Gold medal four years early
Snell had a plan for the finals in the 800 meters, but the closely packed, somewhat unruly field negated it. "I wanted to get right out front," he said. "Away from the traffic, you know. But they didn't run by my rules. I was boxed a bit on the back-stretch of the first lap, then I was knocked over by the rail at the head of the last turn and I had to run on in from there. I wanted to go all-out with 250 meters left, but I had to wait a bit. I'm really preparing for the 1964 Olympics. I thought if I reached the semis here it would be fine experience. Then I reached the semis, and I thought, well, why not, I'll give it a go in the finals. And I was relaxed, you know. I'm really very pleased." Snell is 21, a quantity surveyor ("I figure how many bricks go in a building") in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealanders consider him the next Herb Elliott.
Halberg has been running since 1949. He took it up because his left shoulder was badly damaged in a Rugby game. "I like to have a lash at all sports," he said. "You know, I travel with chaps who like sports. Then I was bunged up in the Rugby game and I had to find a sport that used only my lower body. That's running, isn't it? So I trained a while with a local chap until I got too good for him, and he introduced me to John Lydiard, my coach now. I doubt that any coach has ever been as close to an athlete as Lydiard is to me. I talked to Cerutty once, because I like to learn as much as I can and I thought he might have something for me. I've been called one of Cerutty's—but Lydiard is my coach. He's a wonderful man. I've not been as close to him recently as I was at first, but he's taught me everything. I've absorbed most of it, so I only see him now and then to plan how to attack a race, but we have changed the whole textbook of training. Me and Lydiard. No interval work, you know. Long, slow, over distance, then short sprints. All designed to make the body produce its maximum over whatever distance necessary. Take Snell. We had the same program until 10 weeks before the Olympics. We have a 22-mile test course over the hills in New Zealand. Snell and I and two of our marathon runners ran a test over it. The marathon runners beat me by a second, I beat Snell by a second. He'll be the greatest runner in the world in a few years."
Halberg, a slight, red-haired man who runs with his left arm tucked in closely to his side because of the impairment, ran an extraordinarily wise race in the 5,000 meters.
"I knew there were three chaps who could run a fast last quarter," he said, "Grodotzki of Germany, Thomas of Australia and Iharos of Hungary. I thought I might be able to stay, but I wasn't sure. So I sprinted with three laps to go and opened a gap. Then I broke all the textbook rules by looking over my shoulder to see how far back they were so I could keep my lead. When you're running in front like that it's like driving on a dark street at night with the lights out. If you don't watch, all at once all the traffic goes by before you can accelerate. But if you look back, you can adjust to meet that."
Halberg's surprising and unorthodox early sprint opened a 30-yard gap for him. Grodotzki, running second, seemed confused. He started to match Halberg's sprint, then abandoned the effort. But this compromise cost him the strength for a closing drive and left him too far behind Halberg, who has no real finishing kick.
Watching was Roger Bannister, the first man in the world to break the four-minute barrier in the mile.
"A good deal of running is mental," mused Bannister. "You must use your head, you know. It's very necessary."