At Courtemanche Stadium in the market town of Rennes near the Brittany seacoast west of Paris, the crowd was up and yelling—"Vas-y Ja-zy!"—in rhythm, as a crowd would yell at a football game or a political rally. The cry meant, "Go, Jazy!" The night was clear and chill, with no wind to disturb the acacia trees and weeping willows around the stadium. Down on the track, which had been ripped and pocked by the spikes of earlier racers, a strangely birdlike man was more than two seconds behind the world record for the mile after two laps. His head lolling, eyes oddly vacant as if looking inward, shoulders hunched, elbows thrust back like wings, he pounded on at the pace set by his human rabbits. Michel Jazy (see cover), the finest middle-distance runner of our time, chased the record in a race that had been as carefully planned as a ballet.
The rabbits were Jean Kerveadou, Jean Wadoux, Gerald Vervoort and Claude Nicolas, men Jazy calls mes co-pains, his pals. Two hours before the race, as he jogged anxiously on a small inner track, Jazy had stopped to ask a reporter: "Do you think they will help me? Without them I cannot hope for anything." But the rabbits had already sworn to help. After Jazy broke the European mile record, on June 2 at the stadium in Saint-Maur, a Paris suburb, Vervoort offered to pace him in the next major effort. A week later in Lorient, Jazy set a European record in the 5,000 meters with the pacing of Kerveadou, among others. When they arrived in Rennes, Nicolas said, "I must know what you are going to do."
"Try for the record," said Jazy.
"Then I will sacrifice myself if you wish," said Nicolas. "So will I," Wadoux said. "I will take the second lap." "The third is mine," said Vervoort.
August 29, 1965
The plan was to assault Peter Snell's record by running a typical Jazy race of almost equal quarters with the first and last laps a bit faster. As they waited to begin, a television camera broke down. Jazy fretted and complained through a 10-minute delay. At the gun Kerveadou ducked his head and dashed away as if he had thrown a rock at somebody's window. Keeping up, Jazy finished the first 440 yards in 57.3, a second behind Kerveadou. Peter Snell had done it in 56 seconds.
Wadoux charged in front for the second lap and brought Jazy to the halfway point at 1:56.5, two and a half seconds behind Snell. Vervoort assumed the lead until Jazy, who had been running second, moved smoothly ahead 20 yards before the beginning of the last lap. Friends stationed around the track were calling out the times to Jazy. At three-quarters, Jazy was 2:57.2, three seconds behind Snell. But the last lap is the Jazy lap. The last 220 yards is where he is almost unbelievable. " Vas-y, Ja-zy!" yelled the crowd. Jazy was running evenly and easily, stretching out the stride that is longer than one would expect from a man of 5 feet 9 inches and 143 pounds.
Approaching the last bend, the rabbits were falling back, burnt out. It was Jazy now, alone, against the clock. And so he turned it on. His calm, almost bored expression changed into one of pain. His lips tightened. He quit puffing his cheeks. Running like a sprinter, flying away from the field, driving toward the finish, he went for the record.
Jazy crashed through the tape and, slowing, looked away disgustedly. He was convinced he had failed. He pointed toward the torn track in anger. "This track is rotten," he said." What a pity we could not have run at the beginning of the meet. The track would not have been plowed up by the regional races. I know everyone must run at the meet, but I did warn that I would attempt a great coup in Rennes."
His warning had come weeks earlier. He had said: "In the first fortnight in June I will be ready to strike a great coup on the distances that are dear to my heart—the 5,000 meters and the mile." At that time Jazy held world records in the 2,000 meters and the 3,000 meters. Sadly he walked toward the infield. Jazy had very much wanted Snell's record, and he thought it had escaped him. He hardly glanced up as the public address speaker began to crackle.
"Three minutes fifty-three and six-tenths seconds—a new world record!" the announcer shouted.
Jazy jumped up and down. "Merci! Merci!" he yelled to his copains. He hugged and kissed them. Herding his pals with him, Jazy trotted around the track waving his arms in the tour of honor. The crowd of 3,000 stood and applauded as this man—high-waisted, thick-bodied, with long thin legs and an almost too pretty face—leaped and danced past the bleachers. Michel Jazy had become the first Frenchman to hold the world mile record since Jules Ladoum√®gue in 1931. A night of glory for French sportsmen.
"The mile," Jazy said joyously, "has been my ambition. All the really great names are there: Bannister, Landy, Elliott, Snell. These men are idols to me. Now the ambition is realized. I've done what I set out to do."
But Jazy was far from finished. His prediction for great coups in the month of June was more than a boast. Beginning with that mile record in Rennes on June 9, Jazy launched into perhaps the most fantastic month of middle-distance running in history.
Two weeks after the meet in Rennes, Jazy went to Melun, 30 miles south of Paris, for a confrontation with Ron Clarke, the world record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, three, six and 10 miles. Some critics had scoffed at Jazy's mile record, saying the rabbits cheapened it, that Jazy is formidable in a paced race but that when a really tough, capable runner is pressing him he is a failure.
With Clarke in Europe on a tour and with the challenge plainly offered, Jazy had a chance to refute the critics. He and Clarke are friends. "Clarke taught me a lot of things, not only in the field of athletics but also in the field of human relations. I hold him in immense esteem," said Jazy. In reply to those who said he would avoid Clarke, Jazy said, "French sportswriters seem to know more about what I am doing than I do myself. The fact is I am at my best running against competition. I love human contact. If I ran against the clock, I would train against the clock. But my maxim is to run, run and keep running until I am satisfied. I look at my watch and I say O.K., I'm going to run for two hours. I don't check off each kilometer against elapsed time. At a race what I do depends on the circumstances, on the track and my competitors."
Jazy and Clarke were to run two miles in Melun, although the distance was a bit short for Clarke. The two arranged to share the pacing until the last lap. When Clarke heard Jazy's friend Joseph Mallejac suggest laps of 63 seconds in an attempt to beat American Bob Schul's two-mile record, he looked startled. "It's a little quick, but I'll try," said the Australian.
Jazy led at 400 meters in 61 seconds. Clarke led at 800 in 2:03.3, and the two of them passed the mile in 4:11.4, only three-tenths of a second behind where Schul had been. The crowd of 6,000 became hysterical. At 2,000 meters Clarke was in front, but his knees were rising higher than usual with the unnaturally fast pace. Jazy spurted into a 10-yard lead in the sixth lap and at 3,000 meters was ahead of his own world record for that distance. With his head rolling in his curious manner, Jazy sprinted toward the finish line. Clarke, gasping, was 20 yards back when Jazy broke the tape.
Fans and photographers swarmed over Jazy three yards beyond the finish. Some carried "Vive Jazy" banners. The time was announced at 8:22.6 (3.8 seconds better than Schul), and Jazy had broken two world records in a single night. Clarke finished in 8:24.8 and was amazed. "I thought 8:29 was the best I could do. I couldn't stay with Jazy at the end. He's the greatest," said Clarke.
But Jazy was not yet through with his romance with the month of June. In Saint-Maur, only two days after Melun, he ran the third leg on the French 6,000-meter relay team that set a world relay record of 14:49. It was his fourth world record of the month and—including the 2,000-meter record that he set in June of 1962—gave him a total of five world and seven European records over the middle distances.
Considering that he almost retired from running last fall, Jazy's return had been especially remarkable. He had first become internationally known by running second to Herb Elliott in the 1,500 meters in the Rome Olympics in 1960. By the Tokyo Olympics, Jazy was a hero in France and was expected, by the French at least, to win the 5,000 meters. "For four years I thought of nothing else than being an Olympic champion," Jazy said. "In those days before Tokyo," said Mallejac, a pleasant, blond-haired man who works for the French Track Federation, "he was a cocky fighter."
But in Tokyo something happened to Jazy. He may have been bothered by an old ankle injury, but his friends say it was psychological fatigue. Jazy agrees that "the feeling that we are national heroes tenses us [French] up." In the 5,000 meters against a field that included Clarke, Schul and Bill Dellinger of the U.S. and Germany's Harald Norpoth, Jazy tired at the end and looked badly outclassed. The only Gallic gold medal in Tokyo was won by a horse. Disillusioned, Jazy decided the time had come to concentrate on his family and his job.
It was a cold, wet afternoon at Orly Airport when he returned to Paris, but a crowd of 6,000 had come to meet him. "Maybe if I had been Olympic champion I wouldn't have received the same sympathetic treatment," Jazy told a Paris-Match reporter. At his home in the Paris suburb of Ozoir-la-Ferriére, Jazy found nearly 2,000 fan letters. "Some," he said, "were written by 70-year-old ladies who told me that despite their age they were still working and admired me. They said they understood my disillusionment but they wanted me to continue, since life is nothing but an eternal struggle. They told me not to abandon myself now that I was at the height of my powers. In the next two weeks, after I appeared on television, I received between 10,000 and 12,000 letters from youngsters—which meant more to me than the gold medal I didn't win in Tokyo. They all asked me to keep running. I never realized children would take such an intense interest in my fate. When it did sink in I decided to keep running. I was deeply moved."
Jazy began to run again in the woods near his home. "I felt within me was born the need to do something to crush my doubts," he said, "and to prove to myself I have the ability to be an Olympic champion. I had to rediscover faith and the pleasure of running."
Running was Jazy's way out of a dreary childhood. He was born June 13, 1936 in Oignies, in the north of France, to a poor coal-mining family that had come from Poland. Jazy's father and grandfather both died of silicosis—a disease of the lungs, a hard death. Jazy was 12 when his father died, and it was expected he would be taken out of school, where he was a haphazard student but a good soccer player, and put to work in the mines. His mother, Marianne Jazy, saved him from that by leaving the bleak town of Oignies and taking Jazy and his older sister, Alfreda, to Paris. Mme. Jazy got a job as a waitress in a café in Montmartre. Her hours were from 10 in the morning until 2 or 3 the following morning. "That sounds incredible, "Jazy said, "but it is absolutely true." Mme. Jazy remarried. Her husband, a truck driver, moved the family into a 10-by-12-foot, one-room apartment on the Rue Rodier in Montmartre. The apartment was in an attic. The toilet and running water were on the floor below. "We lived that way for eight years," said Jazy.
In Paris, Jazy played soccer wherever he could find a game. "Naturally, I'm proud of what I have accomplished in track, but I have always preferred soccer," he said. "My great regret is I haven't the same class in soccer that I have in running."
At 14 Jazy quit school and became a uniformed doorman and elevator operator at a bridge club near the Arc de Triomphe. At 16 he became an apprentice in a neighborhood printshop. He was playing soccer with local sports clubs and wandering the tough district of Pigalle, where speed has its uses.
In November 1952 a friend, Gérard Marzin, insisted Jazy enter a cross-country race of three kilometers in the Meudon woods. "Pas marrant, le cross-country [no fun, that cross-country stuff]," Jazy replied. On Saturday night Jazy went dancing at the Moulin de la Galette and did not show up to meet Marzin in front of the métro at 8:30 Sunday morning. Marzin went to Jazy's room, pounded on the door, dragged Jazy out of bed and loaned him a pair of battered track shoes. "If Marzin had said the devil with Michel and gone on to Meudon alone, I think Jazy would have been just another printer all his life," said Jazy's former coach, René Frassinelli.
To his own astonishment, Jazy won that Sunday cross-country race by 160 yards. "A feeling of bliss came over me when I found I could run faster and faster and not feel weary," Jazy said. Monday afternoon the newspaper Paris-Presse printed a picture of Jazy with the caption: "He may become famous." Jazy bought all the copies of the paper at the kiosk near his apartment and gave them to girl friends. A week later he won another race. Marzin took Jazy to see Frassinelli, a former track star who was then trainer at the Club Olympique Billancourt on the outskirts of Paris. Frassinelli began training Jazy, entered him in a race at Le Mans, and Jazy won again. But the young Jazy knew nothing of economizing his strength. He usually collapsed, vomiting, at the finish line and often had to be carried off on a stretcher. "Every Sunday I exerted myself to my maximum," Jazy said. "I want to win, and I love a fight. In my family everybody suffered. I think what led me on in track was the determination not to suffer as my family had. I have a lot of pride, and it is well known that pride helps you to achieve many things."
Jazy frequently became discouraged and quit, only to be urged back by Frassinelli. "I knew, whether I did well or badly, those track meets got me out of that one-room apartment," said Jazy. Under Frassinelli's goading, Jazy lifted weights and ran constantly. The earlier races he had won at about the speed of a man running for a bus, but by 1956 he was French champion at 1,500 meters, having beaten his bitterest rival, Michel Bernard. There followed a place on the French Olympic team in Melbourne, where Jazy finished seventh in his heat, and more years of training. In the mornings he arose at 7 and ran from 12 to 15 miles in the Ile de France forest of Marly. "It was charming to pass pheasants or see deer leap by as I ran through thickets, up and down hills, jumped over fallen trees and little streams. It was much more agreeable than watching a stadium turn around me," Jazy said.
He and Frassinelli went to the German trainer Woldemar Gerschler, who suggested running 200 meters 30 to 40 straight times with pauses to check a time clock and Jazy's heart. That was not Jazy's idea of fun. He repeatedly visited and trained with the famous Swedish coach Gosta Olander, who believes in what he calls "the natural method." That means simply to run every day. So Jazy ran. In France, Frassinelli would run beside him for six or eight miles, modifying Jazy's rhythm, controlling his breathing and posture, changing his stride. Jazy discarded the idea of a special diet. To dine on dates and raisins and roots, as some runners do, is repulsive to Jazy, who thinks of himself as a gourmet. He does not eat the cream sauces and rich foods that cause the French national ailment—the crise de foie (liver trouble)—but he eats and drinks anything else he pleases.
"An athlete is like a pregnant woman," he said. "I take the food I want. I drink my aperitif and my whiskey. I drink two glasses of wine with my food, smoke cigarettes if I wish. If I feel like eating sauerkraut, I'll eat it. If I'm hungry I'll eat several plates. There's no reason why a runner must live like a monk."
In August 1956 Jazy joined the air force and did 27 months of military service while continuing to run. He set a French record for the 1,500 meters in 1957, the same year he married blonde Ir√®ne Denis, a secretary from Paris. Out of the military at the end of 1958, Jazy faced the problem of earning a living. His employers at a printing plant had no sympathy with his absences or his training schedule. They made him work overtime. To the rescue came Gaston Meyer, editor in chief of the French daily sports newspaper L'Équipe. Convinced Jazy could be a champion, Meyer gave the young runner an afternoon typographer's job, which enabled him to train in the mornings. Domesticity suited Jazy perfectly. "Married life did me a great deal of good," he said. "There is nothing like regular habits and a home to give an athlete that essential stability. It has been my great luck to marry a woman who is intelligent and reasonable and encouraging and also understands how dear to my heart racing is."
The world began to notice Jazy in 1960 in Rome. "If I had tried to keep up with Elliott that day I would have dropped in a heap and they would have picked me up with a shovel," he said. But he was all at once a runner to be watched. In Versailles on June 28, 1961 he was a member of the French 6,000-meter world-record relay team. In January of 1962 he went to Los Angeles to run the mile against Jim Beatty and lost the race by a few inches. "I assure you I am not seeking an excuse for my defeat," he said, "but it was the first time I was running on an indoor wooden track. Furthermore, the meet organizers didn't hold up a sign indicating what lap it was. Over the loudspeaker I couldn't hear the English numbers. I heard, 'One, two, sree, four, five, seex,' but what comes after seex? I attacked with only one and a half laps to go and that was too late."
Jazy, however, was hovering at the edge of supreme success. It was waiting only for another June—his finest month. In June of 1962, five months after losing to Beatty, Jazy went to Charléty Stadium in Paris to run the 2,000 meters and set a world record of 5:01.6, a record that still stands. Less than two weeks later, at Saint-Maur, he beat Gordon Pirie's world record for the 3,000 meters.
Quickly Jazy was flooded by fan mail. Magazines started doing feature articles on him. L'Équipe's Robert Parienté wrote a book about him. He was recognized in the streets—and not just by track fans. Jazy was as much a celebrity as Jean Gabin. His phone rang continually. "But I am no different from any other man," said Jazy. "Perhaps I only work harder."
In 1963—again in June—Jazy returned to Charléty to go after Beatty's 8:29.8 world record for the two miles. A gray, hammering rain seemed to have washed out his chances, but 20 minutes before the race the sky had cleared and the race could begin. At 3,000 meters Jazy's time was announced at 7:59.8—almost three seconds behind Beatty with only 218 meters to go.
The chant started: "Vas-y, Ja-zy!" Jazy snapped into his sprint, a rocketing shift of gears that shoots him forward like a dash man coming out of the blocks. He did the last 200 meters in an astounding 26.8 seconds and broke the tape at 8:29.6 for another world record. The newspaper Le Monde wrote: "Jazy raised himself into the ranks of the great finishers in the history of track. He can now be compared to Peter Snell." Jazy was delighted. "When I heard my time at 3,000 meters I didn't think I had a chance," he said. "My spirit wasn't keeping up with my legs. Then I don't know what happened. I felt myself freed from a feeling of oppression, and off I went."
Seven weeks later Jazy set a European record in the 1,500 meters. Confidently, he went to Sweden to try for Snell's mile record. But training with Wadoux in the wooded mountains of Valadalen, Jazy suffered a seemingly disastrous accident. He was running a bit ahead of Wadoux, who tripped over a tree root. As Wadoux fell he crashed against Jazy, and both men went down. When they got up they saw blood on the inside of Jazy's right ankle. One of Wadoux's spikes had torn a 2½-inch gash diagonally across the ankle and had cut it to the bone. They were four kilometers from the Valadalen village, and Jazy was bleeding badly. Wadoux ran for help. Another French runner, Jean Pellez, ripped his shirt into a bandage to wrap around Jazy's ankle and carried the injured man two kilometers until met by Wadoux with a stretcher. But it was 40 kilometers from Valadalen to the nearest doctor, and an hour and a half went by before he was attended to. The doctor sewed up the wound and gave Jazy a tetanus shot, which caused a reaction in his nervous system.
For the next two weeks Jazy could not run and he lost three pounds. When he did start racing again he had also lost his quality. He was not to regain it until this June, when he burst out with a brilliance that stunned the world of track.
In Paris, Jazy's life is a disciplined one. He is awakened at 6 each morning by his two daughters—Pascale, 5, and Véronique, 2—who jump onto his bed. "I don't get more than six or seven hours of sleep at most," he said. "I could use more. But I see my family so little as it is, and I look forward to playing with my little girls." After a cup of strong black coffee, Jazy goes to the woods near his home and does his morning run of about 15 kilometers. By 11 he returns to the house for a shower and lunch. In the afternoon he goes to his office off the Champs-Elysées. Having left L'Équipe, he is now attaché de direction, a public relations man, for Perrier, the mineral-water company. He presents trophies to sports champions, hangs around cafés, works in the office pushing Perrier water. At 6:30 Jazy leaves his office and goes to a nearby golf course, where in good weather he runs another 15 kilometers barefoot. After dinner he usually watches television with his wife and daughters. Outside of his family Jazy is very much a loner. He has no official coach, having split up with Frassinelli. "If an athlete doesn't know how to take care of himself," Jazy said, "he'd better quit the competition."
At the end of Jazy's greatest June he went to Helsinki to run against Clarke again, this time at 5,000 meters, in a match the French newspapers were calling the race of the century. When the Finnair jet landed, coming in low over the lakes and the islands and the pine forests and dropping into the grayness of Helsinki, Jazy was rushed by photographers and reporters. "Look at him," said one British journalist. "The world's best miler. Isn't he small, though?" Wearing a blue suit, white shirt, gray tie and pointy Italian shoes, Jazy looked more like a pop singer—maybe Vic Damone—than he did a runner. His long hair was cut peculiarly in the back, slanting up toward the right of his neck as if he had been trimming it himself with a razor and someone had yelled at him.
Some 30,000 people yelled in the long light of that summer night, but the race of the century turned out to be something of a flop—if that can be said about a race in which Jazy set a European record and runners from Kenya, England, Norway and Sweden set records for their countries. Jazy, who alternated the lead with Clarke for eight laps, did a 13:27.6 and won by three yards over Kipchoge Keino, a Kenya policeman who runs to the office. Clarke was third. Schul and Billy Mills, U.S. Olympic 10,000-meter champion, suffering from shin splints and blisters and the fast trip from the AAU meet in San Diego to Helsinki, were far out of it. But the surprise was Keino, whom a Finnish newspaper called "the colored leech" for the way he stuck close to Jazy even during the Frenchman's famous final sprint. "If he keeps running like that, he is going to take the fun out of it for me," Jazy said, grinning.
After the race Jazy, who was disappointed in his clocking, said he thought the 5,000 meters could be run in 12:55 or less—a prediction that is bound to come true, since Clarke, less than two weeks later while Jazy was on vacation, broke his own record over the slightly shorter distance of three miles in 12:52.4. "Jazy can beat 12:55," said Mallejac. "He likes longer distances, because he feels he is older and more mature and they take character. Unlike the short distances, they are for somebody who likes to make a solitary effort. Jazy does because he dominates himself now. He has the endurance and physical resistance that are required. And he loves racing, although he will not always admit it."
In early July, Jazy took his family on a holiday. "I am physically and nervously tired," he said. "I want to go live quietly for a few weeks like millions of other Frenchmen."
Jazy is off vacation now and running again. In the next few weeks he is determined to regain the 3,000-meter record, smashed several weeks ago by Siegfried Herrmann of Germany, and to establish himself as the world's finest 5,000- and 10,000-meter runner. Jazy would like to tour the United States if a promoter could arrange a way for him to bring his wife, as Clarke did. "Michel would be overjoyed. He would be touched," said Mallejac. Jazy and Mallejac can think of no reason why Jazy shouldn't be able to run until he is 37. In those eight years, considering what he did in just one month this year, it seems as if an endless perspective of. new records might await him. "What I intend to do," Jazy says, "is find out my limits."