In the winter of
1951-52 I started on my Olympic plan. Because of the tremendous nervous strain
I suffered during races, I believed that excessive competition was essentially
harmful to someone of my temperament. So I did not run in any cross-country
races during the winter. I decided not to start running on the track until
February, and did most of my training near my home round the grass cricket
field of Harrow School.
I was building
myself up for one supreme explosive effort on July 26, 1952 in the final at
Helsinki. I had intended that the AAA Championships of 1951 should be my last
fiercely competitive mile until Helsinki. I decided that I would not defend my
AAA Mile title in the summer of 1952, but I would run in the half-mile instead.
This would take away none of my freshness or strength, and would give me
sharper tactical experience. There was much surprised comment, but I did not
allow it to disturb me.
I did not expect
people to understand my scheme of training. I only hoped that they would be
patient with me and trust that I was doing my best to prepare for the Olympic
race. But everyone seemed to know better than I how I should train. I had no
coach or adviser, and hence no alibi if things went wrong. I had to carry the
full weight of decisions myself. I now regretted that by running so fast the
previous year I had added fuel to the fire.
Ten days before
the Helsinki final I ran my last time trial at Motspur Park. Chataway led for
the first lap and a half, and I completed a three-quarter-mile in 2 minutes
52.9 seconds. The time was unbelievable, with each lap faster than the previous
one—58.5, 57.5 and 56.9 seconds. I had never run at such speed before and I
rank this as equal to, if not better than, a four-minute mile. I felt joyously
full of the running that I had restrained for so long.
distance of 1,500 meters, which suits me better than a mile, is only 320 yards
longer than a three-quarter-mile. I felt now that in a final race, with a day's
rest after the heat, I could beat even the world record. This should be fast
enough to win at Helsinki. I bound those who had seen the trial to secrecy,
because it was only valuable as a boost for my own state of mind. I felt very
Next morning I
opened my paper and saw the headlines, "Semifinals for the Olympic 1,500
meters." There were to be races on three consecutive days, heats,
semifinals and then the final.
I could hardly
believe it. In just the length of time it took to read those few words the
bottom had fallen out of my hopes. There had never been semifinals before. Just
when I had become certain that my training method was right, this change in the
Olympic program made nonsense of it, and denied me all chance of vindicating my
ideas. This was the frame of mind in which I traveled to Helsinki with
Chat-away, after the main party and five days before my first heat.
The night before
the Olympic finals was one of the most unpleasant I have ever spent. I had
finished fifth in my semifinal the day before, winded and unhappy, while
Luxembourg's little Joseph Barthel romped home in 3 minutes 50.4 seconds. My
legs ached and I was unable to sleep. I felt I hated running.
On Saturday, the
day of the finals, I was the only representative of Great Britain left. The
finalists included two Germans, Lueg and Lamers; two Americans, McMillen and
Dreutzler; two Swedes, Aberg and Ericsson; Johansson of Finland; El Mabrouk of
France; Boysen of Norway; MacMillan of Australia and Barthel of Luxembourg.
I hardly had the
strength to warm up. As I walked out in front of those 70,000 spectators, my
step had no spring, my face no color. The ruthless fighting of the semifinal,
the worry and lack of sleep had exhausted me. There had been too little time
between the races to regain my strength. As I stood at the start I felt a
loyalty to all sports' lovers waiting at home. Everyone wished me well, but
they could not help me here.