In 1955 Clonliffe Harriers having had a previous nomadic existence for almost 70 years, relocated to lands in North County Dublin in the village of Santry. The club then set about its ambitious plans to build a stadium, the result was the Clonliffe Harriers Stadium (now the Morton Stadium) which featured Ireland’s first ever cinder track.
The summer of ’58 put this stadium at the forefront of world athletics. The ‘Summer International Sports’ on the 9th of July 1958 featured Santry’s first world record when before an attendance of 7000 spectators Albert (Albie) Thomas (AUS) set a three mile world record of 13:11.8 – Thomas some fifty years later recalled:
‘…. It was only with about two laps to go that there was a huge roar from the crowd and Dave Power was yelling ‘go you can break the world record!’ and that was the only indication I had – I definitely hadn’t gone into the race to break a world record. It was completely unplanned’.
A month later and the worlds best athletes were back in Santry for the ‘August International Sports’ for a two day event. Day one the 6th of August 1958 where Billy Morton had assembled a field of the best milers in the world:
Ronnie Delany, the 1500m Olympic Champion, Albie Thomas, the world three mile record holder, Herb Elliott, the Commonwealth 1500 metre champion and the ‘World’s Best Miler’, Merv Lincoln, Dave Power, both from Australia and Murray Halberg of New Zealand.
Santry was packed to the rafters some 25,000 people. Herb Elliott in his autobiography ‘The Golden Mile’ takes up the story:
‘…. Suddenly I heard Morton say ‘up boys and at em’ and the crowd roared. This was it… the gun was fired and Thomas, stubby and compact, nipped to the front like a sprinter… good on you Albie. Push it along son. Make the pace a scorcher.
(pictured above) Thomas leads the pack and the World Record attempt is on.
We filed along the back straight, Lincoln five yards behind Thomas then Halberg then me. Delany was behind with the others where I hoped he would stay. The rhythm of Halberg’s long powerful striding would have been a joy to watch if I had been outside the track instead of on it. He was galloping along two yards ahead of me… we moved on in formation for a lap with all of us content to let Thomas hold the initiative. His lap time was 56 seconds. The crowd buzzed… You beauty! This is the way I want the race run.
But Murray my boy you’re not going fast enough. I can’t let the other two slip away from me. I loped past Halberg into third place as a big black and white dog raced across the track pursued by an official. I scarcely noticed the animal so intent was I on the race. Thomas looked strong and fresh putting in his light little steps and floating on ahead. He seemed to dainty in front of Lincoln who was plodding behind him with long strides. On the final curve of the lap I swept past my old opponent and moved up to within a yard of Thomas as he started the third lap.
The time was announced as 1:58… I tore past Thomas on the back stretch of the third lap where normally I feel pain or lethargy. I clapped on the pace but someone was on my heels and I couldn’t get away from him…. On the bend it was Lincoln not Delany who shot past me, I have never known him to do such a thing at this stage in a race before. I was thunderstruck. He must have been feeling as buoyant as me, I wouldn’t have considered that possible… Lincoln held the lead for 50 or 60 yards then as the bell sounded I nipped past him putting in a long burst. The time was 2:57. I was on my own now. The track was uncluttered in front. I planned to keep it that way. I drove my feet into those kind resilient cinders and flew.
I whizzed round the turn and could feel someone dogging me. It could have been Lincoln. It could have been Delany. I didn’t care. I felt I could hold whoever it was. And then there was the tape coming closer and closer. I was through with the shouts of 20,000 Irishmen ringing in my ears. I looked over at the timekeepers and they were bouncing up and down unable to restrain their excitement. One of them rushed over his face flushed ‘fantastic!’ ‘it’s just fantastic! your time is 3:54.3!’
I grinned at him in disbelief. But soon there was no doubt that it was true for the times were announced officially over the loudspeakers. Above the noise of the crowd the announcer told the world: ‘Elliott 1st, 3:54.5 a new world record’.
Ronnie Delany, 3rd on the night in 3:57.5 in his biography ‘Staying the Distance’ recalled that Santry night:
‘I had thought beforehand that Herb Elliott was vulnerable. He had just completed an incredible mile and a half double at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. I felt he might relax a little in Dublin. In learned in Sydney many years later from my friend Albie Thomas that every detail of the race had been pre-planned and that I had been up against team Australia on the night. I had trained to be able to run a sub 3 minute 58 second mile thinking this might be enough to win. The pace was frantic from the start and it took my best effort to merely hang on. I was never to prove a threat. I was sick as a parrot and disappointed after the race. And then Liam Browne the announcer said a new world record had been set. My spirits lifted when I heard my time. The disappointment of the crowd vanished when they realised that they had been privileged to witness the most extraordinary mile in the history of athletics’.
Albie Thomas having set a new world two mile record in Santry August 7th 1958 said:
‘When I heard the mile time I said to myself bang goes our hopes of a record, but I decided to have a go. It was tough going and in the second quarter of the last mile I felt like turning it in. Then came that wonderful Dublin cheer. I felt I was running for the crowd as much as for myself and I just ran as hard as I possibly could. When I heard I had actually beaten the record I could hardly believe it. Imagine I ran the last mile in four minutes 11 seconds’.
To see rare footage of August 6th 1958`s World Mile record set by Herb Elliot taken from the infield from a web site called Criticalpast.com click on link and enjoy http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675066596_Herb-Elliot_mile-race_gun-being-fired_run-on-the-track
If you would like to view some historic records for the event please click on their links below:
Other Historical Clonliffe Sports Programmes: