Letters from readers about the track team. See also
Under the Ivy
May 14, 2003
The possibility of a renewal of the Princeton Invitational was indeed quashed by then athletic director, Ken Fairman. Ken had no interest in track. He is the reason Princeton is no longer part of the Oxford-Cambridge international exchange of competition. There are two particular incidents which stick in the craw of Princeton track alumni.
The Princeton-Cornell participation in an international series with the leading English universities dated from 1921. World War II of course had interrupted the international competition, but previously the cycle was on a four-year basis. After an Olympic year, an Oxford-Cambridge team would visit the U.S. and have at least two competitions; one would be a meet against Princeton-Cornell and a second against Harvard-Yale. The third year Princeton-Cornell would go to England, the fourth year Harvard-Yale would go to England. The next year would be the Olympic year and the series would begin again.
In 1949 the series was renewed and led by the legendary 4-minute miler, Roger Bannister, Oxford-Cambridge came to the US. They met Princeton-Cornell in Palmer Stadium and then on to New Haven to meet Harvard -Yale. In 1950 as captain, I led the team to Great Britain. We split our visit between Oxford and Cambridge campuses and then met the Oxford-Cambridge track and field team in White City Stadium. The U.S. team then ended the visit with a two-day meet in Dublin sponsored by the Clonliffe Harriers. Needless to say it was a wonderful experience despite my losing to Roger twice; nevertheless I always brag, I beat him three out of four laps in Palmer Stadium (then he took off like a scared bird). His time then was the seventh best of all European runners for 1949.
The point of recalling this is the sponsorship of our trip. Led by track
alumni, money was raised to partly defray the expenses of the trip,
particularly shipboard passage. When I returned to the U.S. I felt strongly
a "thank-you" letter was in order to thank those alumni
who made donations for our trip. As noted, it was a wonderful
experience, and the members of the team were eternally grateful.
I drafted a short diary of the trip with a letter of thanks. The material
was given to Fairman to mail to the generous alumni. He never sent
it and never informed me.
1953 would have been the next year in the series. Suddenly it was discovered Princeton had been replaced by Pennsylvania for partnership with Cornell. Alumni were told the decision was Princeton could not afford it, but there had been no attempt to appeal to the alumni. Many years later at a 40th reunion of the Princeton-Cornell team at Ithaca, Bob Kane, the Cornell athletic director, gave me additional details.
In 1953 Kane had been in touch with Fairman for the purpose of making arrangements for the continuation o the international series. Fairman told Kane Princeton was withdrawing. He had made the decision unilaterally. Kane decided to look for a replacement partner, he invited the University of Pennsylvania, which accepted. Subsequently he received a call from Fairman. Fairman had evidently been informed by alumni Princeton should continue in the series. Kane said it was too late, Penn had accepted, and Princeton's participation was lost with the exception of one combination with Army in 1980.
One of the ironies is Fairman accompanied the 1950 teams and enjoyed all the amenities of numerous entertainments of for the American visitors.
1995 was regarded as the centenary celebration of the international competition, which theoretically was initiated by Yale and Oxford in 1895. A representative group of Princeton-Cornell alumni from the 1949-1950 teams visited England to participate in the celebration. It was capped by a wonderful formal dinner for 600 in London's Guild Hall.
Ken Fairman did a disservice to his fellow Princetonians by depriving us of the continued opportunity to participate in this international exchange of friendship with the English universities.
Ron Wittreich 50
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