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Greatest Dublin sporting events: Night in Santry most fantastic that saw mile ever - Santry Golden Mile 1958

In 1958, five men, including Ronnie Delany, broke the four-minute barrier in the same race for the first time

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NIGHT TO REMEMBER: For the first time in history five men had ran sub-four-minute miles in the same race in August 1958 at Morton Stadium, Santry. (From l-r) Murray Halberg of New Zealand; Ronnie Delany, Ireland, the 1500m Olympic champion; Albie Thomas, the world three-mile record holder; Herb Elliott, the Commonwealth 1,500 metre champion and the ‘World’s Best Miler’ and Merv Lincoln, both from Australia. The finishing times were Herb Elliott 1st 3:54.5 (WR), Merv Lincoln 2nd 3:55.9, Ronnie
Delany 3rd 3:57.5, Murray Halberg 4th 3:57.5, Albie Thomas 5th 3:58.6. Photo: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

NIGHT TO REMEMBER: For the first time in history five men had ran sub-four-minute miles in the same race in August 1958 at Morton Stadium, Santry. (From l-r) Murray Halberg of New Zealand; Ronnie Delany, Ireland, the 1500m Olympic champion; Albie Thomas, the world three-mile record holder; Herb Elliott, the Commonwealth 1,500 metre champion and the ‘World’s Best Miler’ and Merv Lincoln, both from Australia. The finishing times were Herb Elliott 1st 3:54.5 (WR), Merv Lincoln 2nd 3:55.9, Ronnie Delany 3rd 3:57.5, Murray Halberg 4th 3:57.5, Albie Thomas 5th 3:58.6. Photo: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

NIGHT TO REMEMBER: For the first time in history five men had ran sub-four-minute miles in the same race in August 1958 at Morton Stadium, Santry. (From l-r) Murray Halberg of New Zealand; Ronnie Delany, Ireland, the 1500m Olympic champion; Albie Thomas, the world three-mile record holder; Herb Elliott, the Commonwealth 1,500 metre champion and the ‘World’s Best Miler’ and Merv Lincoln, both from Australia. The finishing times were Herb Elliott 1st 3:54.5 (WR), Merv Lincoln 2nd 3:55.9, Ronnie Delany 3rd 3:57.5, Murray Halberg 4th 3:57.5, Albie Thomas 5th 3:58.6. Photo: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

In the 1950s, the Cold War between the US and Russia was taken to a new level with what was dubbed 'The Space Race'. In athletics, the public's attention focused on the quest for runners to complete a mile in under four minutes.

Roger Bannister was the first man to achieve this feat, clocking three minutes 59.4 seconds in 1954.

In athletics, the mile was the thing and Ireland had skin in the game.

On damp grass in College Park in the summer of 1955, Villanova University student Ronnie Delany, from Sandymount, ran 4:05 and all of Ireland became captivated.

At the Melbourne Olympics the following year, Delany became a national hero when, in a race that featured a number of world-record holders, he came from behind to win gold in the 1500m with a time of 3:41.2, a new Olympic record.

By now all of Ireland had fallen for the romance of the mile.

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But few could have imagined how the upgraded Clonliffe Harriers Stadium in Santry was set to become the location of an astonishing race that commanded headlines around the world.

One man who had faith was promoter Billy Morton.

On August 6 in 1958, nine months after a Russian R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile had blasted Sputnik (the world's first man-made satellite) into the Earth's orbit, Morton brought together many of the best milers in the world for an international event in Santry.

In one of the most remarkable and thrilling races ever run in Ireland, five athletes broke the four-minute mile barrier. Having planned this meeting to follow the British Empire Games which were set for Cardiff in July, Morton was able to persuade a field of top runners to compete in Dublin in August.

For most of 25,000 spectators who packed the stadium, which boasted a new shale track, this was an opportunity to see local hero Delany in action and hopes were high that the rangy 23-year-old would turn on the jets on the final bend and reprise his Olympic triumph of two years earlier.

Delany, who'd left an economically depressed Ireland and gone to Villanova on a sports scholarship as an 18-year-old, not knowing if he'd ever see Dublin again, had his heart set on victory on home soil.

"I had trained to be able to run below threes minute 58 seconds for the mile, thinking this might be enough to win," he later revealed.

He was competing against a formidable array of talent and the Australian contingent had heard that the Santry track had mysterious properties which might facilitate unique performances.

A month earlier, Aussie Albie Thomas surprised even himself when, without pre-planning, he set a three-mile world record of 13:11.8 at Santry.

He was back to run the mile. The target he and the others were aiming for was the 3:57.2 set by Derek Ibbotson the previous year.

Other than Delany, there were three Irish competitors in the race, including Tony O'Donoghue, Dan Carberry from Carlow and the man who went on to win four national titles at this distance, Jim McLoughlin.

Joining his Australian teammates Thomas, Mervyn Lincoln and Dave Power was Herb Elliot, the 20-year old who'd just won gold at the Empire Games in both the mile and the 880 yards (805m).

He broke the tape in the mile on 3:59.03.

Lincoln had been second in the mile in Cardiff and Thomas had collected bronze. Power had won both the six mile and the marathon.

New Zealand's Murray Halberg was also in the starting line-up that evening. He'd won gold in the three-mile event in Cardiff ahead of Australia's Thomas.

This was set to be a highly competitive race and, given the array of talent involved, no wonder Morton took to hyping it as "the Miracle Mile."

Needless to say, Delany's name received an almighty roar of approval as the runners were being introduced.

At the gun, Thomas took the lead at what was a quicker than usual pace.

His Australian team-mate Elliott, who, we later discovered, made running in sand dunes part of his training programme, was pleased, thinking: "Push it along, son. Make it a scorcher."

Delany settled in down the field. But both the spectators and his fellow competitors expected him to stay in touch and produce his trademark last-lap kick as he bid for glory.

After a 58-second first lap it was the Australian duo of Thomas and Lincoln who led Halberg and Elliott at a pace that indicated a world record could be on the cards.

At the halfway mark, one minute 58 seconds was the time announced on the tannoy.

Into the third lap and as the runners hit the back straight, Elliott upped his pace and overtook Thomas. But then Lincoln made a burst and overtook Elliott on the bend.

This race was truly on and the crowd bristled with excitement.

When the bell for the last lap sounded, the time was 2.57 and Elliott accelerated again, taking the lead and pushing himself ahead of the pack.

As his feet caressed the surface that was Morton's pride and joy, he could sense someone on his wheels.

He wondered if it might be Delany. It wasn't the Wicklow native. It was Lincoln.

Elliott describes those finals yards in his autobiography 'The Golden Mile'.

"I felt I could hold whoever it was," he wrote. "And then there was the tape coming closer and closer. I was through with the shouts of 25,000 Irishmen ringing in my ears.

"I looked over at the timekeepers and they were bouncing up and down unable to restrain their excitement."

The man with number 11 on his chest was a comfortable winner.

The timekeepers relayed the news that Elliott had set a new world record of three minutes 54.5 seconds.

As that final lap unfolded, Delany, lying in fifth place, knew he didn't have the power to overtake Elliott but, urged on by the eager crowd, he pressed his stuttering ignition and brought himself abreast of Halberg in fourth.

"The pace was frantic from the start and it took my best effort to merely hang on," he admitted later.

He hadn't anticipated it, but the Irish Olympic champion had run against an Australian trio who'd methodically planned a tactical race that would give them a chance of breaking the world record.

"I was sick as a parrot and disappointed after the race," admitted Delany later.

But his disappointment gave way to pride as he learned that he'd run 3:57.5 and had pipped Halberg by a whisker to officially finish in third place behind Lincoln, who clocked 3:55.9 in second. Thomas finished fifth after Halberg in 3:58.6.

Not alone did Elliott shatter the existing world record but the race created history by being first run in which the first five runners all ran a sub-four-minute mile.

The record Elliott set that evening in Santry stood until 1962 when New Zealand's Peter Snell shaved one tenth of a second off it in Cooks Gardens, Wanganui.