Jim Beatty, mature and confident, relaxed on his bed in a Chicago hotel last week and made this statement: "I would like to set a new indoor record in the two-mile. I feel the record should belong to an American." So saying, Beatty arose, changed into his track clothes, hustled over to Chicago Stadium and, as advertised, broke New Zealander Murray Halberg's indoor two-mile record by nearly four seconds. In doing so Beatty, who also holds the indoor mile and outdoor two-mile records, proved what many have long suspected, that he is the best distance runner in the world.
Tom O'Hara, young and shy, was also in Chicago last week. O'Hara runs the mile, and his performances this winter have made him the most sensational discovery of the indoor season. O'Hara made no statement before his race last week—he wouldn't have dared. He simply showed up at Chicago Stadium and won the mile in 3:59.5, his second sub-four-minute mile this winter.
Beatty is a bright old name, O'Hara a bright new one. Together they give the U.S. two outstanding middle-distance runners. The U.S. has not won an Olympic 1,500-meter race since 1908, and it has never won a 5,000-meter race, but those who saw Beatty and O'Hara in Chicago last week would be willing to bet that one and perhaps both of them will win a gold medal in 1964.
Beatty's record run in Chicago was more of an exhibition than a race, for despite the presence of Canada's youthful distance star, Bruce Kidd, there-was only temporary doubt as to who would win. Beatty finished the first mile in 4:13.5. (Less than 10 years ago Wes Santee won the mile race in Chicago in 4:11.8.) He finished the two miles in 8:30.7. At the end Kidd was 120 yards back, and Beatty was running with only the cheers of the crowd to urge him on. "I might have done it even faster if someone had been able to push me at the end," Beatty said when the race was over. It evidently did not occur to him that this was nearly impossible.
Whereas Beatty ran by himself, young Tom O'Hara had plenty of company. Also in the race were Jim Grelle, a teammate of Beatty who last year in London ran a 3:56.7 mile, and Bill Dotson, another sub-four-minute miler. The three were bunched closely for most of the first three quarters. But with two laps to go, late by prerace plans, O'Hara took off. "I knew the time was slow and that I'd have to go all out," he said after the race. O'Hara opened a lead of four yards and held it. Grelle was second, Dotson third. Both finished in 3:59.8, the first time three runners in the same indoor race have ever run under four minutes.
On inspection, Tom O'Hara, who is now only 20, looks incapable of jogging once around the block. A student at Loyola of Chicago, he is a frail boy, only 5 feet 9 and 130 pounds, with light-red hair and a chalky-white skin that suggests sickness. While he talks he often holds his arms as if shivering. He walks with a slight stoop. Somewhere within him lies a well of determination, but no trace of it appears on the surface. His expression is bewildered and friendly.
O'Hara ran his first sub-four-minute mile at the New York Athletic Club meet a month ago, pushing Beatty to a new indoor record of 3:58.6. O'Hara trailed through three quarters in 3:00.7, then passed Beatty and held the lead going into the last of the 11 laps. It was the first time in his three races against Beatty—all indoors—that O'Hara had led on the final lap. "I figured I'd won," he said later. "I didn't think anyone could beat me if I led on the final lap."
"Tom was upset with himself after the race," says Jerry Weiland, a dapper-looking Chicago businessman who coaches the Loyola track team on the side. "Then he heard his time, and losing wasn't so bad."
Better and better
Neither of O'Hara's fine performances was especially surprising, for he had been coming close to the sub-four-minute mile for a year. Last winter he twice chased Beatty across the finish line in 4:02.3 and 4:01.7, and earlier this year he won the Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games in 4:01.5. "Tom said he felt fine after that race," Weiland says. "That's when I was certain he'd break four minutes any day." O'Hara probably would have gone under four minutes outdoors last spring but for an ankle injury that ruined his season. Now there is nothing wrong with the ankle—or anything else.