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Before analyzing in detail the middle-and long-distance events, there are some general points which are worth considering. The secret of middle-distance running is for the athlete to be able to discover a will to win within himself that remains locked away inside his rivals. Some athletes discover this source of power for themselves, and for some a coach is necessary. The outcome of the 1,500, the 5,000 and the 10,000 meters depends to a large degree on the extent to which coaches like Franz Stampfl and Iglói are able to bring their charges to a peak on the crucial day. Stampfl, now Australian national coach, with whom Britain's Christopher Chataway stayed in Melbourne until the Games, is most gifted in enabling a man to find this will to win. He has coached Chataway by tape recordings throughout the year and will undoubtedly get the best out of him. Iglói goes even further in the closeness of his contact with his protégés. Fascinated by the manipulations of personality needed for this physical perfection, he discusses with these athletes their private problems, helping them through what he calls their "spiritual crises."
In the Olympic Games athletic ability is no longer enough. Self-control and mental discipline in the face of enormous publicity are almost equally important qualities. For this reason the Olympic Games are still, as the Greeks intended them to be, a surprisingly good test of the whole person. Each aspirant is voluntarily under strain before the peering eyes of the world. In two weeks his experience is suddenly stretched to the limit of what is tolerable. He reveals to himself and sometimes to others unsuspected weaknesses and perhaps discovers a new secret strength. However much Iglói looks upon himself as a psychoanalyst or priest, I think the utter dependence of the brilliant Hungarian athletes on him must weaken them. For when each athlete waits for the starter's pistol at Melbourne he must stand alone. The outcome of the race will be immediate and irrevocable, and the athlete who relies on himself rather than his coach is more likely to succeed.
The 1,500 meters will probably be the closest race of the Games. A difference of little more than 1% separates the 12 best runners in the world. At least six of them have run the mile (120 yards longer than 1,500 meters) in less than four minutes. In these circumstances one may possibly pick finalists but is unlikely to find the winner. All 12 have, of course, bettered the existing Olympic record of 3 minutes 45.2 seconds, but this may indicate little more than how few Olympic records are likely to survive the Melbourne onslaught. It will be a relief to all the competitors in this grueling trial of speed and stamina that the additional round which was unnecessarily and unexpectedly inserted at Helsinki between the heat and the final has been dropped. The finalists will have one day's well-earned rest before the grim struggle of the last day.
The 5,000 and 10,000 meters must be considered together because at least two of the possible winners, Vladimir Kuts of Russia and Gordon Pirie of Britain, have entered for both events. Chataway and Derek Ibbotson of Britain have entered only for the 5,000 meters, and therein lies their chance. The 10,000 meters is held on the second day of the Games. The race will be a killer. Gordon Pirie, the only British distance runner to be entrusted with two track events, will be in at the death. America's best representative, Max Truex, has a fastest time over two minutes slower than Kuts's record.
The shorter-distance men have only just begun to crack open the 10,000 meters, and the days of the "boring" 10,000, as Gunder Hägg once described it, are over. Now that the 1,500- and 5,000-meter men are taking a hand in it, it has changed from a procession to a battle for every stride.
So far we know very little of Kuts. Judged from his few public utterances, he seems to lead a singularly well-disciplined life and answers every setback with harder training. We have discovered no more than a relentless running machine. One Sunday afternoon two and a half months ago I met him by chance while walking through Hyde Park. Wearing a bright orange track suit and with his head tucked between his shoulders, Kuts was pounding along, getting rid of some of the energy that would have gone into his battle against Chataway if Nina Ponomaryova had been less clumsy in her shoplifting. He stopped when he recognized me, and we exchanged mutually unintelligible words. Then with a handshake and a smile he trotted off into the London mist. A week later he set up his new world record for 10,000 meters. As he is the fastest—at any rate on paper—and the strongest, I expect him to try to run the rest of the field off their feet, possibly with help from Ivan Chernyavskiy and Aleksandr Anufriyev of Russia. But if Gordon Pirie of Britain can hang on until the last 50 yards he might produce the speed to defeat Kuts.
There is one danger that faces Pirie. When Kuts piles on the pace he may feel tempted to remind himself that with the 5,000 meters he has a second chance of victory. In track absolute single-mindedness on the race in hand is essential. It is all or nothing.
Pirie is the outstanding character of the British track. He has achieved a specialty in the unexpected. In the last few years he has had a bewildering succession of triumphs and disasters which, together with his startling frankness, have won for him a unique position in the affection of the public. Within a week in June he defeated the great Kuts and knocked 3.6 seconds off the 5,000-meter world record, equaled the 3,000-meter world record, set up his own best performance over 1,500 meters and then was unable to run in the British championships! He can break world records, we know, but he has yet to prove his ability to produce these superlative performances on the right day.
Three days after the 10,000 meters come the heats of the 5,000 meters, which will be affected by the earlier race. In cricket the first century, so I am told, is always the most difficult; in baseball, I suppose, the first home run. It is just the same with Olympic gold medals. If either Kuts or Pirie were to win the 10,000 meters and could recover in time, he could well win the 5,000 meters too by having just the necessary mixture of confidence and exhilaration. On the other hand, the 5,000-meters chances of those who crawl home losers in the 10,000 meters will plummet. It is always more dispiriting to come in second!
The 5,000 meters is, relatively speaking, an open race. Pirie holds the world record (13:36.8) and is therefore the favorite, though I do Pirie a disservice to call him that. When a man is named favorite his burden immediately increases and his chances of success fall unless he can afford to look contemptuously on all his rivals. Each country has a favorite. His public and press expect a gold medal, and he alone knows how slim are his chances, how formidable the field when he is lined up against the favorite of every other country. It is a matter of simple mathematics that the majority must be disappointed. It seems so unfair that the athlete who most nearly grasps the gold medal should cause the greatest disappointment on his return home and be dubbed a failure. Armchair experts enjoy advising the favorite, and if there is a mishap, which means the big gamble fails, they indulge in the human satisfaction of "I told you so." Like aging film stars keep the wrinkles at bay, we athletes, on the occasion when we were favorites, have all coddled ourselves with rest, shuttered blinds and glucose drinks, avoiding overcompetition with dangerous rivals that would be damaging for morale. So it is understandable if the favorite's joviality is a little forced, his smile on the airplane steps a piece of acting as he wings his way to Melbourne with a heavy heart.