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Tex Maule
September 19, 1960
They came in the final event of the decathlon, as two of the world's finest athletes fought a desperate, lonely duel
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September 19, 1960

The Most Exciting Five Minutes

They came in the final event of the decathlon, as two of the world's finest athletes fought a desperate, lonely duel

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The tension that finally left Johnson limp at the end of the decathlon was the keynote of the closing days of the Olympic track and field competition. Otis Davis, who won the 400-meter run for the U.S. in a world-record time of 44.9, said, "I felt weak from it. Bill Bowerman, my coach at Oregon, told me before the finals I could run 45 flat but I didn't believe him. You said in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED I didn't have any sense of pace, and I've been working on it and I was determined, but I felt the pressure."

Davis paced himself beautifully in his final. Carl Kaufmann, the very strong, very fast German quarter miler, took an early lead, but Davis, running with a neat, economical stride, floated down the backstretch, saving himself. In the turn, he kicked suddenly and strongly and passed Kaufmann, coming into the homestretch with a three-yard lead. Kaufmann furiously closed the gap to a yard, then lunged at the tape and hit it with his chin. But Davis' chest was over the line first and he won. It was a photo finish, and the two athletes sat nervously, waiting for the verdict. When Davis was told he had won, he leaped high in the air, danced crazily a moment, then wept copiously. Kaufmann walked over and shook his hand.

The big crowd for this day's program at the lovely Stadio Olimpico had hardly finished buzzing about the world record in the 400 meters when Herb Elliott, the superbly conditioned Australian world-record holder in the mile, gave them another record. Elliott, running against the world's premier middle-distance men in the 1,500 meters, made the rest of the field look like a different breed of human being (see Roger Bannister's story on page 28).

After the race his coach, Percy Cerutty, not a modest chap, explained Elliott's speed. "Here, now," he said to Roger Bannister, the world's first sub-four-minute miler. "Here is how you used to run." Cerutty shambled off, running with all the grace of a spavined plow horse, his slight body ridiculous, the bright eyes watching Bannister as he performed the travesty of Bannister's style. "Now," he said coming back, puffing slightly. "Here is how I have Herb run, with the grace of an animal." He set off again, not quite as awkwardly, lunging with his arms. He came back, puffing harder. "See the difference?" he asked. "Much better style. Pulls with the arms. I'll show you again. This time I'll run like you did until I go round that little bush, then I'll run like Herb." He set off again, changing styles dramatically as he passed the little bush. Said Bannister, dryly, "I must say I find myself hard to recognize in Percy."

Elliott's race was one of the few won easily. Only America's lovely, graceful girl sprinter, Wilma Rudolph, seemed so clearly the best in her field as Elliott in his. She was the only athlete in the track and field competition to win three gold medals—in the 100 and 200 meters and in the sprint relay. She is a quiet girl who became even quieter under the stress of sudden fame. Probably the hardest worker on the women's team, she had little time for social life, confining her dates to a few with Ray Norton. ("Nothing serious," Norton says. "She's a sprinter and I'm a sprinter, so naturally we're friends.")

The choo-choo gazelle

After her victories in the two sprints, Wilma anchored the U.S. women's team to a world record (44.4) in the relay. She took the baton even with the second-place German girl. Then, long bronze legs flashing in the straight-up, graceful stride that reminds you of Dave Sime, she moved away easily. Someone asked a French photographer near the finish line, "Who won?" "La Gazelle, naturellement," he said. "La Chattanooga choo-choo."

Wilma, who has the carriage "a queen should have," as an English writer said, is all the more remarkable because she was crippled by a childhood illness and was in bed from the time she was 4 until she was 8. She is one of 19 children, from very poor parents. Her father is an invalid and her mother takes in laundry and does day work to support the family. Wilma was discovered by Tennessee State Coach Ed Temple. She cannot explain her extraordinary ability. "I just run," she says. "I don't know why I run so fast." A good deal of the credit must go to Temple, who is responsible for the fine program at Tennessee State. The U.S. women's relay team is, in fact, the Tiger Belles—the Tennessee State team. Like Wilma, they all seemed impervious to the extreme pressure of Olympic competition.

Not so Norton, the most unfortunate man in the Games. After finishing sixth in both sprints, Norton took a baton pass from starter Frank Budd out of the passing zone in the finals of the sprint relay, and the U.S. team, winner by a yard over Germany, was disqualified. The bad pass was not Norton's fault; he started as Budd's foot hit the starting mark. But Norton, who was flat, stale and tense from overwork in the sprints, was fresh and strong for this race, and Budd was fading a bit. Norton flashed away too fast for Budd to catch. Budd yelled, "Wait!" desperately, and Norton came to a halt, but he was out of the zone.

The time of the American team (39.4) would have been a new world record. Said a bitter, sad Norton later, "Finally I did everything right and still everything went wrong. What can you do?"

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