Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ticking Golden Moments by Roger Bannister

What you are about to read below is something very special. It is an article that was written for the September 19,1960 edition of Sports Illustrated. It was authored by Roger Bannister,the first man to go under 4 minutes for the mile.Here he gives his account of Herb Elliott winning the 1960 Olympic 1500 meter run.Bannister provides the kind of unique insight that only runners can give to such events. "It was a relaxed and attractively casual Elliott who turned
up for the 1,500-meter heats, walking barefoot, without a sweat suit and carrying his spikes in his hand. No one else can afford to look as casual as he. Inside him it was different—as Dave Power, his Australian companion and teammate, put it: "He's a killer, in racing and training." The heats saw the elimination of the only European Elliott gave any sign of having heard of—Siegfried Valentin of Germany, who has run a 3:56.5 mile and a 3:39.3 1,500 meters.
As Elliott and his eight rivals walked out for the final, the frenzied crowd was already tautened to the breaking point by a world-record 400-meter finish. The 1,500-meter finalists were halted on the way to the start by the 400-meter victory ceremony. There was polite and sincere applause for America's first-place Davis, and a baying ei ei ei for Germany's second-place Kaufmann, the sort of premonitory roar that gives a 1,500-meter runner waiting for the gun a final spurt of adrenalin—one that nearly makes him ill.
If Elliott thought of his tactics, and he barely ever needs to, his thoughts must have run something like this: "A loose track, but bound by last night's storm, fast enough for a world record. An awkward wind up the finishing straight, so I hope someone will lead. Percy wants a record, but right now I'll settle for the medal. The sooner I start my finish the safer I am, with this bunch of fast finishers." But niceties of pace, judgments and tactics have previously been superfluous for Elliott, and so it proved this day.Having drawn the pole,Elliott let Bernard of
France, Waern of Sweden and Vamos of Rumania pass him, and held the fourth position. Bernard seized the lead decisively and took the field through a 58.2 first lap. This was a piece of rare good fortune for Elliott and brought the world record within his grasp. At the time it looked like collusion between the French, with Bernard attempting to help his teammate Jazy, but Bernard later stated that, according to Olympic tradition, he and Jazy were running their own races. He led only because he thought, unwisely I am sure, this improved his chance of winning.
Burleson and Grelle stayed at the back, out of trouble. The reduction of the size of the field to nine men helped the Americans, who lack experience of crowded fields. Since no more than 12 yards covered the whole bunch, with an effective pacemaker at the head, this was by far their wisest course of action.
In the second lap Elliott remained fourth, running slightly wide, but happy, no doubt, to pay this small price for preserving his tactical freedom. Jazy and Rozsavolgyi trailed warily behind Elliott. Percy Cerutty, a wizened man with the blazing eye of an Old Testament prophet, who first fired Elliott with enthusiasm for running, could be seen crouching on the outside of the track at the start of the last bend. An infringement of international track Rule 18 (no coaching from the sidelines) apparently was imminent.
At the half mile, passed by Bernard in 1:57.8. Elliott moved deliberately into second place at Bernard's shoulder, boxing Waern and keeping Rozsavolgyi outside him. With 600 meters left, Elliott eased past Bernard, and there was no challenge from the astonished Frenchman. Bernard was no doubt horrified that there was any athlete alive who could find a 1:57.8 half mile so unsatisfactorily slow that he felt obliged to take the lead himself. Bernard never recovered from this shock.
Elliott seized a five-yard lead in the next 30 yards, with Rozsavolgyi now second, Jazy third, Vamos fourth, Bernard fifth and Burleson sixth. Elliott continued to apply a steady stretch to his unfortunate rivals, pulling Jazy and Rozsavolgyi out of the vanguard. Elliott's smooth stride would have looked deceptively slow but for the trail of fading runners he left behind him. He passed the three-quarter mile in a relentless 2:54.4, having thrown a 56.6 third lap into the race. This was certainly the fastest third lap in miling history—a fractional easing at this point being traditional.
Now Cerutty entered the picture. He jumped the ditch between the spectators' enclosure and the track, tore off his white flannel shirt and waved it frantically, until the broad-minded Italian policemen finally decided to return him to his rightful place. The signal, we afterward discovered, means in Australian bush language, "Go for the world record." When asked afterward if he saw Cerutty, Elliott commented, "I could hardly have missed him."
Those last 150 yards looked to us, and to Elliott must have seemed, an eternity. The gaze of 60,000 was fixed on him, the greatest miler the world has ever seen. Certainly I noticed Burleson running a fine race in sixth position, but it was out of the corner of my eye. It was Elliott who filled every brain and heart. It was Elliott, with the hawk nose, the gaunt viking face; Elliott of the lean body and the smooth stride; Elliott, lithe and stealthy, about as gentle as a tiger. This was a man made for this form of self-expression, the rest of the field having somehow learned it painfully and inadequately. This was running, the instinctive and unfettered expression of every potentiality.
Then the superman we had watched for a hundred yards suddenly became human again. His stride shortened, his body grew more upright. Was it conceivable he could experience so frail and human a feeling as fatigue? He was back at Portsea now, in Cerutty's training camp, running wild and barefoot until it hurt, seeking to replenish a primitive energy that does not quite last through the artificiality of track racing.
Elliott crossed the finish line tired partly by the head wind but mainly by his own ferocious speed. He won by 18 yards from the gallant Frenchman Jazy, whom nature had never intended to be a metric-mile medalist. When asked his opinion of Jazy in the press room afterward, Elliott replied, "Who's Jazy?"—and I do not think he mistook the pronunciation.The result is now part of athletic history. Elliott had spread-eagled the field and broken his own world record, set in Goteborg in 1958, by .4 second. The first six, including Burleson, were inside Delany's 1956 Olympic record." I know I'm prejudiced but the above is about the best account of a race you will ever read. The picture that precedes this article is of Vladmir Kuts,the man whose victory at the 1956 Olympics inspired Herb to pursue his own Olympic dream.

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