MILES TO GO
After John Walker ran his remarkable 3:49.4 world-record mile last week (page 14) the theorists were out in force discussing the future of the event, with emphasis on "barriers" and "ultimates." Barriers are a sports-page myth, but obviously there has to be an ultimate—no one is ever going to run a mile in 10 seconds flat. The elusive limit lies somewhere between 10 seconds and Walker's time, but just where, no one yet has any idea.
The four-minute mile used to be considered the ultimate, and then 3:50; now it is said to be 3:40 or even 3:30. An English physiologist has determined it is 3:38, which he says can be reached if the runner in question is "theoretically perfect" in physique, natural speed, mental attitude and training. He also says, "The athlete possessing all these perfections has yet to be born."
Nonsense. The man who eventually runs 3:38 may not be alive as yet, but there are those running today who are capable of it. Walker ran the mile 10 seconds faster than Roger Bannister did 21 years ago, when he broke four minutes for the first time. Is Walker that superior to Bannister as a pure athlete? Or is he simply the current end product of effort, training, technique, equipment and psychological attitude?
A study of the evolution of the mile record over the past 10 decades indicates that 3:38 is not an ultimate but an inevitable, one that should be reached in 30 years or so. In the past century the mile record has dropped an average of 3� seconds per decade. In the past 50 years it has dropped even faster. Walker's mile was 4.2 seconds better than Michel Jazy's 1965 world record of 3:53.6; Jazy's was 4.4 seconds faster than John Landy's 3:58, the record in 1955; Landy's was 3.4 seconds better than Gunder Hagg's 1945 time of 4:01.4; Hagg's was 5.4 better than Glenn Cunningham's 4:06.8, the record in 1935; and Cunningham's was 3.6 faster than Paavo Nurmi's 4:10.4, which created a bigger stir when it was run in 1923 than Walker's 3:49.4 did last week.
Because this relentless downward movement has yet to show signs of slowing, of even approaching that asymptotic ultimate, there seems no reason why the record won't be down around 3:46 by 1985, to 3:42 or 3:43 by 1995, and below 3:38 early in the 21st century.
There may be one snag. Rumors persist that the IAAF, international ruling body for track and field, will soon refuse to sanction records at anything but metric distances, which would do away with the mile as a valid event. Of course, the IAAF might bend a little and accept new records at the increasingly popular distance of 1609.344 meters.
At the Hang Ten Amateur Grass Court Championship tennis tournament this summer at the Casino in Newport, R.I. one of the ball boys—who happened to be the 16-year-old son of Robert Day, the tournament director—gave an interview to a reporter in which he complained that being a ball boy wasn't much fun, that they worked five hours a day and were being paid only $5 a day. No sooner did the story appear than the Rhode Island State Employment Practices Division stepped in, ruled that unless the ball boys were 16 years old they could not legally be employed, and, further, said anyone who was employed had to be paid the state's minimum wage of $2.05 an hour. Ten ball boys and girls were dropped, but the rest got a nice raise.
Poor Canada. Those Olympics she was so happy to get a few years ago have become a serpent in her bosom. Strikes, political unrest, the threat of financial disaster, and—can you imagine this?—dirty language. In French-speaking Montreal the Olympic organizing committee is called Comit� Organisateur des Jeux Olympiques, COJO for short; its associate committee for TV, the Organisme de radio-t�l�vision des Olympiques, is called ORTO. Nothing much wrong with that, is there? Except that the two acronyms are causing embarrassment to Canadian diplomats in Argentina. Some time ago Ambassador Alfred P. Bissonnet wrote home to Ottawa to point out that in the lunfardo, or local slang, of greater Buenos Aires and neighboring Uruguay, COJO and ORTO "have a meaning or connotation which makes it virtually impossible for my embassy to use them." Gingerly, the letter explained that cojo is an obscenity for sexual intercourse and or to an obscenity for the backside. When a Montreal newspaper appeared in the embassy with a headline saying CITY VOTES $250 MILLION FOR COJO, locally hired members of the staff dissolved in muffled laughter.