"Billy, oh, Billy," crowed Schul. "Your record's gonna go. It's gonna go!"
Mills turned to Schul. "Bob," he said. His voice was dry and taut. "The guy just did 5,000 meters faster than you when you won the Olympic 5,000. If he doesn't slow down, no one is ever going to get this record back."
Schul didn't say much after that. He couldn't have been heard, anyway. The Oslo crowd knew exactly what kilometer times Clarke needed. He was so far ahead of them all that each successive split shouted over the public-address system by a hysterical announcer was greeted with new thunder.
In the last miles some of the wild hunger went out of the sound. A sense of grand occasion set in. Edvard Braeim, who was covering the race for Oslo's Dagbladet newspaper, says, "I remember him all alone in the clean night, running with the people cheering him, pouring out more and more for them." The scene has come to represent many other races and a disturbing number of other records set in the modest confines of Bislett. It is the archetype.
Clarke passed six miles in 26:47.0, gutting Mills's Record by 24.6 seconds. He finished in 27:39.4, improving the 10,000 standard by 34.6 seconds. The mark lasted seven years, until Lasse Viren of Finland broke it by one second in the 1972 Olympic final, on Munich's swift Rekortan surface.
Good artificial surfaces are said to be about a second per lap faster than the type of loose cinders that Bislett had in 1965. If so, Clarke's record would have been a 27:14.0 on a. modern track. The current world record is 27:13.81, held by Portugal's Fernando Mamede, set in 1984.
Forty-five track and field world records have been set at Bislett Stadium, scene of this week's Bislett Games. In the winter the track is flooded. On the resulting ice, 18 world speed-skating records have been broken. There are a few other venues where more records have been set, but none so storied as Bislett. Some of the factors that account for these records are Oslo's oxygen-rich sea-level air, a tradition of the finest athletes peaking for Bislett competitions, perhaps the best wind protection in Europe and the stadium's efficacious track or skating oval. But other cities have good air and surfaces. The best athletes run in other places. There must be something else going on at Bislett.
Bislett officially opened in 1922 and has been reconstructed five times over the years, once for the 1952 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and speed skating. In 1924 Adriaan Paulen of the Netherlands set the track's first world record, 1:03.8 for 500 meters. The following year Norway's Charles Hoff pole-vaulted a record 13'10½". Both athletes later gained a measure of authority. Hoff became a Nazi collaborator and was made an aide to the minister of sports for the Quisling government during Germany's 1940-1945 occupation of Norway. After the war, the despised Hoff was imprisoned in Oslo for 4½ years.
Paulen fought for the Allies in the underground in Western Europe during World War II. Much, much later, when he had risen to be president of the IAAF, which governs all international track and field competition, the irascible Paulen would have been hard pressed to certify his own 500-meter time as a record, because Bislett's track in 1924 met few current official requirements. Wedged between surrounding buildings and a brick-works, the track had two right-angle turns at one end, then a gently oblique one and, memorably, a wrenching, 135-degree cutback to reach the homestretch.
With that crazy pivot in there, races of more than a lap had no prayer of fast times. Bislett's early records came in the field events and sprints. Immense (6'2¾", 304 pounds) Jack Torrance of the U.S. put the shot 57'1" there on Aug. 5, 1934. The next day, his teammate Eulace Peacock ran 100 meters in 10.3, tying the world record. Another American, Percy Beard, did the 110-meter high hurdles in 14.2 on the same day. Forrest Towns of the U.S. cut that to 13.7 in 1936 after the Berlin Olympics. Then came the war, and rebuilding and the beginning of a flood of magnificent running that has yet to crest.