With the upsurge of big athletic meetings after the war arid all the talk of tracks, the men who ran Dublin's Clonliffe Harriers thought Ireland should have a sports stadium with a track as good as any other country's. Now it looks as if Ireland has not just got a track that is as good as anyone else's: it has 440 yards which are the best and fastest in the world.
In a small, tree-surrounded park just off the main road to Dublin airport, one man last week led four others through the four-minute barrier to lop 3� seconds off the listed world record for the mile, and a stubby Australian who four weeks earlier had shortened the three-mile record to 13:10.8 cut 1.4 seconds off the two-mile time.
"It's the Irish atmosphere," explained the 48-year-old optician Billy Morton, Clonliffe's secretary since 1943. The athletes agreed that he had something. "Usually," said Australia's Herb Elliott, holder of the new-mile record of 3:54.5, "I'm all tensed up before a race, but here I did not care. I never felt better."
When Ron Delany brought home his gold medal from Melbourne, Morton, the man who had first persuaded him to be a miler, announced that at long last there was a definite plan for a sports stadium. He had a site. All that was needed was the money. This did not deter the little Irish club or its chunky secretary. " Billy Morton," said a clubman with unconcealed admiration, "should have been a parish priest. He'd build a marvelous new church and then he'd put a big notice in the front garden saying how much he owed."
At a fund-raising party Dublin's first-ever Jewish Lord Mayor Bob Briscoe kicked off with a �25 gift. From the U.S. came assistance from Shovel Manufacturer Bernard McDonough, and in due course a grinning Delany was able to predict: "I expect loads of world records to be broken here, Billy."
The first came in July, before the paint was dry on the railings, when Albert Thomas, a 23-year-old transport clerk from Sydney, pounded round in a new three-mile record clip of 13:10.8. Impresario Morton followed up this with a two-day meeting to coincide with the Dublin horse show. So many people wanted to get in to see if local lad Delany would beat Herb Elliott that drivers had to abandon their cars in the traffic jam two miles from the track. "We planned for a maximum of 17,500," said Morton, "but the civic guards advised us to let in the crowd outside and take their money to prevent the gates from being pushed in. So we had 22,000 in the end. It suited us grand," chuckled Morton, "as it brought in the best part of another 1,000 sorely needed pounds."
Thomas—at 5 feet 5 and scaling 130 pounds, probably the smallest world record runner ever—set the pace for the mile invitation race, highlight of the night. Herb Elliott lay fourth behind fellow Aussie Merv Lincoln and Murray Halberg, the 25-year-old schoolteacher ("and I do odd jobs around the place") from Auckland. Delany highstepped along sixth in a field of 11, thinking the pace was too hot to last. Time for the first quarter: 56 seconds.
A brown-white mongrel darted out of the crowd at the start of the second lap and yelped after the leaders, with officials leaping about to get him off. They caught him between the last four runners.
The little clerk from Sydney kept up the pace in the second quarter, leading the string around in much the same order to give a time of 1:58 for the first half. Elliott then really let himself go.
Delany knew he could not catch him—"short of tying his legs, there is no way of stopping the guy"—but he tried to overhaul the leaders. So did Murray Halberg, and the furious tussle between the New Zealander and Delany almost gave the Dublin fans heart failure. Elliott, now ahead of Lincoln, streaked ahead at the sound of the ship's bell bought by Morton at a Dublin auction. The three-quarters time was 2:59. Then 20-year-old Elliott—"I still wasn't sure this was record time"—amazingly increased the tempo of his lanky legs and, with the wild roaring of 22,000 pairs of lusty Dublin lungs throbbing through every fiber, he burst the tapes VA seconds inside John Landy's world record of 3:58. His unofficial time for the 1,500 meters—3:39.6—was also under the listed mark. But it was not because of Elliott's fantastic sprint that sports-writers dubbed it the miracle mile. Incredulity was fostered by the times of the four runners-up—Lincoln, 3:55.9, Delany, 3:57.5, and Murray Halberg, although placed fourth, with the same time as Delany. Fifth man, stocky "pacemaker" Bert Thomas, to his own amazement, joined the sub-four-minute club with a time of 3:58.6.