Two years ago a
grim, young, hawk-nosed Australian named Herb Elliott was the talk of the track
world, and a good part of the world not ordinarily interested in track and
field. Absolutely dedicated to running, Elliott, under the almost fanatic
tutelage of stern old Percy Cerutty, punished himself fiercely in his efforts
to become the best mile runner in the world. He spent long weekends at
Cerutty's training camp at Portsea, near Melbourne, sprinting up huge sand
dunes to develop physical and mental resistance to fatigue (SI, Nov. 10, 1958).
He ate rolled oats, raw cabbage, brown bread and cheese. He read the books
Cerutty recommended and assimilated the older man's Spartan philosophy.
And he became the
best mile runner in the world. In four stunning months in 1958, on a "world
tour" that included Honolulu, the U.S., England, Ireland, Sweden and
Norway, he won 19 races, ran seven sub-four-minute miles, beat every top miler
in competition and set eye-popping new world records for the mile and for 1,500
Now a new and
different Elliott is on tour, a brief trip this time, to California, where he
has a schedule of three races at 1,500 meters and a mile. Only one of these is
very important: the mile he will run this week at the Modesto Relays against a
field that includes Dyrol Burleson (see cover), the youngster from the
University of Oregon who is the best miler America has ever produced.
This race not only
is important-it could be the most dramatic mile run on the North American
continent since Roger Bannister whipped John Landy in their unforgettable
meeting at Vancouver in 1954. For now Dyrol Burleson is the hungry young man
dedicated to his sport—and the big news about Elliott is that he has turned
into a relaxed, pleasant sort of fellow who is more interested in his wife, his
3-month-old son and his career with the Shell Company in Australia than he is
Last week Dyrol
Burleson trained hard and long despite torrential rains that drenched Oregon,
and he won the mile in a conference meet on Saturday. Burleson's coach, Bill
Bower-man, sounding like Cerutty, said, "The rains didn't bother Burleson.
There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."
Elliott, on the
other hand, went into his 1,500-meter race at the Coliseum Relays in Los
Angeles last Friday in a much less determined frame of mind. Just before the
race began Laszlo Tabori, the Hungarian runner, stopped to chat a moment with
Elliott. "Airb," he said, "anyone who rons the mile must be
seek." The greatest miler in history smiled in wry agreement. Then he
feather-footed over the Coliseum's lumpy grass track to win the 1,500 meters,
the metric mile, in 3:45.4, something less than sensational but good enough to
beat Tabori by 10 yards.
"The race was
run just as I hoped it would be," Elliott said amiably after it was over.
"I wanted some other chap to set the pace, and I didn't want it to be a
fast one. I'm not ready for a fast pace yet. Then I thought I could take over
in the last lap, and it worked out that way. I was worried when Walters jumped
me going into the first turn on the last lap. I was afraid maybe he or Tabori
was fit enough to run a really fast final quarter and I couldn't have made
Much later that
night Elliott sipped gingerly at some pink champagne and waited impatiently for
a call to his wife in Melbourne to be completed.
know," he said. "Sometimes I sit and wonder 'What am I doing here?' I
don't like being away from the wife and the boy. I'm not yet thoroughly fit and
I don't like being beaten. I should be back in Melbourne training in the
gardens at the governor's house [see cover] and seeing my family."