’d you like to try decathlon?”
Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you. Appreciate the fine equipment you have to work with, and then give your best. I came all the way to this country to take advantage of the coaching and equipment available here. Through track I have received an education, and because of this, I have given track everything I have.
In the Sports Illustrated article, Yang tells this touching story about how people need to have empathy for others who try so hard. He explained to the author of the article, Robert Creamer, that people made fun of him when he was about 15, and he suddenly grew. He was so tall and thin compared to his friends that people derisively nicknamed him “Bamboo”, and laughed at him, which Yang was understandably sensitive to. He told this story about how his baseball coach helped him gain his confidence.
In practice when I throw the ball I was – so funny form, you know? I couldn’t throw hard. The athletes start laughing at me. I was so happy to join them, and I was so embarrassed when they laugh at me. The coach was mad. He bawled them out who laughed, and he said, “if you laugh at people someday he will be much better than you are. You better not laugh at people. You never know. He have a long way to go, and maybe he can learn faster than you and someday laugh at you. Put yourself in that position. Suppose people laugh at you. How do you respond to them? How do you feel?” Said, “think about it.” And they didn’t laugh at me anymore.