As miles go, the American one is good enough: 5,280 feet, 1,760 yards, 1:36[1/5] on a good day at Hialeah. It stacks up pretty well inch for inch with anybody else's mile. The trouble is that Americans can't seem to run these 5,280 feet as fast as foreigners do. American milers are patronized by distance runners from other countries and looked upon with a certain mixture of sympathy and embarrassment here at home.
If the United States made a habit of producing poor hammer throwers, somehow we would all find a way to survive; it is always possible to explain, with proper modesty, of course, that one can hardly be expected to excel in everything. The hammer throw can even be ignored, although ignoring hammer throwers themselves might present something of a problem. It is impossible, however, to ignore the mile. This Everest of track events is always there, fascinating, demanding, challenging, and about all we have been able to do in recent years is admit that we've been lousy in it. But take it from Jim Grelle, things are going to change.
" Dyrol Burleson," says Grelle, "can beat Herb Elliott right now."
Grelle, it should be explained, is a miler himself, and not a lunatic, no matter what he says. He's a pleasant fellow of 23, blond and boyish and slightly emaciated, as any good distance runner should be. A graduate student in business at the University of Oregon, he is America's least-known good runner, having won the U.S. Russia dual-meet 1,500 meters in 1958, the NCAA mile last year and a handful of other well-regarded events. In fact, only three Americans—Don Bowden (our only sub-four-minute miler), Wes Santee and Fred Dwyer—have ever run a faster mile than Grelle's 4:01. Jim's trouble is that when he runs, people always seem to be looking at something else: Don Bragg pole-vaulting or John Thomas high-jumping or some babe in Bermuda shorts walking down the next aisle.
Last Saturday night, in the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York, Grelle did it again. While the crowd watched Bragg as he worked his way up toward 16 feet (he eventually missed, brushing the bar with his chest) and Thomas as he threatened to jump all the way out into Eighth Avenue (he finally missed, too, after raising his world indoor record to 7 feet 1� inches), Jim Grelle won the famed Wanamaker Mile. Perhaps not in the overpowering tradition of Ron Delany or Don Gehrmann, who each won it four years in a row, or Glenn Cunningham, who won it six times in all, or even those occasional winners, Venzke and Fenske. But for a guy whose name doesn't rhyme too easily ("fella" is the closest he can get), Grelle did a pretty good job.
OVERHAULING THE POLICEMAN
Concerned only with Ed Moran, the ex-Penn Stater who won at Washington a week before and who has done 4:01.7 outdoors himself, and Phil Coleman, the Illinois English teacher who won the season opener at Boston, Grelle stayed back in the field during the early laps. He is not an effortless runner, but neither is he a struggling one. Jim Grelle just runs along, in a pleasant sort of way, and eventually, when the time comes, he takes off. That is what happened in the Millrose Games.
Moran led the pack through a fair 61.2 quarter and an ordinary 2:04.1 half. Hippity-hippity-hop came Grelle. Then Coleman, who is called the policeman because he refuses to let these indoor miles get too slow, moved into the lead and hit the three quarters in 3:06.8. Loping along came Grelle. Then the three leaders came down the straight leading into the final lap—and zoom went Grelle. He jumped ahead of Moran as the gun for the last lap went off, passed Coleman at the end of the straight and whirled around to win by two yards. The time was 4:06.4., better than three of Delany's four winning efforts, better than any of Gehrmann's or Cunningham's, and fourth-best in Millrose history. The crowd took its eyes off Bragg and Thomas long enough to applaud politely.
"I've got a blister on my left foot," said Grelle in the cavernous basement beneath the Garden where he was cooling off. "I guess my shoe was too loose." The time? "Well, I was hoping it would be a little faster." Why didn't he go out early and set a faster pace? "I don't feel safe out front." Was he pleased? "Yeah, I guess I'm pleased. You can't do any better than win."
Despite his victory Saturday night, however, and the ones which came before, Jim Grelle is more famous for not winning. He ran fourth (4:01.7) behind Herb Elliott's 3:57.9, then a world record, in the National AAU at Bakersfield in 1958; he ran fourth (4:01) behind Dan Waern's 3:59.2 in Sweden last summer; and two years in a row he finished second to Delany in the NCAA mile. Yet when Grelle speaks of the future of American mile running his voice rings with authority, for he is the world's greatest living expert on the back of Dyrol Burleson's neck. Grelle has run second to Oregon's 19-year-old whiz kid so many times in the last year that he is beginning to lose count.