On a poorly lighted track in a small town in central California last Saturday night an underrated boy from North Carolina ran the fastest mile ever run by an American citizen. He ran it in a race which began with a crushing anticlimax—the withdrawal of the Australian world record holder, Herb Elliott. In winning, short, dark Jimmy Beatty soundly defeated the new beau ideal of U.S. track men, Dyrol Burleson, the Oregon youngster who ran 3:58.6 late in April. Beatty might even have beaten Elliott. He ran 3:58, and he did it by following almost exactly the instructions given him by his coach, Mihaly Igloi, the expatriate Hungarian (SI, Nov. 21, '55) who defected from his Communist-ruled homeland after the 1956 Olympics. Igloi now coaches at the Santa Clara Valley Youth Village in California, for which Beatty runs. After the race Igloi, who seldom says anything, said a mouthful: he announced that Beatty was really a 5,000-meter runner and that he would no longer compete as a miler. "The 5,000-meter at Rome," Igloi said. "No more mile."
Miler or not—and Beatty this week will run the 5,000 meters at the Compton Relays in Los Angeles—the 25-year-old runner's performance in the Modesto Relays' feature race was near perfection. As is almost always true in an event as important as this one, each of the runners had a preconceived tactical plan. Burleson, the favorite once Elliott had scratched, was going to stay up about 15 yards behind the pace setter.
George Larson, an Oregon teammate of Burleson, had a simple assignment—to run each quarter in 61 seconds. Bill Dellinger, an ex- Oregon runner whose specialty also is the 5,000 meters, wanted a fast early pace. He does not have the speed of Burleson or Elliott, and his only hope was to deny them their finishing kick by running them down early.
Beatty and Laszlo Tabori, the ex-Hungarian star who defected with Igloi and who still runs for him, had no idea, even late in the afternoon, what their tactical plan would be. After an early-morning workout—they were out on the track sprinting up and down the grass infield at 7 a.m.—they rested in the hotel in downtown Modesto, waiting for Igloi to tell them what to do.
"I don't know how I'll run," Beatty said. "Igloi hasn't told me. I'll run however he says."
Igloi briefed his two runners only a couple of hours before the race. His instructions were precise and detailed almost to the 10th of a second. The first quarter mile was to be run in 57 seconds, with Beatty setting the pace. The time at the half mile was to be between 1:57 and 1:58, with Tabori leading the way on the second lap. The first 150 yards of the third lap was to be a period of relaxation, with both Tabori and Beatty floating—not running hard but not dropping back, either. Then they were to run hard enough to finish the three-quarters in three minutes flat.
"The last lap was dog eat dog," Beatty said later. "We were on our own."
Herb Elliott had a battle plan, too. But Monday evening, running eight miles over a hilly golf course at Morro Bay, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he felt a slight click in his right knee. Tuesday, running at the Santa Clara Valley Youth Village track, where Igloi trains his stable of runners, he jogged for 30 minutes, not running all-out, tentatively testing the knee. It did not bother him. Wednesday he ran 36 holes over the municipal golf course in Modesto, and the knee hurt him a bit when he finished. Thursday he had X rays taken and talked to Dr. R. S. Osterholm, an osteopathic specialist in Modesto.
"He told me it was an inflamed gristle or tendon behind the kneecap," Elliott said. "Like your baseball pitchers get in their shoulders sometimes. A pitcher can throw all-out only about every four days. If he tries to throw more often than that, his arm gets sore. The same thing happened to my knee."
On Saturday, the day of the race, Elliott tried to sprint all-out for the first time since he had felt the click in his knee on the Morro Bay golf course. "All-out, it felt as though I had an iron band around the knee," he said. "It was very painful. Dr. Osterholm told me I shouldn't run. I wanted to compete very much because of Tom Moore. He's a very good friend. [ Moore is the promoter of the Modesto meet, and Elliott was his house guest.] But I couldn't have run well. Why run a five-minute mile? It was the worst decision I have ever had to make. And it was the worst emotional anticlimax of my life."