Track & Field

Morton Moments: 1958 and the Magic of the Mile

What: Morton Games, International Track and Field

Where:Morton Stadium Santry, Dublin

When: Friday July 24th – International programme from 7 p.m. (pre programme from 5.30 p.m.)

The Morton Games takes place this Friday night. An event named after the great Billy Morton, an entrepreneur and promoter the likes we have never seen. It is the foremost International event on the Irish Calendar. Will Leer set a stadium Mile record of 3.51 last year but the most famous mile ever ran in Ireland was run in 1958 in an event known as the “Summer International Sports”.

Early that summer is the July version of the event, Australian Albert “Albie” Thomas ran a world record of 13.11.8 for three miles. This wasn’t the only world record to be set. Thomas was back again in August, where on day one, the world’s best miler Merv Lincoln, Herb Elliott, the Commonwealth 1500 metre champion and Ronnie Delany, the 1500m Olympic Champion went to battle over the classic distance. There were 25000 people in Santry that day, something we may never see again.

A Magic Night.

Herb Elliott in his autobiography ‘The Golden Mile’ describes the race:

“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.”

Herb Elliot 1500m Rome Olympics

“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’. ”

An incredible time for an incredible night.

Albie Thomas was to come back the following day and smash the World Two Mile record. Billy Morton, the man behind the meet, was integral not only in getting the stadium built but also in getting the world’s best athletes to Dublin. Clonliffe Harriers are doing their utmost to bring back the glory days by bringing the likes of Yohan Blake to Santry.

This Friday we might not see any world records but the Magic of Billy Morton certainly lingers on and it might conjure up a performance worth remembering.

Morton Mile 2014

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Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan is an athlete, coach, athletics fan and, most importantly, was once named Bandon AFC's under-12 Player of the Year. He was once a promising athlete but is now a promising coach, teacher and part-time athletics writer/broadcaster. While an 800m runner himself, Ronan has coached everything from pole vault to 10km with varying levels of bluffing. He has regularly been threatening to do something for years but is yet to deliver. He is regarded as our expert on the American running scene, though has yet, to prove his knowledge in this realm.

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