Sport: To Do a Little Better

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There, day after day, Johnson and Yang held their own private meet. Formosa's formidable Yang had been a promising baseball pitcher at home in 1954 when track coaches noticed his running speed and agility, talked him into trying the decathlon. To his astonishment, Yang won the Asian Games that year. In 1958 Yang came to the U.S. for a couple of months to pick up pointers, liked it so well that he learned to speak English and settled down as a physical education student at U.C.L.A. to work with Johnson. At 6 ft. 1 in., 180 lbs., Yang does not have the raw strength of Johnson, but surpasses him in the jumping events. The two are a taciturn pair; the only sounds of their pre-Rome workouts were the explosive "poofs" as they exhaled at the start of a sprint, or anguished grunts from the weight rings. Each day they methodically pushed themselves to the grey edge of exhaustion. Says Coach Drake: "When an athlete goes in for the decathlon seriously, it's not just a matter of physical conditioning and training—it's a whole way of life."

In that sense, the decathlon poses an impossible challenge. No one man can ever hope to be the absolute best in all ten events. The lean sprinter will have trouble with the shot; the beefy weight man will lumber through the 100 meters. Worse yet, the events are cunningly alternated so that the competitor has no chance to use the same muscles and reflexes twice in succession. The cumulative effect is numbing. Because of his rare combination of speed and strength, Johnson is at his best in the 100 meters, 400 meters, the javelin, discus and shotput. But his weight is a handicap in the pole vault and high jump and, like every big man, he detests the 1,500-meter event that closes the two days of struggle. "The whole decathlon is ridiculous," says Johnson, "but the 1,500 meters is insanity." Why does he compete? Johnson gives the perfectionist's answer: "Because every time I walk out there, I think maybe I'll do a little better than the time before."

Johnson Fan. That same answer might well have come from Russia's Kuznetsov. At 6 ft. 1 in., 187 lbs., Kuznetsov, by profession a high school science teacher, has neither the size nor the natural talent of Johnson. To make the most of what he has, Kuznetsov has worked laboriously on his technique in each decathlon event since 1953, now exceeds Johnson in the pole vault and 1,500 meters, compares well with him in the broad jump, high jump and discus. Kuznetsov is proudly grooming his five-year-old son with the same thoroughness : "When we wake up in the morning, Vitya jumps on my bed and I hold him up balanced with one foot on my palm. He's got a long way to go to be come an athlete, but now is the time to start training for the future." Kuznetsov is a Johnson fan: "He is a very fine, tactful and modest young man.

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