Saturday, May 5. A day for the dramatic, the spectacular; a day for magical and magnificent events. The feel of spring was in the warm and sunny air—an almost tangible crackle of excitement. Great crowds flowing into race tracks felt it; so did vast throngs in stadiums; so, too, did picnickers listening to portable radios in the shade of new-leafed trees and men at home who opened windows wide and relaxed in front of television sets. A day in which anything could happen in the wonderful world of sport.
At Los Angeles, Jim Bailey, a University of Oregon student, ran the mile in 3:58.6—and beat the invincible John Landy. In Louisville a bay colt named Needles floated down the backstretch in 16th place, then thundered home in one of the most thrilling finishes in 82 years to win the Kentucky Derby. At Durham, Dave Sime, the red-haired Duke sophomore, flashed over the 220-yard low hurdles in 22.2 to beat the alltime world mark. At Jamaica Race Track, Nashua stumbled at the start, then won the Grey Lag Handicap to move to within $8,000 of Citation's record $1,085,760. In Salt Lake City, Parry O'Brien put the shot three inches past his own world outdoor record of 60 feet 10 inches. At Baltimore, an almost unknown left-hander named Ferrarese struck out 13 Cleveland batters in his first major league start.
It was indeed a day to remember. But first, the mile...
While 40,000 spectators roared with incredulity along the vast, sunlit walls of the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday afternoon and while something like 40 million more stared with equal incredulity at their television screens—two gasping Australians, who had just raced each other through the first four-minute mile ever run in the U.S., tottered toward each other amid a shouting press of photographers and track officials.
"John," panted the amazed winner, black-haired and handsome Jim Bailey of Sydney's St. George Athletic Club—and the University of Oregon track team—"I was just trying to help. I wanted to frighten you to more speed."
Said World Record Holder John Landy, the startled loser: "You ran a 3:58." Bailey glared at him with unsteady indignation and shouted, "Bullswool."
But a few seconds later, amidst a storm of applause, the stadium loudspeakers officially informed him of his accomplishments: Bailey had been clocked in 3:58.6 (Landy finished in 3:58.7—his fifth four-minute mile and his third since January of this year) and in so doing had exceeded the best times of all other milers but Landy himself. In one dramatic day helpful Jim Bailey had burst past the accomplishments of Bannister, Tabori, Chataway and Hewson and, of course, Wes Santee, and had become an Olympic Games contender of major stature. No one seemed more startled than he—and with good reason.
Bailey is Landy's age—26—and thus a lot older than most college milers. He worked for years as a land appraiser in Australia and has toiled as a summertime lumber loader in the Oregon timber country. As milers go he is an old and experienced hand; he ran against Landy in Australia in 1953 and 1954 (and was always badly beaten) and came to the British Empire Games at Vancouver two years ago as a half-miler on the Australian team. He broke a bone in one foot in the semifinal, stayed on in Canada for treatment, visited the University of Oregon and decided to enroll. He is a brash, bright, confident young man and an aggressive athlete. But his best time for the mile before Saturday was 4:05.6 (to win last year's NCAA championship) and his best so far this year but 4:10 (in a race in which he was beaten by Oregon's Bill Dellinger).
Bailey came to Los Angeles in an extremely relaxed and lighthearted mood, while Landy bore heavy burdens. Landy flew from Australia to Honolulu and held a mass press conference, he flew to San Francisco and held another, he arrived in Los Angeles and held a third. He compensated for them by engaging in heavy training bouts of eight or 10 miles a day and raced through six fast quarter-miles, six 220s and a half-mile only two days before the race. He came to the U.S. virtually promising to break four minutes twice—at last Saturday's USC—UCLA dual meet and this Saturday at the West Coast Relays. He worried—he was vaguely fearful that Villanova's young Dublin Irishman, Ron Delany, might outkick him in the stretch.
Bailey arrived in Los Angeles Thursday night, trotted a casual half-mile in a Santa Monica park and devoted the next afternoon to visiting the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio and getting photographed—with obvious delight—standing beside Actress Deborah Kerr. He, too, thought about Delany. "Ron beat me in the Garden last winter. I made a lot of stupid mistakes and I was going to beat him or die trying. But I came down to get second."
As he warmed up just before race time Bailey looked more like a man enjoying the pleasant summery day and the carnival atmosphere of the big meet than a fellow about to project himself into the ranks of track immortals. The weather was lovely—the Los Angeles smog was gone, the air clean, the sky blue and the temperature a pleasant 70°.
The iron-hard Coliseum track—a surface built for sprinters rather than distance runners—bothered him not a whit. Bailey had run on it before. He drew Lane Two, next to Landy, listened to the polite murmur of the crowd when he was introduced and leaned forward for a standing start. He burst ahead of the world record holder at the gun, but when Ron Delany raced out from the seventh lane and took the lead, Bailey let him go. In fact, he virtually disappeared from the consciousness of the crowd as the pattern of the race began to evolve.
ROARS IN THE COLISEUM
Young Delany—a brave figure in sky-blue shoes and the black jersey of Villanova—led the field by 15 yards in the first quarter. But he faded in the second quarter. Landy, intent on the four-minute mile at all costs, moved up, challenged and passed him on the backstretch of the second lap and set out to correct the pace. He led at the half, but the time was alarmingly slow: 2:02.3. To mend his race Landy opened his gap on the field steadily all through the third, hit the line in 3:01.5 and then, with the crowd roaring, set out to break the Magic Four.
Most of this time Bailey ran fourth. But he passed California's Lon Spurrier before the start of the last lap and was third. He passed Delany and was second, and then, still improbably strong, he closed a 10-yard gap, pulled up on Landy entering the last turn and whacked him smartly on the seat of his pants. "I just wanted to frighten him on—make him run," he cried later.
But something else happened. Landy—who heard the warning roar of the crowd, and who believed it was Delany who was closing on him—was unable to pull away. And Bailey, 75 yards from home, suddenly was struck by the blinding realization that he could win. He came up shoulder to shoulder and the pair raced even around the turn. Then Bailey pulled out by a yard and drove for the tape. Halfway down, Landy closed up to two feet but it was still Bailey—who turned his last quarter in the stunning time of 55.5 seconds—running with great strength at the tape.
Afterward, amid the deafening uproar, he fell into the retching daze of complete exhaustion. He held both hands to his diaphragm and gasped, "I can't talk." He got back into the gleaming Coliseum dressing rooms with difficulty. But after a doctor gave him a soother in a paper cup he collected himself. "This race today," he said, "was an unexpected climax to a long career. I believed I could go close to four minutes—but it wasn't until the last that I thought I had any chance. I looked at the big crowd before the race and tried to get excited. I was afraid I was too complacent—I guess it takes a lot to get my heart up. But in the last 220 I was running on adrenalin right enough. I always thought a four-minute mile would feel about like a 4:10 mile but it hurts a lot more. I was just gutting it in the last straight." He grinned ruefully. "But I'm afraid that now I've done it, everyone will be doing it."
Landy, who looked wan, hollow-cheeked, but almost unaffected by the struggle, smiled and offered no excuses. "I must," he said, "run faster next week. I must run faster."
TALE OF TWO YEARS
May 6, 1954
June 21, 1954
Aug. 7, 1954
May 28, 1955
Jan. 28, 1956
April 7, 1956
May 5, 1956