The six straining runners at the top of this page (there are really seven) are Mike Blagrove, an Englishman; Stanislav Jungwirth, a Czech; Derek Ibbotson, English; Ron Delany, Irish; (Stefan Lewandowski, a Pole, is hidden behind Delany); Alan Gordon and Ken Wood, both English. Four of them, Ibbotson, Delany, Jungwirth and Wood, made track history at White City, London last week in this one race by running the mile in under four minutes: the first time so many had run so fast. Ibbotson, in winning, set a new world record of 3:57.2, almost a second faster than John Landy's 1954 mark. The quartet increased to 15 the membership of the exclusive four-minute-mile club.
A few hours before, Ibbotson, 25, an electrical engineer from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, had stepped off a train from the north of England. He went to a hotel to get some sleep, warning his friends: "It's going to be very interesting tonight. I think the time will be 3:50-something."
It was the first day of a two-day international track and field meet between London and New York, but the international invitation mile race was a strong cofeature which completely overshadowed the intercity contest.
As the big stadium clock showed around 8 p.m., the runners in the invitation mile came up to the line. Athletes on the green center field stopped warming up. Everybody tensed, and then the field was off.
July 28, 1957
"It's fantastic," gulped a spectator, as chunky Mike Blagrove led the pack in what looked like a sprint to an astonishing first-quarter time of 55.3 seconds. "When I heard the time at the quarter-mile," said Ibbotson later, "I felt sick, but I was all right by the half-mile." And there they whipped past the post in 1:55.8; Blagrove still first, then Jungwirth, Ibbotson, Delany, Wood, Lewandowski, Gordon. Entering the backstretch on the third lap, Blagrove had to drop behind and finally out of the race altogether. He had done his part. At Ibbotson's request he had run a searing first two laps.
Jungwirth, renowned for his pace setting, reluctantly took over and, at the end of the third lap, the time was exactly three minutes. Ominously the bell clanged for the runners.
SHIFTING INTO HIGH
Ibbotson was so confident that almost at the very beginning of the backstretch he seemed to change gear. He caught Jungwirth and then sped round the last bend. Delany, badly positioned, had come rushing up with his expected finishing burst, but at the tape he was second, about 10 yards behind Ibbotson.
The first four runners crossed the finish line in under four minutes, for the first time ever (it was at the White City in 1955 that Laszlo Tabori, Chris Chataway and Brian Hewson had all beaten four minutes in the same race).
Derek Ibbotson seemed far from exhaustion. Triumphantly, his arms held high, he ran a lap of honor before the delirious crowd. He drank a pint of milk and then came off the center field. "I wanted a fast time because the only way to beat Delany is to run fast, since he's a fast finisher," he said.
Delany, utterly spent, had to be helped from the track by members of the New York team, who had believed him "unbeatable." Barely recovered, the Irishman explained: "If I'd been better placed, I might have caught Ibbotson. I felt fine until I saw I couldn't catch up. It was a fabulous race, a pleasure to run in. I shall dream about it for years."
New York won the anticlimactic match against London by 94 points to 61. But the meet was Ibbotson's. A gay, unassuming type, he was a comparative unknown in British athletics until 1955. Last year he ran his first sub-four-minute mile (3:59.4) and won a bronze medal in the Melbourne 5,000 meters. On June 15 this year the Yorkshireman broke four minutes again with a 3:58.4 at Glasgow.
After his record-breaking race and his milk, Ibbotson gulped down several glasses of champagne with admirers in the restaurant overlooking the track and then had a dizzy time in the shower room searching on his hands and knees for his soap. Just before midnight, he boarded a train with his wife (who has broken five minutes for the mile) and his baby daughter. The train was going to Newcastle-on-Tyne, where Ibbotson was running the following "day in a two-mile handicap race. Gasped a popeyed reporter: "The man's a railway train himself."