Last year at this time, Harvard cross country captain Jim Baker was hobbling through a dismal season on a badly-sprained ankle--struggling for fourth and fifth place finishes if he could run at all
This Fall, the wiry Englishman has established himself as one of the best runners after flashing to five consecutive victories for the undefeated Harvard Harriers.
This abrupt reversal is the "culmination of 18 months of hard training," Baker acknowledged in an interview recently. He also admitted that he had certain problems last year leading a squad of which he was at best a part-time member.
"It's much easier to lead as first man," he said. "When you're down in the pack it's hard to go up to someone else and ask him why he's not doing well."
Before the Northeastern meet, for example, Baker--his confidence still somewhat shaky despite an opening win over Providence College--told his teammates he would try to stay with the Huskies top man and "see how it goes."
"Don't do that, Jim," a teammate objected, "we'll run better with you out in front." So Baker got out in front early and paced the Crimson to the victory which gave Easterners the first impression of Harvard's strength.
Although he's won every race by a fairly comfortable margin. Baker still is concerned with the psychologies of the long distance runner. "When you're on a straight away," the dark, spare captain smiled, "you can't let the guy in back of you know you're worried; the only time you can look back at him is on the curves when you can flick a look back over your shoulder."
"I like to know where my closest competition is during a race," he continued. "But I like to hear the Coach shout out. "He's fifty yards behind rather than 'He's fifty yards behind and gaining' even if he is. I've got something of a hangup on that."
Baker is 23 years old, and he's been running distance races for about 12 years. "As an 11-year-old in North-fleet, England," he explained, "everyone--rugby players, football players, and even the skinny people like me--had to run a two and a half mile race once a week in gym class."
The Big Three Meet the week after next and the Heptagonals and IC4A's later in November. After that, providing his chief rival junior Doug Hardin and other top harriers Tim McLoone, Keith Colburn and, Roy Shaw have regained top shap, the captain is thinking of national championships.