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Two of the threats to Pirie's victory are his countrymen Chataway and Ibbotson. Both are four-minute milers, and there is little to choose between their recent records. Chataway ran no risks of staleness and was obviously undertrained when Ibbotson narrowly defeated him over three miles, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of 5,000 meters, in the British championships. Ibbotson's brilliant, almost cavalier performance on August Bank Holiday, in deciding to run in the mile in order to get a ticket for the banquet afterwards for the friend of his fiancée and then breaking four minutes raises him to the same "run for fun" category as Chataway. Of the two, I favor Chataway. He has had the harrowing experience of lying on the track after tripping 80 yards from the finish at Helsinki and watching four runners pass him. This will not happen in Melbourne. Also, I favor Chataway because it is his last chance. With the closing strides of the 5,000 meters at Melbourne, win or lose, he will leave the track to devote all his time to his highly successful television commentating. Chataway has the most important running quality of all, the "index of unbeatability," in hopefully excessive proportion. He will run if necessary until he drops.
John Landy, the most noble and generous athlete I know, has a better chance in the 5,000 meters than in the 1,500 meters. It would seem only fair that after delighting spectators in all parts of the world with his brilliant running, he should end his career by winning a gold medal before an Australian crowd. But, beset with leg injuries, Landy has given no certain proof in the last three months of his ability to keep up with the leaders in the long, 5,000-meter grind.
In the marathon, despite his operation in June, Emil Zatopek must be the favorite.
The story is told that Zatopek at Helsinki in 1952 came alongside Jim Peters of Britain, the favorite, at 15 miles and said in his excellent English: "Excuse me, I haven't run a marathon before, but don't you think we ought to go a bit faster?" No wonder Peters collapsed a mile later. Zatopek is without doubt the greatest athlete of the postwar world and there could be no better swan song for him than a second marathon victory. His gamesmanship and sense of humor are superb. Years ago he startled the world by saying that he trained in army boots, and it was true. Hundreds of lesser athletes have only given themselves blisters trying to follow his example. I hope the marathon will be held at a sensible time in Melbourne and not in the heat of day, and that medical precautions will be taken against salt depletion.
In the steeplechase the world record has been broken twice already this year. But I would keep a careful eye on Jerzy Chromik, the reputedly shy 25-year-old from Poland whose performances are anything but shy. No other steeplechase runner has such proven flat-racing ability. Until this year he held the world record for the steeplechase, and in Melbourne he will set about regaining it. Britain has three certain finalists in John Disley, 28-year-old mountaineering instructor from Wales, Eric Shirley and Christopher Brasher. Horace Ashenfelter's astonishing ability, as a well-trained FBI man, to respond to the red vest of a Russian by setting up a new Olympic record in Helsinki four years ago, gives him a chance of victory. Semyon Rzhishchin might provide the red vest.
The Olympic Games are not a film for which the script can be written in advance. Each inevitably brings a drama which no chronicler can destroy, a drama born of the tension generated as each athlete waits like a lighted fuse for the moment of his explosive activity. I have made predictions, but I have picked no hero; only the Games themselves can reveal his genius. In the heat of victory we acclaim them, but thereafter we take a morbid interest in finding feet of clay. As a result, we are aware too soon of their human quality and are scarcely allowed to respect them. They pass easily from fame to notoriety and need protection from the limelight that exploits them. Behind the Iron Curtain they may be denounced, as Zatopek was, for following the "cult of the individual." We are so cluttered up with heroes of stage, screen and sport that we know they are expendable. Perhaps our only hope of leaving some room on the mantelpiece is to destroy them as soon as they are created.
I hope there will remain time for us to acknowledge and respect the hero of the Melbourne Games, whoever he may be. This modern hero, not altogether shorn of magic, will emerge a symbol of the Olympic Games. We need him as a reminder that the body of a man has a glory as well as his intellect and spirit.