Of the 12 most likely finalists in the 1,500 meters at Rome, nine have run sub-four-minute miles. I predict that at the end of the race, not more than 10 meters will separate the first six finishers. And, for the first time in 24 years, possibly two of the six will be Americans. This should be the race of the Olympics.
Whoever wins will have achieved a slightly better performance over rivals of equal ability because he has learned more fully how to adapt to Italian heat. During the race itself there probably will be insufficient time for body temperatures to rise to dangerous heights, but the runner who fails to modify the length or intensity of his warmup risks arriving at the starting line either depleted of water and salt or with too high a temperature. The tactics of the race, therefore, will start before it.
In a sense, the American prospects are improved in 1960 because U.S. coaches have finally understood that such preparations, involving more than mere running against a stop watch, are important. This, really, is the secret—if such it may be called—of four-minute miling. This is not to say that an American will win. The favorite must be Herb Elliott. Despite his recent unfortunate knee injury in California, he has, after a fallow season, already shown flashes of his former brilliance. At his age a season's rest from competition is unimportant. There is a lurking suspicion that he is less ambitious than he was, but he has a champion's body, lithe and strong, and a mind ruthless, confident and intelligent.
There is only one runner of equal natural ability—30-year-old Roger Moens, the eccentric 800-meter world record holder. His running is a picture of dedicated power. He has only once been seen to run flat out. On that occasion in 1955 he set his world record of one minute 45.7 seconds for 800 meters. He has also run a four-minute mile. Before the 1956 Games he crashed a hurdle and missed going to Melbourne. His pique at this may prove a good stimulus for Rome. If he can keep with Elliott until the last demanding 20 yards, he could slide past him and provide a sensational finish.
Olympic gold medalist and record holder Ron Delany lacks the strength of either Elliott or Moens but he is capable of exceptional effort on the day of the race. Winning runners are not reared in opulence and, despite his years in America, Delany has kept his lean and hungry look. He has been conspicuously absent from the recent American scene, which is important for a runner of his physique. Merv Lincoln, the Australian schoolteacher who is coached by Franz Stampfl, is a strong runner, persistently disappointed and eclipsed by his compatriot Elliott. A gap only needs to appear in the front rank, even just a niche, for Lincoln to dart through.
Elbowing may bother Americans
The American pair, Dyrol Burleson and Jim Grelle, both have good medal chances. Burleson has shown that he can sustain a 300-yard finishing burst after a fast three-quarter mile, and Grelle has recently defeated Laszlo Tabori in a three-minute 42.7-second 1,500 meters. But in the Olympic final the 12 competitors will run clustered two or three abreast until the last 400 meters. Burleson and Grelle will find the elbowing and jockeying for position, inevitable in this type of race, very different from American races, and they may well be upset by it.
Those in the European field who appear likely to have a chance include Istvan Rozsavolgyi,' who has run for many years now but still seems in wonderful condition.
Michel Jazy of France, another lean and slender runner, has the graceful, economical stride that is so typical of European middle-distance running. Dan Waern is brilliant but erratic, faring better on Swedish tracks with his own pacemaker than in the hurly-burly of Olympic competition. Stanislav Jungwirth strides awkwardly, with his arms held in egg-and-spoon-race fashion, but he has great experience in crowded fields. Siegfried Valentin, the rugged East German, is a man to whom 1,500 meters is more of a running battle than an affair requiring delicacy and finesse. Michael Wiggs, a 22-year-old paper-mill worker, is the likeliest British contender in the finals but he has not yet shown the speed or tactical sense of his European rivals.
How the Rome 1,500 meters itself will be run will be dictated by the central principle of all middle-distance running—which is, that the pacesetter rarely wins. In all probability, the runners, who will be making every economy to preserve their strength to the end, will hold off the pace. For this reason a world record is not likely, but with such a collection of accomplished runners it is inconceivable that the winner will not exceed Delany's Olympic mark.