Sunday, February 4, 2018
V 8 N. 7 David Bailey's Memories of that WR 1500 in 1967
1967 Commonwealth vs USA Dual Meet 1500m: Reminiscences of One Competitor
As soon as I arrived in Los Angeles on the Wednesday before the Saturday race, I became acutely aware that there were high expectations for a 1500m world record. The current record of 3:35.6 was then considered to be the “Best in the Books” held by the “Master”, Herb Elliott of Australia, that resulted from his dominating performance in the final of 1960 Rome Olympic Games. Recently, Jim Ryun had achieved a new mile record (3:51.1) with an amazing front running solo effort at Bakersfield. Moreover, Kip Keino of Kenya had just clocked a 3:55.2 mile at 6000-foot altitude. So, the stage was set.
There was world-wide interest in this race. I was told that it would be broadcast live throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Because the Los Angeles Coliseum red clay track was not considered fast and would quickly get chewed up by spikes from previous races, the track would be extensively groomed. Moreover, the race was scheduled to be second on the program after the men’s 100m which would not employ the use the inside lane.
I was thrilled to be one of the three to represent the Commonwealth Team. Kip Keino and Alan Simpson (Great Britain) were obvious worthy selections. I was a bit of an unknown. However, I had shown good early season form in a number of races including a win at the California Relays Mile (Modesto) in 4:01 at the end of May. On the other hand, I was the slowest miler in the field (3:59.1 at the time) by several seconds. Consequently, it was announced at the first Commonwealth team meeting that there may be a change, which was distressing to me but I understood the reasoning. The British had also flown over my potential replacement, John Whetton (1964 Tokyo Olympics finalist), who certainly had the credentials to run in this race. We were informed that the decision would be made soon.
Kip Keino approached me at the training facility the following day to inquire about my plans for the race. I think that there was considerable pressure on him to force the pace for a record. However, he considered this primarily as a race for the win, as I think did Jim, and not a world record attempt. As far as I was concerned, I did not want this race to become a jog and sprint. My recent successes had come when I had controlled the race at a good pace. More importantly, I also thought that we should not miss this chance at a world record, regardless of whether Kip or Jim won. So, I told Kip that I would take the pace if no one else wanted to lead. However, I would not be the sacrificial rabbit and would not run much faster than 60 seconds per lap. Later that day, it was announced at the next team meeting that I would be a race starter.
Race day did not start promisingly. It was going to be a hot sunny day. The air temperature at the beginning of the meet was in the mid-80s degrees but it was much hotter on the floor of the Coliseum. Someone said it was close to 100 degrees. Although I was given the opportunity to be excused from the opening ceremonies march past of athletes, I chose to participate. We walked in single files of the two teams through the huge arch and down the stairs to the track. It had been explicitly stated that we were to turn left at the bottom and march in front of the large crowd at the home stretch. Unfortunately, the persons at the front had not got or forgot this information and we turned right and wandered down the back stretch. The schedule got further behind time with the men’s 100 m race. After at least four false starts that involved the disqualification of two USA sprinters, they finally got the remaining four individuals off fairly.
The 1500m was next. We lined up on the back stretch and a television crew with a portable camera came out to get individual head shots. Each athlete was absorbed in his own thoughts and when wished “Good Luck” by the TV crew gave no response. I was on the outside and the last to be televised. Typically Canadian, I gave a pre-conditioned “Thanks”.
With the firing of the gun, we burst forward and I began looking inwards to see if anyone was going to take the pace. I looked once and then repeatedly as we began to dawdle down the back stretch. I finally assumed that I would be the one, took the lead at the end of the straightaway and accelerated to the speed that I thought was a sub-60 second lap pace. Partway down the home stretch for the first time, someone was yelling from the infield “You’re too slow! You’re too slow!”. Such was the anticipation for a world record.
I was still leading as we approached the 400 m split timer, who shouted “60” just before I got there. Shortly afterwards, Kip and Jim blew past me. In a split second, I made a decision that would have a significant impact on my race. Fearing that the rest of the field would also move past and force me to the back of the pack, I sprinted hard to stay in contact. I need not have worried. Although I was unaware, the others did not respond. As a result, we quickly split into two groups separated by an ever-widening gap. This faster pace initially felt comfortable and we passed the 800m in 1:57. It wasn’t until 500 m to go that I felt the heat and fatigue. I had doubts and let them drift away from me. I was now alone in “no man’s land”. I heard 2:57 as I passed 1200 m. From there to the finish would just be a matter of trying to maintain rather than to increase the pace. As I reached the end of the back straight, I looked across the curve, saw Jim entering the home stretch and thought “He is really going well today!”
The last 100m was a blur. I felt that I would finish third a few metres from the finish line. However, a flash of white to my right told me I had been caught. It was Alan Simpson. Both of us were timed in 3:41.7. However, it was a new Canadian record for me. Although I then collapsed on the grass, I managed to get up a few minutes later and to walk it off. I was met by an excited Sir Arthur Gold of the British Athletic Association who came across the infield, shook my limp sweaty hand and said how proud they were to have me on the team representing the Commonwealth. It was a genuine gesture that I sincerely appreciated.
The awards ceremony had to be delayed by more than 1 hour. I don’t think anyone really realized how much the effort and heat had taken out of Jim Ryun. They said it was a crashing headache. However, it likely was more than that. I was pleased that the first four got a sterling silver engraved bowl embossed with meet crest that differentiated your finishing placement by the color of the enamel on the interior.
That evening I paired up with Dave Wilborn who was feeling down from his performance in the race to go to a movie. We got in a long line-up to see “The Dirty Dozen”, a popular WW II story starring Lee Marvin and a number of other big names. While we were waiting, I heard someone in the crowd yell out, “Jim Ryun is here!”. I turned around and saw him standing a number of individuals behind looking genuinely embarrassed for being singled out.
On Sunday morning, I got up early and went for a jog around the USC campus. I saw a man getting a Los Angeles Times from a newspaper dispenser and asked whether I could see if there was anything about the meet. The front page of the Sports section had a photo from the 1500m with me trailing Kip and Jim. He kindly gave me the section and I hurried back to the USC residence where I waited in the lobby. When Kip and Jim came down from their rooms, I got their signatures on the photo. It is a treasured souvenir remembering a great moment when I had the privilege to play a small role in a world record performance (see attached).
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