Jogging around in front of the starting line last Saturday in his buoyant, energetic style, Kipchoge Keino smiled broadly and bowed to the crowd in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The second-fastest middle-distance runner in the world, Keino had been reluctant to come from Kenya to face Jim Ryun, the fastest of all, in the 1,500-meter run at the U.S.-British Commonwealth meet. He claimed he was not in condition to challenge Ryun, who was clearly in the best form of his remarkable career.
But as race time approached, Keino seemed to lose his doubts in anticipation of a race that promised to produce brilliant competition and a possible world record. He looked fit and confident and ready to give Ryun one of his most severe tests. And Ryun, who stood with hands on hips as Keino entertained the crowd, might have had reason to fear his rival. A week earlier Keino had run a mile in 3:55 at the 5,900-foot altitude of Nyeri, Kenya—a feat that some compared favorably with Ryun's sea-level world record of 3:51.1.
But Jim was not fazed at all by such news. First of all, there were reports that overenthusiastic timers might have had some influence on Keino's almost unbelievable clocking in Kenya. More important, Ryun is so strong now that he could not help thinking that even if Keino were to beat the existing records, he—Ryun—would still beat Keino.
Ryun was told of Keino's decision to come to Los Angeles on the Tuesday before the race. He took a few seconds to ponder that 3:55 mile, then shrugged. "Oh, well," he said, "I guess I'd better start resting up for him."
July 16, 1967
Awaiting the start of the 1,500, Ryun stared straight ahead, then glanced to his left, where Keino was preparing to leave from an inside lane. The other four competitors—all sub-four-minute milers—hardly mattered. "I had a simple plan," Ryun said. "I wanted to stay just behind Keino and watch his every move." Keino's first move was to drop back casually into fifth place; so Ryun eased into last position as Dave Bailey of Canada set a leisurely pace through the first lap. When Bailey's first-quarter time of 60.9 seconds was announced, most observers resigned themselves to a slow, tactical battle in which Herb Elliott's world record of 3:35.6, set in the 1960 Rome Olympics, would not be endangered. Then, with dramatic suddenness, Keino took his best shot at Ryun. In an explosive burst designed to catch his pursuer off balance, Kip rushed into the lead at the beginning of the second lap. He sprinted the second quarter in 56.5, fast enough to eliminate four of his rivals and put the world record within reach once again—but not fast enough to pull away from Ryun.
Jim seemed to stalk Keino's rapid pace as easily as he had followed Bailey's slow one. "Keino knows he doesn't have the kick to finish with me," he explained, "so I expected him to try and open up a lead with a move like that. I felt loose, though, and it was no strain to keep up with him."
Kip maintained his pace through the third quarter, but the pressure wasn't bothering Ryun a bit; in fact, Jim was beginning to enjoy it. "It was the first time I've had anyone set a good pace for me since my 3:51.3 mile at Berkeley last summer," he said. "I like it that way, because I'm a very poor judge of pace when I have to set it myself."
With 300 yards to go, Ryun decided to make his move. In a few long, smooth strides he was alongside Keino, and the crowd rose to watch the final struggle to the tape. But there was never a struggle and it was all over within seconds. Ryun pulled away from the Kenya champion with surprising ease and drew out to a 30-yard lead through the stretch. He ran the final quarter in 54.1 to finish in 3:33.1, breaking Elliott's record by two and a half seconds. It was a shocking destruction of the oldest valid middle-distance mark, and Ryun naturally was delighted. "This was an even better record than the mile," he said. "This one should be much rougher to beat."
Sipping a Coke an hour later, he repeated what he had said after his mile record two weeks before: "I still don't feel my limit has been reached. I can go faster." In the rough calculations of most track experts, his 1,500-meter time was equal to a mile in anything from 3:48.5 to 3:50. Jim could not argue with that conclusion. A mile is about 120 yards longer than 1,500 meters, and he said, "I could have gone another 120 yards after this race with no trouble at all."
Thus Ryun has completed the astonishing feat of becoming the best ever at the three distances he has tackled seriously. He has now run the fastest mile in history, the fastest metric mile, and he has run the fastest half mile (1:44.9) as well. Because of AAU intransigence, he may not receive official recognition for the half-mile mark; it was set in last year's meet sponsored by the U.S. Track and Field Federation, and the AAU has refused to forward it to the international body for validation (SI, Feb. 13, et seq.). Nevertheless, no runner has ever equaled this achievement.
Loser Keino was hardly disgraced; his time of 3:37.2 was less than two seconds off the old record and one of the fastest 1,500 meters ever run. But Kip lost all his exuberance the moment Ryun swept so easily past him. He refused to talk to anyone after the race and sulked off to his room—just as he had done after his only other race against Ryun, a defeat in a two-mile run at last spring's Coliseum Relays.
With his last challenger soundly beaten and another record under his name, Ryun permitted himself to celebrate Saturday night. Tired of his constant training diet of steak, he ate a large fish dinner at a Newport Beach restaurant, then slept unusually late. Sunday afternoon he was again on the track, but this time as a photographer for a Topeka newspaper. "They have a photography pool at this meet," he said. "They just have a few guys with credentials to take the pictures that are sent out." Ordinarily, 20-year-old part-time Topeka journalists might not be included in photographers' pools at international track meets. "Oh, I told them they didn't have to give me a pass," joked Jim. "But then they would've gotten a 3:35.7 race."
Ryun earned his pass by providing the high point of a very exciting weekend for the 45,000 who attended the two-day meet in the Coliseum. Apparently an international dual meet lacks gate appeal unless the rival teams consist of natural "enemies" like the U.S. and the Russians. But this Commonwealth squad had enough stars to provide a series of interesting events. One of the best—and, once again, the most inconclusive—was the 100-meter dash. Charlie Greene, given a special leave after two weeks of ROTC training camp, was back for one more try against Jim Hines, who won a narrow and disputed decision in the 100-yard dash at the AAU championships two weeks ago. But the training program at Fort Lewis, Wash. is not designed to sharpen sprinters, and Greene conceded, "In my present physical condition, I'm afraid I won't be able to beat Jim."
With this golden opportunity glimmering before him, Hines promptly went out and committed two false starts. Since young Willie Turner of Oregon State had previously disqualified himself with two false starts, U.S. hopes in the 100—an event we normally take complete charge of in international competition—rested entirely on Greene. But Charlie wasn't quite up to it. He lost to Jamaican Lennox Miller, the USC sophomore whom he had whipped last month at the NCAA meet. "I knew I could beat him," said Miller, who ran the 100 meters in 10.1. "If I hadn't tied up when I caught him after 60 yards in the NCAAs, I would have won that, too."
Greene said, "I was really short at the finish today." And Hines, true to the sprinter's code of this season, added, "It was Miller who broke too soon when they called me for that second jump. If I had been in there, I probably would have run it in 9.9."
In the 200 meters the next day, Hines got his chance at another rival who was hampered by recent Army duty: world-record holder Tommie Smith, who had been on the track only twice since the AAU meet two weeks earlier. "I don't think you can fall out of shape in a few weeks," said Smith, who had been with Greene at Fort Lewis. "But you can lose your edge."
He had lost enough of it to be defeated by Lee Evans in a 220 in Honolulu the week before, and was expected to fall to Hines on Sunday. "In my condition," he said, "I'd be happy to run about 20.3, even if that wasn't good enough to win." Then he went out and ran 20.2—only .2 off his own world mark—and beat Hines by a stride.
"I had Tommie beaten on the turn," said Hines. "But when I straightened out into that headwind I ran into trouble."
After Miller's dash victory, American men took first place in every other event except the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs and the steeplechase. The only Commonwealth men's triumphs were achieved by three Kenyans: Naftali Temu won the 10,000, Benjamin Kogo took the steeplechase, and Keino came back from his defeat by Ryun to beat Australian Ron Clarke by 20 yards in the 5,000 meters. Bob Day and Gerry Lindgren set most of the early pace, with Clarke third and Keino dawdling near the back of the field. By the sixth lap Lindgren was looking plaintively behind him for someone else to take the lead. But Gerry had to do it himself for about half the race, and the effort left him a weary third at the finish.
Clarke and Keino moved to the front on the 11th lap and pulled away from their rivals, Clarke leading. Keino sprinted alongside Clarke briefly as they entered the final lap but Clarke held him off. "That didn't worry me," said Keino. "I felt so strong I knew I had the race won." In the last 300 yards he zoomed around Clarke and easily drew away to win in the fair time of 13:36.8.
It was Keino's fifth straight victory over Clarke, who holds the world record of 13:16.6 in the event, but this time the Australian had an excuse. In a warmup session Friday night he and Ryun had been kidding about racing one another at varying distances from a mile up. "To give me a chance," said Clarke, "we'd have to include the steeplechase." Ryun said, "No, thanks."
"Oh, these low steeplechase hurdles wouldn't bother you," said Clarke. "They're easy to handle. Try going over that trash can over there." Ryun elected to pass, so Clarke jogged toward the can, launched a graceful hurdle—and pulled a groin muscle. It was treated all weekend but still bothered him during the 5,000.
There were few surprises among the other American winners. Wade Bell, the Oregon sophomore who is improving so steadily that he may soon set some world records of his own, won the 800 meters in the splendid time of 1:45, despite a slightly premature move that almost caused him to be caught from behind near the tape. "I didn't know much about the foreign runners," he explained. "I had heard that the fellow from Kenya [Wilson Kiprugut] could run some very fast quarters, and of course I knew Larry Kelly could really move. I'm always worried against guys with more speed than I have. So when Noel Clough moved, I figured I'd better follow him." Bell accompanied Clough past the tiring Kelly, who had set an extremely fast pace for the first 400 meters. Then, his cheeks puffed in the characteristic expression he shows as he is about to break open a race, Bell just kept right on going.
"I know that's become a habit with me," he said. "When I'm ready to move I take a really deep breath and kind of explode. It's something I picked up from Dyrol Burleson." He exploded so powerfully that he was 10 yards ahead of the field entering the last turn. "I knew that I was moving too early," he said, "but I was accelerating so fast that I was afraid not to keep going. I was pretty tired in the last yards." Kiprugut, a bronze medalist at Tokyo, got to within two yards of Bell at the tape (right).
Other consistent American winners like Lee Evans in the 400, Willie Davenport and Ron Whitney in the hurdles and Randy Matson in the shotput helped run up a 254-170 team victory. Paul Wilson failed in his attempt to break his own two-week-old pole vault record of 17'8", but his 17'5" vault won the event by more than a foot, as steady 17-footers Bob Seagren and Dick Railsback had shockingly bad days. Railsback dropped out after clearing only 15'5" and Seagren, who had tried an instant cure for a sore throat by taking a huge dose of cough medicine, had been so sick for two days that he barely made 16'1".
A few smug observers assumed the U.S. women would win as easily as the men. "We saw a headline Sunday morning," said Australian Sprinter Dianne Burge, "that said the U.S. girls were routing us—and they were only one point ahead at the time. So we really wanted to show them something." Dianne and a group of other talented Commonwealth girls showed their hosts a lot and wound up with a decisive 125-102 triumph. Dianne and Irene Piotrowski of Vancouver gave their team one-two sweeps of both the 100- and 200-meter sprints, over fields that included world-record holders Barbara Ferrell and Wyomia Tyus. Then Pam Kilborn, a blonde 27-year-old schoolteacher who has at various times been the Australian champion in the hurdles, long jump, 100 yards and pentathlon, won the 80-meter hurdles as Dianne and Irene cheered.
The Commonwealth girls had hardly recovered from these victories when 18-year-old Lillian Board of Britain scored the biggest upset of the meet. Lillian went into the 400 meters with the slowest mark among the six contestants and little expectation of defeating favorites Charlotte Cooke or Judy Pollock. "I just had a terrible dread," she said, "of finishing last—or of not finishing at all. But much to my surprise, I kept my head. When Cooke and Pollock went past me, I just said, 'I'm not going to try to keep up with you.' " Then the leaders tired in the stretch, and Lillian came from behind with a rush to win.
The major consolation for the American girls came from the performance of Madeline Manning, who turned in the gamest race of the meet to hold off world-record holder Pollock and win the 800 meters in U.S. record time of 2:01.6. Madeline, who is 19 and has just completed her first year at Tennessee State, left looking happily ahead: "That world record can't be too far off now."
Linda Knowles (left) is not too close to any records, but the British high-jump winner may have had more fun than anyone last weekend. "What a fantastic privilege to be here," she said after her 5'8¼" jump won the event. "I've been pointing for this ever since I was named to the team." Linda, however, does not point for an event with quite the intensity of a Ryun. "I don't train too hard," she said. "I'm in a physical-education college in Sussex, so I get my exercise playing volleyball and hockey and things. And I like to dance a lot." Linda is 21 and tall and striking and gets much of her dance training in miniskirts at discoth√®ques.
"What is your background in track?" she was asked.
"My mum chased dad a long time."
"What does this win prove to you?"
"That I jumped higher than the others."
"What about conditions here?"
"The artificial pit is great. Just imagine, you don't have any little chappy running around with a rake all the time."
"And what about the meet as a whole?"
"Oh, Jim Ryun is just so fantastic. I mean, it doesn't seem right that he should just get a silver bowl like the rest of us. Couldn't they give him the whole Coliseum or something?"