Coming into the last turn of Madison Square Garden's 11-lap-track, the skinny blond runner had the pole. At his right shoulder and a step behind, Ron Delany matched Istvan Rozsavolgyi stride for stride in this last mile race of New York's indoor track season but did not gain. As the runners came out of the tight turn into the whirlwind of noise which buffeted them down the 20-yard stretch run of the mile, Rozsavolgyi's right foot skidded slightly on the track. Delany, his pace as steady as a metronome, slipped by as the Hungarian broke stride momentarily. He held his lead and won the race in 4:01.4, breaking by 1.1 seconds the world record he had set two weeks earlier. Rozsavolgyi, in second place, ran 4:01.8.
This race provided a beautifully run climax to what has been an extraordinarily exciting indoor track season. A little later, Al Lawrence, Houston University's superannuated freshman (28) from Australia, lowered the month-old indoor record for the two-mile, but the race of the meet—indeed, of the season—was the Delany-Rozsavolgyi mile.
It was a truly classic mile. It had a sound, strong pace-setter in young Peter Close of St. John's, who set off at a whistling pace and kept that tempo for a full three-quarters of a mile. Delany, who usually lets a fast pace-setter take as much of a lead as he likes, did not lag as far behind as usual, because running a couple of yards behind him was the very dangerous Rozsavolgyi. Barry Almond, another Houston University Australian, was in second place as the field turned the first quarter bunched about 10 yards behind Close. When the announcer called the time—59.1—the crowd howled.
The pattern remained the same through the half—Close well out in front, trailed by Almond, Delany and Rozsavolgyi. Rozsavolgyi, who had tried to beat Delany in earlier races this season by setting a tremendous pace designed to sap the Irishman of his finishing kick, was using a different strategy in this race. "I wanted to stay right behind him all the time, then run much faster in the last two laps," he explained later through an interpreter. "This was a good tempo for my strategy because it was as fast as I would have run if I had been setting the pace."
March 16, 1959
As the last quarter mile began, Close was 25 yards ahead of the field, but he had run himself out. The gap narrowed quickly, so that with two laps—320 yards—left, Close was only eight yards ahead. Delany moved then, but Almond answered his drive with a sprint of his own. Rozsavolgyi hung doggedly on Delany's heels. "I felt very good then," he said. "Very strong. I was beginning to be confident."
Almond's lead was a brief one. Delany began his own kick, but as he did Rozsavolgyi abruptly swung out on his shoulder and whipped by, running hard, his thin legs scissoring easily in the liquid-smooth stride he has. He was five yards in front of Delany very quickly, and the crowd set up a steady roar now. Rozsavolgyi tore out of the last turn of the 10th lap two yards ahead, running well under control. With a grimly satisfied look on his face he fought off a Delany challenge down the last backstretch. They hit the final turn with the Hungarian protecting his two-yard lead and Delany's straining drive not gaining an inch. As they came out of the turn Delany moved out to make his bid. When Rozsavolgyi, hugging the pole, hit the straightaway, his right foot skidded ever so slightly and the silky rhythm of his running broke. His stride faltered for two steps and Delany was suddenly ahead of him and the race was over.
"I am not so used to running these close turns," Rozsavolgyi said later. "I am not excusing myself. You know? But my right leg gets very tired from all the turns because I brace myself against it going around and I think it was this tiredness that caused the little slip on that last turn. I felt very good and strong, but when my steps were interrupted, I could not regain my speed. But I am happy it was a good race because I did not want to be criticized for dropping out last week."
"You ran a great race," he was told, and he smiled.
"Thank you," he said. "These compliments are very good for a runner. It is what we run for. You know?"
As the indoor season ended in the Garden and neared its end in the Midwest, Avery Brundage's theory that the U.S. may be slipping to a second-class track power (SI, Feb. 2) gained credence. The two records at the Garden were set by an Irishman (pushed to the tape by a Hungarian) and an Australian. The University of Michigan won the Big Ten indoor championship by taking five outright first places, all with foreign athletes. They were Tom Robinson (The Bahamas) in the 60 and the 300; Tony Seth (British Guiana) in the 880; Les Bird (Antigua) in the broad jump; and Pete Stanger (Montreal) in the 70-yard low hurdles.
"They make a coach out of me," said Michigan's Don Canham, forgetting for the moment that only a couple of weeks ago he had called Brundage "a bag of wind" for claiming that the U.S. is falling behind in track.