The International Amateur Athletic Federation, which decides whether or not man's accomplishments in track and field events are world records, has a rule about foot races. "In deciding whether the competition was a bona fide one," the rule says, somewhat ambiguously, "the IAAF will consider whether the claimant was unfairly assisted toward the time accomplished by pacing from another competitor apparently designed to assist him to achieve the record."
If the pacer is smuggled into a race simply to run a very fast first quarter or first half with a new mile record as the object, it's unfair assistance, says the IAAF. But suppose an honest-to-Pete miler runs the first half faster than his wont—who can tell whether he was playing pacer or just hoping to run everyone else out of gas and finish in front himself? The IAAF gives this sort of thing the benefit of the doubt.
As of this moment, Derek Ibbotson of England and Herb Elliott of Australia have run miles under the listed 3:58 record set by John Landy. Ibbotson did it against a tremendous field in London last July after a human rabbit named Michael Blagrove gave his all for posterity by running the first quarter in 55.3, the half in 1:58.8. Blagrove finished, but the race was among Ibbotson, Ron Delany, Stanislav Jungwirth and Ken Wood.
The other night, Australia's 20-year-old phenomenon, Herb Elliott, ran the mile in 3:57.8 at the Coliseum Relays. He had the benefit of a Texas rabbit, one Drew Dunlap, who warmed up for his own mile relay by bustling to a 58.5 quarter and a 2:00.5 half in front of Elliott. Then Dunlap, feeling sufficiently warm, slipped more or less blithely off the track as Elliott took over the lead. "I had to stay with him," Elliott (who ran the fastest first half of his career) explained later. "I didn't know the field and I thought he might be dangerous."
The world's sub-four-minute milers all have opinions on this. Roger Bannister, first of all: "I was materially assisted by two fellow members of the Amateur Athletic Association.... Both finished the course. No official can stop friends helping each other during a race. The good strategist will always use a pacemaker, the only difference being the pacemaker does not always realize it."
John Landy, holder of the listed record: "I think Derek's time should and will be recognized. It is all right to say a runner should go all out from the start and remain in front, but how many can do it?"
Merv Lincoln, second to Elliott: "My feeling is that a legal time is that recorded by any runner who is dressed in shorts and spikes."
Both Ibbotson's and Elliott's records are still pending. Maybe a thought for the IAAF Rules and Records Committee when they meet in Stockholm in August: for the competition to be bona fide, the rabbit should finish the race or die on the track. Or, better yet, finish in front.