Where Are America’s Milers?
A stirring tradition of U.S. distance running is dying on the vine. What are the reasons, and what should be done to bring it back?
By David Richardson, Sports Illustrated
The most extraordinary thing about the once elusive 4 minute Mile in recent weeks has been the almost casual manner in which its latest conquerors have achieved it. Derek Ibbotson, the 23-year-old Yorkshireman shown above, made it three weeks ago as the consequence of a promise to a girl friend: a three-Miler by trade, he entered the Mile in the News of the World meet at London's White City Stadium in exchange for an extra ticket to the postmeet banquet that a girl friend of his girl friend's wanted to attend. And three-Miler Ibbotson, with no more thought in the world about the race than that, suddenly found on the final lap that he could crack the magic barrier—and did. That same weekend, in distant Budapest, Istvan Rozsavolgyi broke the world record for 1500 meters, the Olympic's "metric Mile," with an amazing 3:40.6, a zestful 0.2 seconds faster than the prevailing world's record (which he had shared with fellow Hungarian Laszlo Tabori and Gunnar Nielsen, the redheaded Dane) and the equivalent of a 3:57 Mile.
The second most extraordinary thing about these performances is that American Milers are nowhere in them—nowhere near them, in fact. In all the growing family of 4 minute Milers pictured on these pages there is not a single U.S. runner, nor, now that Wes Santee has forcibly retired, a single man who has come even close. And for a nation with a track & field record as proud as that of the U.S., this is a most singular fact indeed. It is as certain as anything in sports at the moment that the United States will not win a single foot race of more than 800 meters in the Melbourne Olympics.
In every other respect the U.S. track & field team that goes to Australia in November may well be the strongest in history. It is several deep in crack sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, pole vaulters, shotputters, discus & javelin throwers and middle distance runners -- an impressive number of them already holding world records. And yet the discomforting fact remains that in 5 of the 11 running events for men, the longer ones, Americans are entirely outclassed by foreign competitors.
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