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TICKING GOLDEN MOMENTS
Roger Bannister
September 19, 1960
The watch that recorded the first four-minute mile timed Australia's Herb Elliott in Rome as he broke the world record in the 1,500 meters, a performance of classic excellence
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September 19, 1960

Ticking Golden Moments

The watch that recorded the first four-minute mile timed Australia's Herb Elliott in Rome as he broke the world record in the 1,500 meters, a performance of classic excellence

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Those last 150 yards looked to us, and to Elliott must have seemed, an eternity. The gaze of 60,000 was fixed on him, the greatest miler the world has ever seen. Certainly I noticed Burleson running a fine race in sixth position, but it was out of the corner of my eye. It was Elliott who filled every brain and heart. It was Elliott, with the hawk nose, the gaunt viking face; Elliott of the lean body and the smooth stride; Elliott, lithe and stealthy, about as gentle as a tiger. This was a man made for this form of self-expression, the rest of the field having somehow learned it painfully and inadequately. This was running, the instinctive and unfettered expression of every potentiality.

Then the superman we had watched for a hundred yards suddenly became human again. His stride shortened, his body grew more upright. Was it conceivable he could experience so frail and human a feeling as fatigue? He was back at Portsea now, in Cerutty's training camp, running wild and barefoot until it hurt, seeking to replenish a primitive energy that does not quite last through the artificiality of track racing.

Elliott crossed the finish line tired partly by the head wind but mainly by his own ferocious speed. He won by 18 yards from the gallant Frenchman Jazy, whom nature had never intended to be a metric-mile medalist. When asked his opinion of Jazy in the press room afterward, Elliott replied, "Who's Jazy?"—and I do not think he mistook the pronunciation.

The result is now part of athletic history. Elliott had spread-eagled the field and broken his own world record, set in Goteborg in 1958, by .4 second. The first six, including Burleson, were inside Delany's 1956 Olympic record.

Elliott's version of the race was, "Cerutty wanted a faster first half mile, but if it had been any faster I could hardly have finished." The final time was the equivalent of a 3:53 mile, though Elliott would not have lasted the extra 120 yards.

Has Elliott been too successful for his own good? Though badly beaten on occasion over half a mile, he has never lost a mile race, and so he has as yet little experience of the confusing pattern of success and failure that leads to athletic maturity and beyond. I suspect it is the need for a more demanding challenge than the miling he finds so absurdly easy that makes him talk of the marathon as "a man's event." He actively seeks this final trial, where mental strength outweighs the physical qualities he has in such profusion. Like so many Australians, he has a sense of freedom, and is unafraid of enjoying his successes and making the most of them. In October Elliott will enroll at Cambridge, a "promising" freshman who has nothing left to conquer. He is likely now to write a blunt and perceptive autobiography at an age when most men either have little to say or cannot say it.

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