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HUNGARY BECOMES A GREAT POWER—IN TRACK

Nov. 21, 1955
Nov. 21, 1955

Table of Contents
Nov. 21, 1955

Events & Discoveries
Spectacle
The Wonderful World Of Sport
Fabulous Hungarians
Skeeter
Mountaineer Football
Acknowledgments

HUNGARY BECOMES A GREAT POWER—IN TRACK

Here is a satellite that shines brighter than the Soviet sun and which may eclipse the Russians at the 1956 Olympics. An SI writer who saw the Hungarians compete in Moscow and Warsaw reports on their startling performances: eight world records and a four-minute mile, just since May!

The jubilant men in track-and-field uniform on the opposite page are the two greatest runners in the world today. They are Hungarians. Their names, which you will be hearing more and more in the next 12 months as the world prepares for the 1956 Olympics, are Sandor Iharos and Laszlo Tabori.

This is an article from the Nov. 21, 1955 issue Original Layout

Little more than a year and a half ago, at about the time Roger Bannister was running the first four-minute mile, Iharos and Tabori were nothing more than a couple of good Hungarian runners. No one, aside from dedicated track buffs, had ever heard of them.

Then, through the curious alchemy that sometimes results from a mixture of superb natural ability and precise training, their talent for running jelled into genius, and with Teammate Istvan Rozsavolgyi, who is almost as good, they set off on the most remarkable pageant of record breaking in the history of track-and-field athletics.

Today Iharos holds the world record for five different distances: 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters, two miles, three miles and 5,000 meters. Tabori has run a 3:59 mile (the first since Bannister and Landy) and is co-holder with Iharos of the world record at 1,500 meters. Rozsavolgyi holds the world record at 2,000 meters and is co-holder of the 1,000-meter record. A relay team consisting of these three and Ferenc Mikes holds the world record for the 6,000-meter (4 x 1,500) relay.

And it all happened this year.

On the first day of May, if you had been musing over the world-record tables in track, you would have found only one that had been established by Hungarians—in the 6,000-meter relay. But that was back in May. Now, in November...

Iharos started the Hungarian ball rolling on May 14 in Budapest. The sad-eyed, sharp-featured, 25-year-old army captain clipped off 3,000 meters in 7:55.6, more than three seconds below the record set six years ago by Belgium's great Gaston Reiff.

Then, on May 27, Iharos and his shorter, stockier, curly-haired friend, Tabori, flew into London for the annual British Games at White City Stadium. The flight from Budapest had made them both airsick. As a result Iharos decided not to run in the mile race the next day, although Tabori decided he would.

Iharos' absence bitterly disappointed the crowd of 40,000. They had anticipated an exciting race between the Hungarian star—who had set a European record in the 1,500-meter the previous summer—and England's favorites, the doughty Chris Chataway and youthful Brian Hewson. Tabori was at that time only the third-ranking 1,500-meter man in Hungary and had hardly ever run the mile before. ("I know only vaguely what the mile distance is," he said later, after the race.)

On top of everything else it had rained hard the night before, and the track seemed slow. The English crowd grumbled. What they had expected to be the big race of the games would probably be the big disappointment.

They were as wrong as they could be. What they saw was one of the greatest mile races in history. Tabori, Chataway and Hewson all ran the mile in less than four minutes, and this barely a year after Bannister had first burst past that great barrier.

Tabori ran third through the 59.9-second first lap behind Alan Gordon, who was in the race as a pace setter, and Chataway. Hewson was a close fourth. Gordon still led at the half mile in a sparkling 2:00.8, a good stride ahead of the youthful Hewson, who had moved up into second place. Chataway and Tabori were third and fourth, close behind Hewson.

On the backstretch of the third lap Gordon faltered and Hewson swept by into the lead, driving ahead, as Norris McWhirter reported in Athletics World, "because with amazing confidence he thought that he could run away to win under four minutes."

Hewson led at the¾-mile mark in 3:02. This time was excellent in itself, but if a four-minute mile were to be achieved the last quarter mile would have to be run in less than 58 seconds. And Chataway and Tabori, second and third, were three and four yards back of Hewson.

The last lap produced everything that could have been demanded of it. It was run in less than 58 seconds, and by all three men. It provided a tremendous finish and it proved the validity of what Norris McWhirter calls mile-running's two "Laws of Acceleration."

"Entering the back straight," McWhirter wrote, "Tabori closed up and Chataway put on an unsustained tactical kick. He who accelerates twice is lost. Coming off the last turn Tabori, who had lain third while Hew-son and Chataway were rubbing shoulders, moved late and decisively from behind, only 50 yards from home. He who accelerates from behind wins."

Tabori challenged Chataway and Hewson on that last turn, and Chataway, seeing him, tried to increase his own effort and pass Hewson. "A mistake," he said later, "trying to pass on a bend. Wrong." But Tabori, heedless of the extra yardage, passed both Chataway and Hewson in a tremendous burst of speed and came into the home stretch in front. He broke the tape five yards ahead of Chataway, who was barely inches in front of Hewson. Tabori was timed in 3:59, both the Englishmen in 3:59.8.

That phenomenal mile race sent Tabori's name racing around the world. Two days later Iharos sent his own name racing after.

He felt better now after his airsickness and decided to run in the two-mile race. He would have preferred to have run in the mile two days before. The plain bald fact was that Iharos had never run a two-mile race in his life. But nitchevo, he thought he'd try.

Tabori, also unfamiliar with the two-mile distance, entered the race to pace Iharos. The two have always worked well together, although Tabori usually plays second fiddle. The prime British opposition was Ken Wood, another inexperienced two-miler who had never broken nine minutes for the distance.

Tabori jumped into the lead and set a stiff pace through the first mile, with Iharos and Wood close behind. His time at the mile was 4:17.2, terribly fast when you consider the two-mile world record was 8:40.4. But the second mile, incredibly enough, was run in faster time than the first.

Tabori dropped out after 1½ miles with a stitch in his side. Iharos took over, six yards ahead of Wood. The 25-year-old Iharos, who has the air of an aristocrat though he was a tool-maker before he entered the army, has a fine, lithe figure. He has an apparently effortless stride that seems to pay off at the end of a race, when he sprints through his last lap or two like a fresh quarter-miler, even in a distance event. That day in London, despite the scorching pace he had followed through the first mile and a half, he sprinted through the seventh lap in 61.1 seconds and the last lap in 61.2, a magnificent finishing kick. Wood hung close to him and almost caught up to him on the backstretch of the last lap, but the Hungarian drew away again to win by four yards.

His time was 8:33.4, an almost unbelievable seven seconds under the old record. Wood was timed in 8:34.8. The American record for two miles, set by Horace Ashenfelter that same week, is 8:49.6.

SANDOR STRIKES AGAIN

On July 28, before a crowd of 50,000 people at Helsinki, Iharos struck again, this time in the 1,500 meters, the "Olympic mile." Gunder Hägg had set a world record of 3:43 in this event in 1944, which had later been equaled by Lennart Strand, Werner Lueg and Roger Bannister. Wes Santee had lowered it to 3:42.8 in June 1954, 17 days before John Landy dropped it to 3:41.8 during the running of his 3:58 world-record mile in Turku, Finland. It was a distinguished record. Iharos broke it, finishing in 3:40.8, a full second under Landy's time. His teammate, 26-year-old Istvan Rozsavolgyi, who had paced him through the first 400 meters, pattered home second in 3:42.8.

A week later, in Warsaw early in August, I saw Laszlo Tabori run the 1,500 in 3:41.6, under Landy's record but short of Iharos' new one. Not satisfied, Tabori on September 6 in Oslo beat Gunnar Nielsen, world's indoor mile record holder, by inches in 3:40.8 to finally tie Iharos' record. Four days later he ran 3:41.8 (the Landy time) but lost to Rozsavolgyi, who did 3:41.2.

Thus Hungary had, simultaneously, three of the fastest 1,500-meter men in track history. The 1,500-meter race is only 120 yards less than the mile. If the Hungarians turn their talents mile-ward, who can say how far that treasured record will fall?

In mid-August, Tabori and Iharos returned to London and raced Chataway in another mile contest. They ran a comparatively slow 4:05, with Tabori beating Iharos by inches, but they left Chataway 25 feet behind. It was a typical Hungarian faster-and-faster race, with a slow first quarter (66.5) and a blinding last quarter (56.4) that lost the Englishman completely.

After the race a disappointed Chataway said he would henceforth stick to the three-mile distance, which had "taken the edge off" his speed in the mile. The next day Tabori raced Chataway at three miles, caught him in the stretch and beat him, though in routine time. Chataway still had his brilliant 13:23.2 world record for the three-mile to think about. He had set it in July, and it was better than three fat seconds below Vladimir Kuc's world record, set the previous October. But in September, Iharos was timed in 13:25 at the three-mile distance during the course of a 5,000-meter race. Chataway's shiny new record had only short weeks to live.

In Moscow in June I had seen Iharos run what was reported to be his first important 5,000-meter race, which is only about 190 yards longer than three miles. He had won easily, but in slow time, far behind Kuc's 13:51.2 record.

In Warsaw in August I saw Iharos' second big try at the 5,000, against a field that included the great Czech runner, Emil Zatopek, winner of four Olympic gold medals. Iharos defeated Zatopek but he couldn't beat Jerszy Chromik, a surprising Pole who finished first in an excellent 13:55.2. But in September in Budapest, in his third major attempt at the distance, Iharos cracked Kuc's world record with 13:50.8. Eight days later Kuc raced back with a blistering 13:46.8. Then, late in October in Budapest, Iharos went all out, lowered Kuc's record by 6.2 seconds with a 13:40.6 clocking, and, in the course of the race, broke Chris Chataway's heart by passing the three-mile mark in 13:14.2, nine seconds faster than Chataway's world record!

Any other Hungarian feats? Well, in September, Rozsavolgyi ripped through 1,000 meters in 2:19 to tie Norwegian Audun Boysen's brand-new world record, set only three weeks earlier. Then, apparently just for kicks, Iharos, Tabori, Rozsavolgyi and Ferenc Mikes took a crack at their own 6,000-meter relay record and, naturally, broke it.

On October 2, Rozsavolgyi and Tabori went after Gaston Reiff's seven-year-old world record for 2,000 meters, which was 5:07. The result? Rozsavolgyi: 5:02.2. Tabori: 5:03. Another world record.

Thus, since you glanced over that world-record chart on May 1, these remarkable young men from Hungary have broken world records at the rate of one every three weeks and now own or share title to records at eight distances, rather than one.

How do they do it? The key seems to be a remarkable track-and-field coach named Mihaly Igloi, a stubby, sunburned little man of 47, who was appointed a "state trainer" in 1951 by the Communist regime in Hungary and as such became the coach of the Honved Army Club, which includes Iharos, Tabori and Rozsavolgyi, all of whom Igloi developed into great runners.

Igloi is a firm believer in intensive training. He is an advocate, too, of the European system of "interval running," which is now spreading to the United States. The athlete runs a series of fast quarter miles (or the equivalent 400 meters) interspersed with periods of walking or slow jogging between each. He'll reel off 10 to 20 quarter miles in each training session, as Roger Bannister did in his training (SI, June 20 and 27), with the idea of getting himself adjusted to the environment of the speed he must maintain in the race.

This regimen brings results, particularly when it is supervised by a stickler for conditioning like Mihaly Igloi. "Hard work," is Igloi's explanation for Hungarian success. "Hard work at the daily training sessions. Everything depends on the athlete's daily condition."

Sandor Iharos, who developed from a mediocre runner into a superb athlete under Igloi, finds time for 700 training sessions a year, though he is married and a father. The morning after his record-breaking two-mile in London he was up at 7 a.m., running in Hyde Park. The morning of his return to Hungary he left a call for 4:15 a.m., to be sure to have time for an hour's training before flight time.

Igloi also developed Tabori, who had run before entering the army but not particularly well. Tabori has since been discharged and has gone back to his job in a Budapest leather factory, but he continues to train under Igloi and was actually still in the army at the time of his 3:59 mile.

Rozsavolgyi is Igloi's real prize. He had been a soccer player and his first attempt at running did not occur until he attended an army sports meeting after he had been called into service. "When I watched him in this meet," Igloi said, "I knew he'd become a great runner. First, he ran 1,500 meters in full military dress. Ten minutes later he ran 5,000 meters. He won both easily, and considering he had no training before, it was a great performance."

It took Igloi six months to convince Rozsavolgyi that running, and not soccer, was his sport. He is said to have more pure natural ability than any other Hungarian runner, but he is erratic and not always in top form. When he sets his mind on a specific race, he comes close to being unbeatable. He wants to try for a world record at 800 meters and then concentrate his efforts on 1,500 meters in anticipation of the Olympics.

For the Olympics are ever on these hurrying Hungarians' minds. And if their ambition to win in Australia matches their willingness to train and their gift for accomplishment, Messrs. Iharos, Tabori, Rozsavolgyi and Co. may make the sky over Melbourne turn pink next fall without any help at all from Soviet Russia.

View this article in the original magazine

PHOTOSANDOR IHAROS (LEFT) SET WORLD RECORDS IN FIVE EVENTS, IS HOT FAVORITE FOR 1956 OLYMPIC 1,500. LASZLO TABORI RAN 3:59 MILE IN MAYPHOTOFIERY Laszlo Tabori is famed for violent sprint finish at the very end of his races.PHOTOGRACEFUL Sandor Iharos has effortless stride, saves strength for finishing kick.PHOTOKEY TO HUNGARIAN SUCCESS is Mihaly Igloi (center), coach of Honved Club which boasts crack relay quartet: Iharos (left), Tabori, Istvan Rozsavolgyi, Ferenc Mikes.

HOW TO PRONOUNCE THEM

IHAROS: Ee'-hah-rosh. MIKES: Mee-kesh.
TABORI: Tob'-or-ee. IGLOI: Ig-low-ee.
ROZSAVOLGYI: Ros-a-voel-yee.

THE HUNGARIAN ASSAULT

WORLD RECORDS AS OF MAY 1

1,000 m.

2:19.5

Boysen

Norway

1,500 m.

3:41.8

Landy

Australia

1 mile

3:58

Landy

Australia

2,000 m.

5:07

Reiff

Belgium

3,000 m.

7:58.8

Reiff

Belgium

2 miles

8:40.4

Reiff

Belgium

3 miles

13:26.4

Kuc

U.S.S.R.

5,000 m.

13:51.2

Kuc

U.S.S.R.

6,000 m.

15:21.2

(Relay)

Hungary

WORLD RECORDS AS OF NOV. 1

1,000 m.

2:19

Boysen

Norway

Rozsavolgyi

Hungary

1,500 m.

3:40 8

Iharos

Hungary

Tabori

Hungary

1 mile*

3:58

Landy

Australia

2,000 m.

5:02.2

Rozsavolgyi

Hungary

3,000 m.

7:55.6

Iharos

Hungary

2 miles

8:33.4

Iharos

Hungary

3 miles

13:14.2

Iharos

Hungary

5,000 m.

13:40.6

Iharos

Hungary

6,000 m.

15:14.8

(Relay)

Hungary

*0n May 28 Tabori, Hungary, ran the mile in 3:59.