Even in an overcoat, Herb Elliott looks like a runner. The long, lean Aussie has that loose, skeletal look that makes most of the world's milers seem roughly the same from the neck down with not an ounce of extra flesh to tote around the four laps of the world's present glamour race.
Like most milers, Elliott is supremely confident. Not cocky, ever, since Elliott does not regard what he does as important enough to be cocky about. To him the mile run is just another foot race. The competitors, whether the Irish Olympic champion or the world's record holder, are just a lot of "blokes" to be beaten, if possible. If not, so be it.
There is a legend that Herb Elliott had given up foot racing as a bad job until the 1,500-meter run at the Melbourne Olympics gave him the thrill of his young life. It has the germ of truth in it. Herb had given up running, largely because he had broken his foot but partly, he admits, "in favor of having a good time for myself." But it was not the mile (Olympic metric version) which inspired him. That event bored Herb: "Some guy just shot out with a hundred yards to go and broke the tape and beat the other blokes."
What was inspiring, though, was the sight of Russia's Vladimir Kuts winning the 5,000 and 10,000. "If that bloke could do it, I could do it, I told myself." Adds Herb: "Why, when Kuts came along, he just lifted people right out of their seats."
Why, then, doesn't Herb Elliott run the longer distances? Simple. No athletic promoters are willing to pay enticing expenses to get 10,000-meter men over here. "They pay my expenses to see me run the mile. It is the race that is always featured in the newspaper headlines."
Miler Herbert James Elliott was born on February 25, 1938 in the rugged, Californialike country in the west of Australia. Educated at the Roman Catholic school called Aquinas College (equivalent of the U.S. high school), Herb broke the Australian junior record for the half mile (1:50.8) and also won the Australia mile championship for his class in pretty fair time for a youngster.
Training is a casual operation to Herb Elliott. "As long as I keep running fast, I don't have to work so hard," he says candidly. "It's when you start to drop off that you have to worry." Herb explains that he is a runner because "it is my idea of fun. I am not entirely interested in running against people or even in running against the clock. But I do feel happy when I beat these chaps," he concedes. "It's a casual outlook, I admit. Most of the time I wouldn't have a clue who I was running against."
Now he is on his first visit to the U.S. A career employee of the Shell Oil Co. ("Just a clerk," he says), he may take up one of the dozens of offers of scholarships in U.S. colleges if Shell permits. In any event, he now wants an education solely to better his position with the oil company.
Herb, who always thought he was a 6-footer give or take a half inch, was not dismayed to find when measured last month that he is only 5 feet 10½ inches tall. "I must have had my shoes on when I took my height before," he notes indifferently.
Before the Compton meet, Elliott was asked how he felt about tangling with the great Olympic Champion Ron Delany. He answered with a shrug. "He'll make very good competition for me from what I have heard. But I am in no way worried. It's just going to be a race between two blokes, that's all."