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Me and Julio Down by the School Yard

This is an excerpt from Runners on Running by Richard Elliott.

It was 1966, and I was a teenager in love.

I was 19, just starting out as a journalist, and infatuated with something called High School Track.

College friends said, “Get a date, we'll go out.”

“No,” I said. “I have a meet to cover.”

They did not understand of course. I explained: “The meet lasts all day, then I have to compile the statistics, and make some calls, gather my data, and rush a report to Track & Field News.”

Still, they did not understand, and secretly I was glad that they didn't. Imagine what they would have thought if they did . . . .

Try to tell them that instead of going out on a Saturday night you preferred to watch Julio Meade and Otis Hill run the quarter at a dank military armory on the fringes of Harlem, then write effusively about every nuance of the race to assure that the local athletes were duly recognized and credited by anyone who cared as much about this sort of thing as you did.

I saw, even then, a certain nobility in running track. At the high school level the sport was at its purest, unadorned by frills, unadulterated by the seamy side of athletics, largely uncomplicated by privilege. To succeed you had to overcome. To run indoors at the Armory, you had to survive its treacherous, splintered floor. You couldn't just be fast: You had to be smart, tough, impervious to pressure.