Two years ago agrim, young, hawk-nosed Australian named Herb Elliott was the talk of the trackworld, and a good part of the world not ordinarily interested in track andfield. Absolutely dedicated to running, Elliott, under the almost fanatictutelage of stern old Percy Cerutty, punished himself fiercely in his effortsto become the best mile runner in the world. He spent long weekends atCerutty's training camp at Portsea, near Melbourne, sprinting up huge sanddunes to develop physical and mental resistance to fatigue (SI, Nov. 10, 1958).He ate rolled oats, raw cabbage, brown bread and cheese. He read the booksCerutty recommended and assimilated the older man's Spartan philosophy.
This is an article from the May 30, 1960 issue
And he became thebest mile runner in the world. In four stunning months in 1958, on a "worldtour" that included Honolulu, the U.S., England, Ireland, Sweden andNorway, he won 19 races, ran seven sub-four-minute miles, beat every top milerin competition and set eye-popping new world records for the mile and for 1,500meters.
Now a new anddifferent Elliott is on tour, a brief trip this time, to California, where hehas a schedule of three races at 1,500 meters and a mile. Only one of these isvery important: the mile he will run this week at the Modesto Relays against afield that includes Dyrol Burleson (see cover), the youngster from theUniversity of Oregon who is the best miler America has ever produced.
This race not onlyis important-it could be the most dramatic mile run on the North Americancontinent since Roger Bannister whipped John Landy in their unforgettablemeeting at Vancouver in 1954. For now Dyrol Burleson is the hungry young mandedicated to his sport—and the big news about Elliott is that he has turnedinto a relaxed, pleasant sort of fellow who is more interested in his wife, his3-month-old son and his career with the Shell Company in Australia than he isin track.
Last week DyrolBurleson trained hard and long despite torrential rains that drenched Oregon,and he won the mile in a conference meet on Saturday. Burleson's coach, BillBower-man, sounding like Cerutty, said, "The rains didn't bother Burleson.There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."
Elliott, on theother hand, went into his 1,500-meter race at the Coliseum Relays in LosAngeles last Friday in a much less determined frame of mind. Just before therace began Laszlo Tabori, the Hungarian runner, stopped to chat a moment withElliott. "Airb," he said, "anyone who rons the mile must beseek." The greatest miler in history smiled in wry agreement. Then hefeather-footed over the Coliseum's lumpy grass track to win the 1,500 meters,the metric mile, in 3:45.4, something less than sensational but good enough tobeat Tabori by 10 yards.
"The race wasrun just as I hoped it would be," Elliott said amiably after it was over."I wanted some other chap to set the pace, and I didn't want it to be afast one. I'm not ready for a fast pace yet. Then I thought I could take overin the last lap, and it worked out that way. I was worried when Walters jumpedme going into the first turn on the last lap. I was afraid maybe he or Taboriwas fit enough to run a really fast final quarter and I couldn't have madeit."
Much later thatnight Elliott sipped gingerly at some pink champagne and waited impatiently fora call to his wife in Melbourne to be completed.
"Youknow," he said. "Sometimes I sit and wonder 'What am I doing here?' Idon't like being away from the wife and the boy. I'm not yet thoroughly fit andI don't like being beaten. I should be back in Melbourne training in thegardens at the governor's house [see cover] and seeing my family."
Significantly, hedid not mention Cerutty. Since his marriage a little over a year ago, hegradually has turned away from Cerutty's teachings. "Percy and I are stillgood mates," he had told me a day or so earlier over a hearty breakfast ofbacon, eggs, cereal, fruit and coffee (not a rolled oat in sight). "But Idon't see as much of him as I used to do. I go down to Portsea maybe once everysix weeks or so, whereas I used to go every weekend. Percy is good for windingyou up, giving you enthusiasm again. But I train in Melbourne most of the time,near the family."
During the week hespent in Los Angeles before the Coliseum Relays Elliott trained hard, but notexcessively. He lived in the home of Jack Kirkwood, a travel agency executive,in Anaheim, about 40 miles from Los Angeles. He played golf on the Los CoyotesCountry Club course near Kirkwood's home, hitting the ball with a beginner'sslice but enjoying himself hugely. The evenings, for the most part, he spentquietly watching television, usually going to bed early, though one night hesat up until 1:30 in the morning to see the end of an old Red Skelton comedycalled A Southern Yankee. He ate a normal American diet with considerablerelish.
"You would gettired of ice cream if you had to lick a cone every day," he said. "Igot tired of the other diet, and I do well enough on this one. I don't think Isuffer from it."
Elliott kept watchon his condition by taking his pulse in the morning at breakfast. "When I'mperfectly fit my heart goes about 46 a minute," he said, fending offPudgie, the Kirkwood's engaging 3-year-old daughter. "Now it's about 58.Our track season ended about two months ago, you know, so that I've not beenrunning so much. Then I hurt my foot and that slowed me a bit, too. But I thinkI'll be ready soon."
The injured foot—astrained ligament suffered in Melbourne—has not bothered him here. He trainedon the Los Coyotes golf course, usually in the late evening, running around theentire 18 holes barefooted.
"I tried to dothe 7,000 yards in about 22 to 24 minutes," he said. "Gave some blokesa bit of a shock sometimes to see me running around the course just as theywere teeing up, but I was careful not to disturb them when they were making ashot."
He went into LosAngeles rarely because he preferred the quiet of Anaheim. Once he drove in toattend a luncheon given for him by the Big Ten club. He left the Kirkwood homeat about 10:30 in the morning and Pudgie came out to the car to say goodby.
TA TA, HERB
"Kiss,kiss," Elliott said, leaning out the window so she could reach him. He gota moist kiss and then waved goodby. "Ta ta," he said, and Pudgie, whois rapidly developing an Australian accent, replied, "Ta ta, Herb."
He enjoys drivingand he handled the car effortlessly, not disturbed by driving on the right or,for him, wrong side of the road. "It's like riding a motor bike," hesaid. "Once you get used to it, it comes back to you right away. My firsttrip here I created an awful traffic jam driving on the wrong side, but not anymore."
In his spare timeElliott is working on an autobiography. As he reached the freeway into LosAngeles, he said, "What I should like to do here is meet morepersonalities. For the book, you know. People like Eisenhower and Nixon. Thepublic is interested in personalities, don't you think? I suppose it shouldn'tbe too hard to meet them."
He slowed for aninevitable traffic jam and watched a traffic cop roar by. "Why do yourchaps use those big bikes?" he asked. "Our police use a much smallerbike, but it's just as powerful. We should be on a bike like the one I have athome. Then we could go right on between the lanes of traffic."
The policemancleared the traffic jam and Elliott drove on, carefully staying at 60 mph, thelegal speed limit.
"There'll besomething in the book about training and diet," he said. "And a chapteron Percy, of course. And I suppose I must have a chapter on Leavitt. I'd muchrather leave him out as a sort of a punch in the nose." Leavitt is LeoLeavitt, the American promoter who created a furor when he tried to signElliott to a $250,000 personal service contract, and who recently filed suitagainst him for $1 million for breach of contract. "I didn't even make averbal agreement with him," Elliott said. "The bloke just wantspublicity."
He reached theUniversity Club in downtown Los Angeles half an hour early for the lunch.
"Is there abowling alley near?" he asked. "Maybe we could have a game."
At the bowlingalley he bowled an even 100 in the first game, looked at the clock, whichshowed he had 10 minutes left before the lunch, and said, "Let's bowlanother. I'd rather do this than be on time there." But after bowling onlyhalf the game he decided it would be best not to be too late.
"You'relucky," he said to his companion, grinning. "I was just beginning towarm up. And I think you pack up a bit under pressure."
On Thursday, theday before he ran in the Coliseum Relays, Elliott was stung on the left heel bya bee. He took a shot, because he is allergic to bee stings and had alreadybegun to break out, but he was not particularly disturbed. Friday night, whenhe began to warm up at the Coliseum 25 minutes before his event, the heel wasstill swollen. It did not, however, affect his beautifully fluid stride. Afterthe race he pulled off his track shoe and rubbed the heel vigorously.
"It didn'tbother me," he said. "I'm well satisfied. I think I'll be able tobetter four minutes at Modesto and at Compton." He did not wait to watchthe rest of the meet. He was in a hurry to put his call in to Melbourne to hiswife.
The 3:45.4 Elliottran at the Coliseum Relays is roughly the equivalent of a 4:02.9 mile, and hewill certainly have to do better than that at Modesto when he meets Burleson.Burleson skipped the Coliseum Relays because of Oregon's conference meet onSaturday, but according to Bower-man, his coach, he is ready for his testagainst Elliott at Modesto.
"Dyrol runs towin," said Bower-man last weekend. "That's what he'll try to do atModesto. But even if he shouldn't win, he'll get a chance to learnsomething."
While Burleson wasrunning Saturday, Elliott took it easy in Anaheim. Sunday afternoon he left ona leisurely auto trip up the Pacific Coast to Modesto, stopping for sightseeingand, of course, for his daily training stint. He looked for variegated terrainto run on, avoiding regular tracks. "Drives you mad, running around andaround an oval like that," he said. "A chap needs a bit of variety, youknow."
He did not appearworried about Burleson.
"I have abacklog of strength from the years with Cerutty," he said. "You developphysical and mental strength when you train that way, you know. Even when I'mnot completely fit, I can call on that. Once in a while, for one reason oranother, it won't be there, but most often it is."
At the ColiseumRelays, Dave Sime, running better than he has in four years, upset Doug Smith,conqueror of Ray Norton a week earlier, in the 100-meter dash (see page 18).Ironically, Bobby Morrow, who was Sime's archrival for U.S. sprint honors in1956, may have ended his career at the meet. Just before the 100 meters, Bobbyreinjured a groin muscle and had to drop out.
Glenn Davis nippedDick Howard and Rex Cawley to win the 400-meter hurdles in 51 seconds flat, aremarkable time on that poor track. Davis, who injured his back last season,appears to be completely recovered and will probably now stick with the hurdleevent, which he won at the Olympics in 1956, and skip the 400-meter run,although he plans to run both at Modesto. "I need to work on speednow," he said last week. "My back's O.K. and I feel strong, but I needa little more speed."
The first meetingof the Big Four in the shotput—Parry O'Brien, Dallas Long, Bill Nieder and DaveDavis-dwindled down to an appearance by Long, who won the event with 63 feet 5¼inches. Sinusitis felled O'Brien, a pulled ham-string muscle kept Nieder out,and Davis, who is majoring in things like square dancing, driver education andthe shotput at San Fernando Valley State College, left home in a huff when hisgirl friend was forbidden by her mother to tutor him. He disappeared for fourdays and turned up in Omaha, hitchhiking his way to York, Pa., where he willvisit an uncle, major in weight lifting at the York Barbell Club and,presumably, cry at mother-in-law jokes.