Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vol. 1 No. 32 Thursday November 29, 1956

Today we have semis and the final in the 400, the final in the steeplechase, three heats in the 1500 and the first day of the decathlon.
The last two Olympic decathlons have been won by Bob Mathias. In 1952 the silver medalist was 18 year old Milt Campbell. He is now four years bigger, stronger, faster and should be the favorite. But wait, Rafer Johnson has hit the scene. He established a new world record and beat Campbell decisively in US Olympic Trials. He should be the favorite. But maybe not, as he has been plagued with a knee injury. The battle for the gold should be between the two of them with Russian Vasily Kuznetsov a strong contender for the bronze. Pole vault champion Bob Richards is the third American.
The times are disappointing right down the line. Whether it is the weather or the track isn’t made clear. Campbell runs 10.8 to gain 42 points on Johnson who clocks 10.9. Australia’s John Cain at 10.9 is the only other under 11. Germany’s Martin Lauer, he of the fourth place hurdle finish, runs 11.1. Kuznetsov and a young Chinese lad, Chuan Kuan Yang, are next at 11.2.
Twenty-five percent of the field is named Spence, the twins from Jamaica and Malcolm from South Africa. Ardalion Ignatev of the USSR takes the first race in 46.8 with Malcolm Spence second at 47.2. World record holder Lou Jones coasts home third in 47.4 to eliminate Mel Spence at 47.5. The second race looks more like a final. Kevin Gosper establishes an Australian record of 46.2 only to be eliminated as Charlie Jenkins 46.1, Voitto Hellsten of Finland 46.1 and Karl-Friedrich Haas of Germany 46.2 are faster. Mal Spence runs 47.4.
This is an important event for Johnson as he is the better jumper (having made the team in this event). A 25 footer would give him a cushion. Campbell gets off an excellent 24’ 5/8” on his first jump. Johnson covers that, but just barely at 24’1”. Both foul on their second tries and pass the last. It would seem odd that Johnson would pass instead of trying to gain the advantage here. The reason becomes apparent: he has pulled a stomach muscle and doesn’t dare take a chance. As it is he has gained only four points and is 38 behind.
Campbell throws 48’5½ to pull farther away from Johnson who puts 47’6” and gain another 31 points. Kuznetsov throws a fraction of an inch longer than Johnson and now sits third. Campbell 2738, Johnson 2668, Kuznetsov 2452.
1500 HEATS
Three races with four qualifying. This is one of the most interesting events of the games. There is no clear favorite and three Australians, Landy, Bailey and Lincoln, have as good a chance as anybody. The crowd is shocked when Jim Bailey fails to line up for the first heat. He has hay fever. After a practice lap at 66, it was evident that he could not compete. Still there is no lack of talent in the initial go around. After laps of 57.1 and 2:00.2, Germany’s Klaus Richtzenhain moves from the back of the pack to lead a tightly packed field at the bell in 2:47.6. Down the backstretch Hungary’s world record holder Istvan Rozsavolgyi moves to fifth, but it is soon obvious that is all he has. As with so many Hungarian athletes, he has lost condition by not being able to train because of the Hungarian Revolution. Ted Wheeler surprises by moving to fourth on the final curve, but the race is 100 meters too long. He finishes eighth in 3:49.9, three tenths behind young Frenchman, Michel Jazy. Richtzenhain is joined by Stanislav Jungwirth of Czechoslovakia, both at 3:46.6. Ian Boyd of Great Britain and Murray Halberg of New Zealand take the other qualifying spots at 3:47.0 and 3:47.2.
The second race is faster. Russia’s Olavi Sokolov leads a strung out following through 57.1 and 1:58.5. The crowd comes alive as Merv Lincoln takes command on the third lap, clocking 2:43.1 at the bell and 3:00.2 at 1200. He wins with yards to spare in 3:45.4. Other qualifiers are Britain’s Ken Woods 3:46.6, Ireland’s Ron Delany 3:47.7 and Lazlo Tabori of Hungary 3:48.0, a full second ahead of countryman Rozsavolgyi. Don Bowden, feeling the effects of a three week bout of mononucleosis in October, never had a chance, finishing in 3:59.7.
The third heat is packed with talent. The crowd is buzzing as John Landy is their man. This time the first lap is toured in a leisurely 62.1 with Landy sitting next to last. Sweden’s Dan Waern takes the lead at 800, reached in 2:05.2. Down the backstretch he is challenged by Germany’s Siegfried Herrmann, but Waern holds him off to lead at the bell 2:50.4. With six runners beginning to string out, Herrmann pulls up, spiked by Landy. Five charge into the final curve knowing that one will be eliminated. Neville Scott of New Zealand and Brian Hewson of England pull away down the straight to cross the line together in 3:48.0. Landy and Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark run 3:48.6 to make Waern, 3:48.8, a spectator for the finals to be run Saturday.
The clear favorite is Lou Jones, the holder of the word record of 45.2. The fact that he loafed through his semi earlier today in 47.4 while his primary competitors had to run at least 46.2, only cements this fact. As the runners set their blocks, it is Malcom Spence of South Africa on the pole (Yes, we are talking about lane one. I am looking at two pictures which clearly show this to be the case.), while lanes 2-6 are occupied by Ardalion Ignatyev of Russia, Voitto Hellsten of Finland, Charlie Jenkins of Villanova, Karl-Friedrich Hass of Germany and Jones. D.H. Potts proves to be a master of the obvious as he writes, “At the gun all were off and running”. At 200 Jones has a two yard lead with a 21.8 split. Ignatyev and Spence are 22.0, Jenkins 22.2, Hellsten 22.3 and Hass is laying well off the pace at 22.7. As they come off the curve Jones still has the lead at 33.4, but Ignatyev is a tenth behind and looking strong. Looking even stronger is Jenkins who is running easily at 33.9. Then an odd thing happens. At the top of the straight “Jones appears to almost pull up and Ignatyev shot to the front with Hellsten in pursuit.” This European upset is immediately squelched by a powerful move by Jenkins who goes past and leaves no doubt as to the winner. Hass, last at the 300 (34.3) finishes stronger than anyone to take second. The finish photo, once again at an angle, shows Jenkins with considerable daylight, probably more than the times of 46.7 and 46.8 would indicate. Hellsten and Ignatyev battle stride for stride in adjacent lanes, crossing the finish at 47.0 so close that a photo cannot detect a margin. Both are given a bronze medal. Malcom Spence, running in the chewed up inside lane, finishes last in 48.3. But what of Jones, the WR holder? He says he felt fine physically, but the psychological shock of finding Ignatyev next to him when they came onto the straight caused him to freeze mentally. He had expected to be three yards ahead at that point and was not prepared for this eventuality. The photo of the finish shows him en route to finishing fifth at 48.1 with peculiar form. His body is twisted with his left shoulder a foot behind his right and his head askew, looking upwards. “Jenkins attributes his somewhat unexpected win to his coach’s last letter, admonishing him to run relaxed.” He is quoted as saying, “My coach back home has been sending me two telegrams a week with encouragement and advice. He was a darn sight more certain I would win than I was.” This unnamed coach would be none other than the great Jumbo Elliot.
Johnson is in trouble. He limps badly and it is obvious that he is in pain. It takes three tries before he clears 5’8 7/8” and three more to conquer 5’10 7/8”. He tops out at 6’0” to lose another 50 points to Campbell who keeps on chugging, clearing 6’2 7/8”. The best jump of the day belongs to C.K. Yang at 6’4 ¾” to move to fourth. Campbell 3624, Johnson 3475, Kuznetsov 3163, Yang 3109,
Only nine competitors are on the starting line. The favorite is world record holder Sandor Rozsnyoi of Hungary. Even though he ran 8:46 in two days ago, it remains to be seen if the lack of training he endured during the hostilities will allow him to better than today. Ernst Larsen of Norway is determined to find out. He leads the field through a 65.7 opening lap with Britain’s John Disley and Russia’s Semyon Rzhishchin in tow. The order stays the same at 800 with the surprising Deacon Jones in the mix. Larsen tests his competition with a hard third lap and opens up eight yards. At 1600, reached in 4:37.4, Larsen is still four yards to the good and the field is intact. At 2000 meters (5:51) Larsen leads followed by Rzhishchin and Rozsnyoi. But now England’s Chris Brasher, best known for his pace making in Bannister’s Four Minute Mile, has moved to fourth. With 600 (7:02.3) to go, the Russian takes the lead and the field begins to string out. Rozsnyoi, Larsen, Brasher and Disley are in contention. At the bell, reached in 7:40, Rzhishchin leads, but the field is ready to attack. Rozsnyoi, the world record holder takes the lead, but Larsen is on his shoulder. As they come to the next to last hurdle, Larsen moves out a little so they won’t collide. That is all Brasher needs to create one of the most memorable incidents of these games. He shoots between Roz and Larsen, pushing Larsen as he does so. He has more left than anyone and powers to a convincing 15 yard victory in an Olympic record 8:41.2. Roz and Larsen take silver and bronze in 8:43.6 and 8:44.0. This is Britain’s first gold medal since the 1936 4 x 400 team. But is it? For three hours the results are not given. Has Brasher been disqualified? Finally the announcement: Brasher is disqualified. Rozsnyoi is declared the winner, Larsen moves to second and Heinz Laufer of Germany takes the bronze. Immediately Brasher appeals. He and Larsen are interviewed by the jury of appeal. Finally at 7:05, the appeal is upheld on the grounds that the contact was unintentional and Larsen was not hindered. Brasher states, “I knew I would win three laps from the finish because I felt strong.” Larsen is a stand up guy, “There was some interference, but I do not think it warranted a disqualification. It made no difference to the result.”
DECATHLON 400 (7:15)
Campbell makes it five for five over Johnson, adding another 40 points with a 48.8 to Johnson’s 49.3. Martin Lauer runs the day’s fastest time, 48.2. At the conclusion of the first day the top five are Campbell 4564, Johnson 4375 (189 back), Lauer 4064 (500), Kuznetsov 3991 (573) and Walter Meier of Germany 3941 (623). Obviously it is a two way battle between the Americans.
Once again the lights of Melbourne are twinkling as we exit the stadium. Tomorrow we will see heats in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 and the concluding five events in the decathlon.

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