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Track / Mal Florence : Larsen Likes UCLA in USC Dual Meet and Dares to Say So

Some coaches are notorious for downgrading their teams’ prospects and lauding opponents before competition.

For some mystifying reason, many track coaches play this game to ridiculous extremes.

So it was refreshing Monday to hear UCLA track Coach Bob Larsen say that he has a strong team and expects to beat USC Saturday in the annual dual meet at Westwood.

Jim Bush, the successful Bruin coach who retired at the end of the 1984 season, was never as audacious.

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Neither UCLA nor USC will be at full strength because of injuries, but Larsen wouldn’t hedge.

“Regardless of injuries, we have a great team,” Larsen said at a track luncheon. “We expect to win the meet.”

Ernie Bullard, USC’s coach, seconded that notion from the audience.

Larsen and Bullard are concluding their first seasons as track coaches at the schools. Bush was UCLA’s coach for 20 years. Bullard succeeded Vern Wolfe, who was USC’s coach for 22 years. USC, with a 6-1 dual meet record, has some outstanding individual performers, but unbeaten UCLA (8-0) has much more depth.

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“UCLA is probably as fine a dual meet team as there is in the country,” Bullard said. “You look at them on paper and they don’t seem that strong, but they’re everywhere. They don’t let you have any points anywhere unless you earn them.

“We’re going to have a team dinner meeting on Friday and basically what I’ll tell them is what I’m telling you. We’re going after the meet in terms of quality. We’re not going to run Ed Tave (long jumper, sprinter) in 45 races to score a point here and there.

“Hopefully, down the road we’ll make it closer and more competitive.”

NCAA scholarship restrictions have hurt both schools in recent years, particularly USC with its high tuition costs.

But Bullard is working every angle to bring the Trojans back to prominence with creative packages of financial aid to bolster the numbers on his team. He has already almost doubled the size of his team, but he still doesn’t have enough athletes to cover 21 events.

UCLA was expected to have a good team, but the Bruins have exceeded expectations and are contending for the dual meet championship of the United States, along with Washington State. That title is conferred on a school by Track & Field News.

Larsen anticipates that he’ll have an NCAA title-contending team next year. Several key athletes are redshirting this season, and he and his staff pulled off a recruiting coup recently by signing three prominent prep athletes--sprinter Henry Thomas of Hawthorne High, pole vaulter Brandon Richards of San Marcos in Santa Barbara, and weightman Brian Blutreich of Capistrano Valley.

A USC-UCLA confrontation was once the most prestigious dual meet in the country. The winner was usually the nation’s best dual meet team, and the loser was no worse than second best.

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Both schools were stocked with world-class athletes who recorded world-class marks.

But the meet has diminished in quality in recent years. Larsen and Bullard are trying to recapture a semblance of that past prominence despite the scholarship restrictions.

Saturday’s meet will be a double dual, with the women’s teams of UCLA and USC competing along with the men for the first time.

Fred LaPlante, USC women’s coach, views the meet as his team opposing Jackie Joyner, the multi-talented UCLA heptathlete, who was a silver medalist in the event last summer in the Los Angeles Olympics.

Asked how many events Joyner will compete in, UCLA Coach Bob Kersee said, tongue in cheek: “Seventeen. I’m not sure. I’ll list her in everything she’s capable of doing. Some people criticize the way I coach Jackie, but I try to slow her down. She is one of the greatest woman athletes in the world.”

Bob Beamon, who holds the most revered record in track and field, his 29-foot 2 1/2-inch long jump in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, was a luncheon guest.

He anticipates that Carl Lewis will break his record, perhaps at the Pepsi Invitational May 18 at UCLA.

“He (Lewis) can do anything,” Beamon said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves into the quarter-mile if he stays around another five years. If he breaks the record, I would feel a sense of loss, but that’s progress, and records are meant to be broken.”

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No one approached Beamon’s record until Lewis came along and started recording marks close to 29 feet, with a best of 28-10.

Beamon said it was a question of mind over matter, adding that some athletes had a defeatist attitude regarding his record.

“But Carl has a real positive attitude and is so consistent that he could jump in the 29s or perhaps the 30s,” Beamon said. Only four athletes have ever exceeded the 28-foot mark in the long jump and Lewis is the only one to have done it consistently. He has nine of the top dozen winning long jumps in track history.

Beamon was asked why Larry Myricks, who has a best jump of 28-2, hasn’t been able to threaten his record.

“Larry Myricks is a sleeping giant,” Beamon said. “He is probably better than Lewis. But he has a psychological block about the competition between the two. He is capable of being a 29- or 30-footer, too, but it’s a matter of blocking out everything except going to the end of the pit.”

Track Notes H.D. Thoreau, who is promoting the ARCO-Coliseum Classic meet June 8, said that prep stars Henry Thomas and Roy Martin of Roosevelt High in Dallas, will be in the 200-meter field along with the three Olympic medal winners, Carl Lewis, gold; Kirk Baptiste, silver, and Thomas Jefferson, bronze. Joao Batista Silva of Brazil, who finished fourth, will also compete, along with Larry Myricks. . . . USC Coach Ernie Bullard said that long jumper-sprinter Michael Harris is out for the season with a twisted ankle, and sprinter Antonio Manning and quarter-miler Terry Ivey are doubtful for the UCLA meet with groin and knee injuries, respectively. USC had previously lost pole vaulter Doug Wicks with a broken ankle. . . . UCLA Coach Bob Larsen said that sprinter Gerald White and distance runner Mike Parkinson won’t be able to compete Saturday. White has a pulled muscle, Parkinson a foot injury. Other injured Bruins include hurdler Steve Kerho, half-miler Jack Preijers, quarter-miler Dwyan Biggers and longer jumper Trent Willis. But they haven’t been scratched from the meet.


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