Saturday, May 5. A day for the dramatic, the spectacular; a day for magical and magnificent events. The feel of spring was in the warm and sunny air—an almost tangible crackle of excitement. Great crowds flowing into race tracks felt it; so did vast throngs in stadiums; so, too, did picnickers listening to portable radios in the shade of new-leafed trees and men at home who opened windows wide and relaxed in front of television sets. A day in which anything could happen in the wonderful world of sport.
At Los Angeles, Jim Bailey, a University of Oregon student, ran the mile in 3:58.6—and beat the invincible John Landy. In Louisville a bay colt named Needles floated down the backstretch in 16th place, then thundered home in one of the most thrilling finishes in 82 years to win the Kentucky Derby. At Durham, Dave Sime, the red-haired Duke sophomore, flashed over the 220-yard low hurdles in 22.2 to beat the alltime world mark. At Jamaica Race Track, Nashua stumbled at the start, then won the Grey Lag Handicap to move to within $8,000 of Citation's record $1,085,760. In Salt Lake City, Parry O'Brien put the shot three inches past his own world outdoor record of 60 feet 10 inches. At Baltimore, an almost unknown left-hander named Ferrarese struck out 13 Cleveland batters in his first major league start.
It was indeed a day to remember. But first, the mile...
While 40,000 spectators roared with incredulity along the vast, sunlit walls of the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday afternoon and while something like 40 million more stared with equal incredulity at their television screens—two gasping Australians, who had just raced each other through the first four-minute mile ever run in the U.S., tottered toward each other amid a shouting press of photographers and track officials.
"John," panted the amazed winner, black-haired and handsome Jim Bailey of Sydney's St. George Athletic Club—and the University of Oregon track team—"I was just trying to help. I wanted to frighten you to more speed."
Said World Record Holder John Landy, the startled loser: "You ran a 3:58." Bailey glared at him with unsteady indignation and shouted, "Bullswool."
But a few seconds later, amidst a storm of applause, the stadium loudspeakers officially informed him of his accomplishments: Bailey had been clocked in 3:58.6 (Landy finished in 3:58.7—his fifth four-minute mile and his third since January of this year) and in so doing had exceeded the best times of all other milers but Landy himself. In one dramatic day helpful Jim Bailey had burst past the accomplishments of Bannister, Tabori, Chataway and Hewson and, of course, Wes Santee, and had become an Olympic Games contender of major stature. No one seemed more startled than he—and with good reason.
Bailey is Landy's age—26—and thus a lot older than most college milers. He worked for years as a land appraiser in Australia and has toiled as a summertime lumber loader in the Oregon timber country. As milers go he is an old and experienced hand; he ran against Landy in Australia in 1953 and 1954 (and was always badly beaten) and came to the British Empire Games at Vancouver two years ago as a half-miler on the Australian team. He broke a bone in one foot in the semifinal, stayed on in Canada for treatment, visited the University of Oregon and decided to enroll. He is a brash, bright, confident young man and an aggressive athlete. But his best time for the mile before Saturday was 4:05.6 (to win last year's NCAA championship) and his best so far this year but 4:10 (in a race in which he was beaten by Oregon's Bill Dellinger).
Bailey came to Los Angeles in an extremely relaxed and lighthearted mood, while Landy bore heavy burdens. Landy flew from Australia to Honolulu and held a mass press conference, he flew to San Francisco and held another, he arrived in Los Angeles and held a third. He compensated for them by engaging in heavy training bouts of eight or 10 miles a day and raced through six fast quarter-miles, six 220s and a half-mile only two days before the race. He came to the U.S. virtually promising to break four minutes twice—at last Saturday's USC—UCLA dual meet and this Saturday at the West Coast Relays. He worried—he was vaguely fearful that Villanova's young Dublin Irishman, Ron Delany, might outkick him in the stretch.