Monday, March 12, 2012

Vol. 2 No. 27 The Inside Story from Ernie Cunliffe (Indoors 1961)

Right after the Rome Olympics Fred Schmertz of the Millrose Games cornered me and insisted that I run in his February meet in the famous Wanamaker Mile. I agreed and shortly thereafter Will Cloney of the Boston Knights of Columbus and BAA Games asked me to run the 1000 yd races in his earlier meets in January. This sounded like an ideal distance for me but since I had no idea how many laps were involved and how to run a 1000, Coach Jordan sort of measured out a 160 yd sample track on the grass infield at Stanford to equal the 11 laps to a mile Boston track.

The test runs did not work out because the track was flat, grass, and I had no idea what I was doing. So since Murray Halberg was due to run in an all comers meet I decided to run a 1000 on the more familiar regular track. An almost solo effort, 2:07.3, was the result and Roy has covered it well. A side note about the meet : Joe Rosenthal the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photographer came down from San Francisco and took pictues of Halberg and myself which in itself was quite a thrill.

I went to Boston for the Knights of Columbus meet without any indoor running shoes. Bob Giegengack the Yale coach loaned me a pair of size 12s which sort of fit my size 13 1/2 feet. The race was a learning experience as Tom Carroll of Yale was the main competition and I knew his 880 times and figured he would be tough. I do not remember my winning time but think it was about a 2:09+ The big honor for me was being presented the Cardinal Cushing trophy by the Cardinal at his trackside box seat. As a parting comment I told Will that I would break the World Record, 2:08.2 set by Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark back in 1951 and tied by Arnie Sowell a few years before, when I returned for the BAA meet. This got in the papers and might have cost me later and I will elaborate on that in my next posting.

The LA meet was better in several ways since I had gotten a pair of Adidas indoor running spikes from, ta ta, the infamous Cliff Severn. They were size 13 & fit ! I don't know if Stanford bought them or if (more likely) Cliff gave me the pair but I soon found out he wanted something back. Just as the PA man was introducing the milers, good old Cliff grabbed me and handed me a pair of Adidas and said, give these to Jim Grelle right away. I brushed him off and said, hey Cliff I have a race to run now.

The LA people had hoped for a sub 4 mile and thus my job was to set a good pace (where have I heard that before) for Beatty but I intended to try and win. Again Roy has covered the results well. Now, on to the Boston 1000 in the next posting.

Phil Scott reports that
"Cliff Severn is still living as of a year ago in northern Ca. Was still in shoe business selling Australian sheepskin boots! Still remembers everyone he dealt with Adidas."

Part 2)


I felt I had the hang of indoor running OK so at the BAA Meet I went after the 10 year old world record in the 1000 yd race. Nielsen had run 2:08.2 way back in 1951 and Arnie Sowell had tied the record. Went out hard in my new Adidas (thanks Cliff) and was about 1:50.6 at the 880. Finished fairly strong for me and broke the record with a 2:07.9.

I was about to leave the arena when Will Cloney grabbed me and said I should stay for the Outstanding Athlete Award as I was a cinch to win, having broken a 10 year old World Record. But it was not to be and I have to say up front, this was one of the most disappointing and unexplained result. John Thomas had broken his existing World Record by an inch but previously that day Brummel had bettered the World Record by 2 inches, thus making Thomas' record only an American Record. All the voting members of the press & Thomas were aware of this, yet they chose a new American Record vs a World Record. To this day I have not figured it out and as you may guess I have never forgotten what I felt was an oversight. Will Cloney was apologizing all over the place and said he couldn't understand it. His final thought was that "everyone knew you were going to break the record and figure you are automatic and just took you for granted." He didn't mention that the local press might have been just slightly biased and voted for a Boston athlete. At least they might have picked a track winner and a field event winner. Bitter???

Yes, as I had never won and never would win any such award in my career, so I figure John has my trophy somewhere in his basement!! Should have kept my mouth shut at the Knights of Columbus Meet and not told Will that I would break the record, as perhaps that too might have soured the press people who really didn't know me as I was never a cocky bragging type. Coach Jordan had a motto on the track locker room wall: Champions are Gracious and Humble. Someone inked in the words: AND FAST after Humble. Wasn't me, as fast wasn't in my vocabulary or running performance.

Another bit of info to add about Sowell. I coached his son at the Air Force Academy in the early 1980s. He was taller but certainly not the quality runner , 800, 1000, or miler that his old man was. Of course it could of been my poor coaching?

On to February, an AAU win, a close loss to George Kerr and a broken board on the last lap of the Cleveland meet = a 1-2 record to wind up the indoor season.

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