Michel Jazy, that famous French recluse, ran a mile in 3:53.6 last week, an astounding achievement even for a man who has taken on some of the finest clocks in the world. When they heard of this world record in Toronto, Peter Snell of New Zealand and Ron Clarke of Australia indicated they would like to get at Jazy in the worst way. The expectation, therefore, was that Jazy would now go on vacation for a month. He races the best clocks, not the best people.
Snell especially is eager for a meeting with Jazy because, until the word trickled out of France by radio, television, telephone, newspaper, special courier, wire service, pony express and Frenchmen shouting across the Channel as loud as they could that Jazy had done this thing, Snell was suffering from the funk a great competitor naturally falls into when he has reason to believe that he has run out of competition. He was, as it turned out, unnecessarily concerned. Not only did Jazy lower Snell's mile record, Canada's Bill Crothers beat him in the 880 not many hours after he had learned of the first disaster. Ron Clarke, who has become the best distance runner in the world, fared better. He won his three mile race in Toronto and he has a higher regard for Jazy—whom he has met and considers very much a part of the international running scene—than does Snell. But Clarke, too, would like to meet the Frenchman mano a mano again.
The incidents that brought all this ardor to a head—not active, eyes-flashing, shoe-pounding ardor, you understand, but that understated, tight-smile, outback-British kind that is more ominous—occurred over a 48-hour period and some 3,200 miles apart. For the awesome, black-shirted Peter Snell, winner of three Olympic gold medals, it was one of those two-day adventures a man might wish himself into if the alternatives were a snowslide or a flaming warehouse. Snell, at 26, with no more heads to break, is committed to a retirement schedule that takes him through July. He was in Canada with Clarke for a meet with a strong international field, the kind Jazy does not ordinarily mix in, and was off seeing Niagara Falls on Wednesday when Jazy and three co-conspirators—his pacers—got together in Rennes on a cool night on a track surrounded by weeping willows. "Well orchestrated" was a way to describe Jazy's mile run, but when he finished he was convinced he had not beaten Snell's record (3:54.1). So he complained, prematurely, "This track is rotten." The promoters, he intimated, had not handled things right although he had forewarned them that he would "attempt a great coup in Rennes." Then the announcer exploded, "Three minutes fifty-three-and-six-tenths seconds, a new world record." And Jazy jumped about like a madman, hugging and kissing his teammates and shouting, "Let the party continue!"
The French have been predicting that Jazy would do this thing for years. He has been a hero—toasted, boasted, glass-enclosed—since the end of the '50s, when it became evident he was the first Gallic distance runner since Jules Ladoum√®gue who could run a thousand yards without oxygen. Ladoum√®gue held the mile record 34 years ago. Deservedly, a French carnation was named for Jazy—a nonwilting, bright-red specimen. For he is a fine runner, an excellent runner—perhaps anyone's equal.
June 20, 1965
If Jazy has a fault, it is that he is not naturally blessed with the equanimity of a Snell or a Clarke. Defeats are not defeats, they are national tragedies. Once when he lost in a little town in the southwest of France, he raged. "I thought I had been invited to give an exhibition," he said. "Instead it was a fierce fight.... Had I known I would never have come." All his records—the latest, a European record for the 5,000 meters set two days after the mile mark—have been set in France, mostly among friends. He has run against the world's best, but almost always he has lost the important race. At the Rome Olympics in 1960, he was second to Herb Elliott at 1,500 meters. In 1962 he lost to America's Jim Beatty at a mile in his only U.S. appearance. At Tokyo, where he moved up to 5,000 meters because of the competition at 1,500 (Snell), he was fourth to America's Bob Schul. The loss there was like "a strike of a hammer. I thought for a long time I would not recover," he said later.
Snell, who until last week had seldom had to recover from anything, was awakened at his hotel in Toronto on Thursday morning by a long-distance call from a correspondent who wanted to know: "What do you think of Jazy beating your record?" Another call or two (he told a L'Équipe reporter that "I can't wait to put my shoes on again. We must have a race, Jazy and I") and Snell was sufficiently weary of the question to seek isolation for the rest of the day in a private fiat as the guest of Sir Leon Gotz, the New Zealand high commissioner to Canada.
It was dusk in Toronto when he went out to race Bill Crothers. The meet, drummed up by a Canadian beer company, had drawn a surprisingly rich field of distance talent—Snell, Clarke, Schul, Crothers, Billy Mills—and since Crothers is Canadian, the crowd of 20,000 was especially aware of the 880. Crothers is a 23-year-old pharmacist from nearby Markham. Although he had lost to Snell in Tokyo and on three other occasions, they had become friends. On Tuesday they golfed together at The Willows, Snell shooting 90, Crothers 96. "But what did that matter?" asked Crothers' coach, Fred Foot. "Lately Bill has been able to withstand a much more rigorous training program than ever. He is miserable, despondent, moody, discouraged. I think he will win."
The first 440 yards were Snell's undoing. The pace was too slow. Running third, his time was around 55.6. Crothers, right behind him, was not pressed to stay up and, according to Snell, the Canadian "is a superior sprinter—a 440-880 man, whereas I am an 880-mile runner." To tire Crothers, Snell had to make a longer sprint, and before the last turn he surged ahead. Crothers, who had been boxed in until then, quickly forced a gap and flowed through, hard on Snell's right shoulder. At first, at the head of the straightaway, Snell thought he was clear. "I knew what Bill could do, but I thought I might make it anyway." Then, as Crothers closed, he realized he would not—his legs were rubbery. (They did not look rubbery, of course; when he runs Snell always looks like he just filled the tank and put in all new spark plugs.) Fifty yards from the string, Crothers passed him and won by two yards. Crothers' time was a rather tedious 1:48.4, but that did not concern the crowd, which was cheering wildly. Arthur Lydiard, Snell's coach, was moved to say, "What a great thing it is for Canadian track."
It was, of course, not so great for Peter Snell. But he stayed on till the end of the meet, carefully, meticulously answering questions for this knot of reporters and that. He talks softly, with long, thoughtful pauses, and he plucks absently at his black sweat suit as he thinks them over. Why had he not accelerated in the stretch as he usually does? "I, uh [pause], put out all the effort I had at my disposal." Would he like another go at Crothers? "Uh, I would [pause], but I am more interested at this stage in Jazy." Was he surprised at Jazy's record? "No, it is something I have expected for a long time, but, uh [pause], not necessarily from Jazy. It is a record that should be lowered, but, uh [short laugh, smile], I hoped to lower it myself." What if Jazy refuses to meet you? He has not been too eager to meet you, has he? "Uh [pause, smile], it has not appeared so, no."
Snell said his schedule called for him to run in Walnut, Calif. and San Diego and Helsinki, London, Dublin, Prague, Oslo, Berlin and twice in Sweden in the next six weeks. "I, uh, am sure he [Jazy] has the same invitations." He said if he had to lose in the 880 he was "glad it was to Crothers. He is a nice bloke." But he said he understood Crothers would be going to Europe next month, "and, uh [smile], I will be there."
Later, off to themselves in the Polynesian room of a swank Toronto restaurant called the Ports of Call, Snell and Ron and Helen Clarke speculated far into the night on what kind of a lure it would take to get Jazy into a race. Clarke said some promoter would have to pick it up, especially now, and if he were a French promoter Jazy would have no choice. Snell foraged into a tray of breaded shrimp, dipped one in duck sauce and held it up to his mouth, smiling. "I hope you are right," he said. (The word from Paris the next day, however, was that Jazy has this vacation planned for July and will not be available for competition.)
After awhile Clarke and Snell got around to talking theory. Distance runners are big on theory. Snell said he was still a believer in peaks, that a man, especially like himself, really gets up for only two or three events a year and other times he is at the mercy of his reserve. He said it was altogether possible that since he had not run a creditable 880 (or 800 meters) since the Olympics, it might be that he was now better prepared for the mile.
Clarke, on the other hand, said he did not believe in peaks at all. He believes, rather, in steady improvement and can chart this on a graph with himself as the example, "if," he said, "you can improve until the body deteriorates or, in some cases, until you reach a mental block." In training they are equally opposed. Snell does a lot of speed work, running to improve at short distances. Clarke runs nothing but long distances. He is a tireless trainer, and not since he began has he missed more than two days consecutively. Well then, someone asked, what do you do when you are injured—a muscle pull, a charley horse? What do you do then? "I run."
Australians were disappointed that Clarke, now 28, did not win one of three races he entered at Tokyo—he was third in the 10,000 meters, ran out in the 5,000 and the marathon—and he has been bugged by people who insist he should have reached his peak then instead of now. "It is very simple to me," he says. "I was at my best then. Now I am simply running better. Here, I can show you on the chart."
Clarke is also bugged by Herb Elliott's opinion that he "lacks a killer instinct." Clarke says he suspects people who sulk after a race. "When it is over it is over. The time to think, to worry, is beforehand. The competition is the thing, anyway, not the bloody result."
A stamina runner, and a deep thinker, Clarke does not have anything close to a sprinter's speed—his best at 440 yards is 53.1. He plots endlessly. At Compton a week before, when he lowered the world three-mile and 5,000-meter records (SI, June 14), he ran at a steady, inexorable pace, with lap times that read like a predicted log: 63.5 seconds, 64.5, 64.5, etc. Facing the American gold-medal winners, Schul (5,000 meters) and Mills (10,000 meters), at Toronto, he altered the plot, figuring that neither runner would set the pace. "They are sitters," he said for print, hoping to goad them into a front race. "But I know better," he said privately. "They are also experienced in newspaper talk." He said this time he would surge—he would slow and then quicken the pace as he saw fit. And on the sixth lap, Clarke surged. He ran it in 59.7, and though an American, Ron Larrieu—who is being trained by Mihaly Igloi—followed, he put 25 yards between himself and Mills and Schul, and the race was won. He surged again on the 10th lap to eliminate Larrieu, and he won by half the length of a football field, in this Canadian case, 55 yards.
Mills closed fast to finish third. At 13:12, he was 12 seconds faster than he had ever been at that distance, but he chided himself for failing to respond when Clarke surged. "It is that split-second decision that is the difference," says Clarke. "You must decide immediately, else it could be too late."
Mills has been on a grand banquet tour since his Olympic victory, which he likes to call The Big Fluke, "because nobody believes it to this day." He is just now getting back down to running weight (151 pounds) and is still trying to work out a pulled stomach muscle which, he says, was not from overeating but from jumping over 35 ditches in a cross-country event in Italy. He has spent only four weekends at home since Tokyo. Schul still complains of a knee injury, and his troubles were compounded at Toronto when he sprained a ligament in his right foot four days before the three-mile race. He hobbled in last, but he is a believer in peaks, too, and says he is getting up to his.
After the race, Clarke—patient, grateful man—stood for 45 minutes in the infield signing autographs. He had to caution the pressing crowd on etiquette, keeping in line and the like, but one boy who could not face so long a wait said to another who had just emerged with his prize, "Tell you what, I'll give you two Billy Mills for one Ron Clarke." Fame is measured in many ways.