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'THE MAN WHO LEADS WILL LOSE'
TWO GREAT MILERS TOOK TURNS BEATING EACH OTHER LAST WEEK. THEIR DUEL SET THE STAGE FOR A BRILLIANT TRACK SEASON
Now that Roger Bannister and John Landy have retired, the two best milers in the world today are a lean, ropy Kansan named Wes Santee and a pink-skinned, flapping-haired Dane named Gunnar Nielsen, the two sweat-suited gentlemen at the left. They began a duel last Friday night at the Philadelphia Inquirer Games in such a way as to put track fans on notice that they were going to be treated to the best indoor season in years.
Nielsen had uncorked a blazing last-lap sprint the week before in Boston to win a 4:07.9 mile, and there was wonder if Santee, making his Eastern indoor debut, could cope with it. He could and did. He led at first, relinquished the lead to Nielsen at the half mile and then trailed him closely. A lap and a half from home he brought the crowd to its feet, roaring, by bolting past Nielsen. His furious sprint left the struggling Dane 10 yards behind at the finish. The time was 4:10.5.
"What happened?" Nielsen was asked later. It was not his kind of race, he said. Too slow. He did not like to have to lead.
The next night at the Washington Star Games it was different. There were pace setters. But they led the pack through the half mile in a disappointing 2:12.2. Santee would not move up, and Nielsen would not pass Santee. Finally, almost in desperation, Santee took the lead and tried to run Nielsen into the ground (the last half mile was run in a burning 1:57.3). But Nielsen loved it. He stayed with the pace, jumped Santee a half-lap from the finish, and outsprinted him to the tape. The time: 4:09.5.
Afterwards, a grumpy Santee complained about having to set the pace. "Put you out there like a sitting duck," he muttered. "Everybody taking pot shots at you."
Another runner explained. "You can't set pace and have enough sprint left to outkick a runner like Nielsen. It takes too much out of you."
Nielsen agreed. "I think the man who leads will lose," he said cheerfully. "Yes. If I lead next time, I will lose."