Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vol. 1 No. 31 Wednesday November 28, 1956

Welcome back. Today we have the semis and finals in the highs, rounds one and two of the 400 and finals in the Shot Put and 5000 meters.
In the first round there are eight heats with three to qualify. The Americans have no trouble. Lou Jones wins his heat in 48.1. Charlie Jenkins and Jim Lea loaf home third in their heats, 48.3 and 48.7. The great George Kerr, who wasn’t so great at this time or distance, qualifies second in 49.7. There are Spences everywhere. Malcolm Spence of South Africa is joined by Jamaica’s Spence twins, Mel and Mal, in qualifying for the second round which will be in a couple hours.
There is the great Perry O’Brien and then there is everybody else. But maybe not. Bill Nieder had “the nine best tosses of my life” in competition in Honolulu en route to Melbourne, two of 61-6, all the rest over 60-4, so we shall see. O’Brien opens at 58-9. Nieder fouls. The second round sees O‘Brien improve to 60-7 while Nieder moves to second with 57-9. Nieder only throws 55 on his next two. O’Brien has two over 60. Ken Bantum takes over third in the fourth round with 57-4. Another American sweep is in the making. The fifth round sees Nieder improve to 59-7, but O’Brien answers with 60-11. On his last throw Jiri Skobla of Czechoslovakia, “a 258 pound bear”, moves past Bantum with 57-10. Bantum then fouls and the sweep is out the window. Now it is Nieder’s last throw, but he fouls and the gold belongs to O’Brien. O’Brien is disappointed in the distance, but happy about the gold. “The shots were new and there was nothing to grip on. Three of my best shots went off my hand incorrectly. And I’m not used to cement circles yet.”
It is WR holder Jack Davis against Germany’s Martin Lauer in the first race. Davis coasts to a wide victory 14.0 to 14.4 with Lorger of Yugoslavia also qualifying in 14.6. The second race is tighter. Lee Calhoun once again beats Joel Shankle as both are clocked in 14.0. Stolyarov of the Soviet Union picks off the last qualifying spot at 14.5. In an hour these six will line up again.
5000 FINAL
An interesting side note here. The journalist covering this event is none other than Norris McWhirter. Name sound familiar? It might, as Norris and his twin, Ross, are co-editors of the British magazine Athletics World. But that is not the reason you might know the name. The McWhiter twins were co-editors of the Guinness Book of World Records. At this time 1000 copies of the 197 page book had been printed and given away. Norris was also a sidebar in one of the most famous moments in track and field history. He was a timer in Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and it was his voice that gave the famous announcement of the record “…… a time of…………..three……” And now, on to the race.
There are 14 men who have broken 14 minutes at this distance and seven of them are standing on the starting line. Vladimir Kuts, the Iron Marine, is the favorite off his drubbing of a good field in the 10,000. Gordon Pirie, the 5000 WR holder (13:36.8) will have something to say about that. In his record race he vanquished Kuts. Indeed he has predicted a time of 13:25. Another runner to have defeated Kuts at this distance is Pirie’s countryman, Chris Chataway. Others with a medal chance are the third Britton, Derek Ibbotson, Australia’s Albie Thomas, Hungary’s Lazlo Tabori and MIklos Szabo. American champion Bill Dillinger is also in the field, but he has done well just to make the final. Aussie Al Lawrence, winner of the second heat, is injured and unable to run.
At 4:30 on a sunny but blustery day they are off. Kuts wastes no time taking the lead, passing 200 in 30.6 and 400 in 62.2. The first kilometer is reached in 2:40 with Pirie and Ibbotson in close attendance and the field still intact. The pace slows dramatically and 2000 is passed in 5:28. On the sixth lap Chataway joins his teammates in dogging the Russian. At 3000, the pace has picked up (8:11) and the four have opened up a 45 yard gap on the rest of the field. With four laps left, Chataway moves into second. He doesn’t stay there long. He suffers a stomach cramp and is done, falling back to 11th at the end. At 4000 the elastic has snapped. Kuts (10:57) has a gap of ten yards on Ibbotson and Pirie, a margin that widens to 50 at the bell. The “flaxen haired” Master of Sport tours the final lap in 62.2 to finish in 13:39.6. “Coming through the tape, as always, he raises his right arm as if to salute not only the mortals, but also the lesser immortals. Seventy yards behind, the world record holder Pirie passes his desperately tired compatriot Ibbotson (13:54.4) for the silver medal in 13:50.6 and is the first to congratulate the jubilant Russian who in his exuberance takes an extra ‘ovation lap’ during which his feet hardly seem to touch the ground.” Kuts’ 11 second margin is the best ever for the Olympic 5000. He is quoted as saying, “I could have run faster if the track had been firmer.” Pirie estimates Kuts’ performance as being worth 13:30 on a decent track.
They lined up from inside out: Shankle, Calhoun, Lorgar, Stolyarov, Davis and Lauer. They will be running into a 4mph wind. Calhoun, the best starter of the bunch, is off a foot before Davis, not unusual as this is how most of their races have begun. Lauer is out ahead of Davis as well. By the fifth hurdle Davis has cut the margin in half. He later says he was feeling confident at that point. Cordner Nelson writes of Davis, “He dug in with desperation born of four years of preparation for this one race, and over the last five flights no hurdler ever ran as fast. Over the last hurdle they battled, the two fastest hurdlers of all time….Calhoun, who had learned his finishing lunge from Davis, says, ‘As we drew near the line I felt that the one who lunged the farthest would win it. My head was in front of his and as I threw my shoulder at the tape, I saw Jack bend far over.’” (The photo contradicts this. Davis is three lanes to Calhoun’s right, but Calhoun has his head turned to the left as he dips.) The result is not readily apparent. These two had tied in the trials for the team; had it happened again? The photofinish sign flashes and 102,000 wait. Ten minutes pass before the scoreboard begins to spell out the results beginning with CA… The time is 13.5, considering the conditions, Cordner Nelson says that it is the fastest race of all time. But what of Joel Shankle? He runs a race unopposed by competition. His third place 14.0, puts him well behind the leaders, but well ahead of the rest of the field who finish in 14.7. It is another American sweep. Calhoun says, “I knew I had to run the race of my life. I did”. A disappointed Davis is less than gracious, “I pointed four years for this race, then I had to lose it because someone got hot.”
Now we are off to the pub to down a pint or two and discuss what we have seen today and what we will see tomorrow, specifically three heats in the 1500, semis and final in the 400, the steeplechase final and the first five events of the decathlon.

1 comment:

Claude said...

Does anybody remember that there where two sets of "Spence" twins in the late 1950s and early 1960s? There were the Spence twins, Mel and Clacolm from Jamaica and the Spence twins from South Africa, Mel and Malcolm. During the "twins" heyday, the competed against each other as members of the British Commonwealth. This was when RSA was an international pariah so modern day history seems to have forgotten this unique episode in athletic history. Would like to findout more on both sets of twins. Does anyone know how to findout about the RSA set? Claude Johnson (

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