Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Miss the Mile

I found myself missing the mile in this year’s Olympic coverage. Of course, the Olympics have always been metric so, really, there is nothing to miss. They’ve been running the 1,500 meter race, ‘the metric-mile,’ since Athens One.

Bannister finishes ahead of Landy, August, 1954
Vancouver Sun
But I was missing many different mile races and Cascadia’s greatest footrace was sitting right on the top of my mind. It happened 58 years ago this month, the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, British Columbia where Dr. Roger Bannister out-kicked the world record holder, John Landy of Australia to finish at 3:58.8. It was the first time the only two four minute milers met. It was the first time two people ran an under four minute mile in the same race.

It was a race all about the relatively few strategies available to the each athlete and how each played to his strongest point. Landy the efficient, clean runner. Bannister the loping sprinter at the end. Each was running hurt. Bannister had the beginnings of a serious cold and Landy stepped on a used flash bulb on the ground near where he was staying and had a gash in his foot.

90 yards from home
Charlie Warner
Most people remember the race at its signature moment, when Landy, who had gone to the lead early hoping to burn off the closing speed of Bannister, peeks out over his left shoulder with about 90 yards to go and at that exact moment, Bannister goes into overdrive and passes Landy on the right, killing any hope of Landy responding to his speed.  Bannister once ran a :53 second last quarter. Landy had nothing like that.

Bannister would retire from racing after one further race in Europe and be the physician he studied to be, but his shadow fell across the ten years that were the glory days of the mile run because he was the first to break four minutes and was universally admired for it. While both Landy and Bannister struggled as Olympians, Bannister fourth in the 1500 meters in Helsinki, 1952 and Landy third at Melbourne in 1956, their duel in Vancouver was better than any gold medal and was the great opening number of ten dazzling years of the mile.

Three other stars followed Landy and Bannister, with a host of near stars running with them, just a couple of steps back. In the United States there was a young man named Wes Santee from the University of Kansas who, in the month following Bannister’s 3:59.6, ran two races at 4:00.5 and 4:00.6 in successive weeks, one and a half strides away from breaking four minutes.

Wes Santee
University of Kansas
Santee was cocky and rough and had troubles with the overreaching authority of the Amateur Athletic Union, which mandated many things in a track and field athlete’s life during the 1950s. For the 1952 Olympics, the teenaged Santee qualified for the US team as a 5,000 meter runner and fully intended to qualify for the 1,500 meters, by far his best event, two days later. Santee’s plan was to withdraw from the 5,000 assuming he qualified at 1,500, but the AAU refused to let him enter the race, literally pulling him off the track. He finished far back in the 5,000 meters in Helsinki, while a good but inferior runner, Bob McMillen of Occidental College, won a silver at 1500, just missing the gold.

Santee and the AAU were oil and water. He got in a shouting match with a German track promoter in 1953 and was banned from international competition for a year. The AAU set a limit on $15/day in expense money for competing athletes. It was a ridiculous limit and frequently ignored by athletes and promoters alike. In addition, a high profile athlete like Santee was often used to promote events, give clinics on his training techniques, appear on television shows, etc. Meet promoters, often doubling as directors within the AAU, recognized the greater effort of such athletes with higher expenses. And, if a four minute mile was in the offing, they wanted the athlete at any price.

In a struggle lasting two years, the AAU tried to demonstrate that Santee was a cheat. Their procedural tactics were clearly unfair. Ultimately, Santee received a temporary injunction that allowed him to race in the Knights of Columbus Indoor Meet in New York in 1955. The AAU threatened with lifetime banishment any athlete who chose to race with Santee. Six men pulled out of the event and Santee, by now a marine lieutenant, ran against two men recruited at the last moment.

In 1956, Santee was banned for life from competing in AAU events. That means all events. The heavy handed prosecution of Santee by the AAU and its Soviet-style process, led, eventually, to the recognition of track and field athletes as professionals.

Elliott about to draw away from the field
in the 1500 meters in Rome
Herb Elliott was doing what many Australian youths were doing when the Olympic Games came to Melbourne in 1956 -- smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and chasing girls. While a good high school miler, he had other things in mind for his life, though he had the body and the powerful, long stride to be a superb miler. He needed motivation and got it when he was one of the 104,000 people in the stands when the Russian, Vladimir Kuts, won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. There was something about Kuts that Elliott was fascinated by, how he ground his opponents to dust, how he maintained a stoic cool, relentlessly pounding away the 25 laps that make up the 10,000, leaving them not only well-behind, but fully dispirited.

Cerutty in front, Elliott behind
Two coaches dominated Australian running at the time. Franz Stampfl was offered the job as coach at the University of Melbourne after success in Great Britain and serving as a kind of an advisor to Bannister. Percy Cerutty would not have taken the job, but was furious that it wasn’t offered to him. Cerutty was too bizarre, too unconventional for any university. He used weights frequently in training his distance runners, had them run up and down sand dunes, through the sea. His diets were weird. He had John Landy for a time, but Landy was a loner, not comfortable with this unusual man, though his performances improved significantly under Cerutty.

Franz Stampfl
Stampfl's athletes spent the entire day on the track. Building up speed and endurance with closely timed intervals – 10/400 meter splits with precisely-time rest periods with some calisthenics mixed in. Landy disparaged him as teutonic and thought the Australian temperament was not a good match. But he succeeded, developing great runners and winning medals for Australia.

Elliott went with Cerutty, liked his opinionated mayhem and soon, in 1958 and still a teenager, was running under four minutes and regularly beating Stampfl’s best man, Merv Lincoln.

“I had a genuine sympathy for Merv," said Elliott. "While he was plodding his way through monotonous training sessions, I was galloping over sand-hills…and splashing through the surf, or frolicking in the beautiful Botanical Gardens.”

Elliott made his first trip to the US in 1958 where he beat Ron Delany, the gold medal winner at Melbourne in ‘56. Delaney challenged Elliott to run in Dublin along with Stampfl’s man Merv Lincoln. Delaney faded and Lincoln ran his best race against Elliott, but it was still Elliott’s race in the astounding time 3:54.5, obliterating the world record. He would go on win gold in Rome, setting the world record for the 1,500 meters as well.  Vladimir Kuts was on the track to congratulate him on his world record time.

Elliott was never beaten in the mile or 1,500 meters. After the Rome Olympics he retired from competitive racing, accepting a scholarship at Oxford where the mile was, for the first time since he met Cerutty, second place in his life.

Arthur Lydiard
New Zealand’s Arthur Lydiard trained the great Peter Snell with techniques he developed after dropping out of high school in the Great Depression and finding work in a shoe factory. His contribution to middle distance running was the gradual build-up of aerobic stamina by running considerable distances each week and mixing in sprint training, hill running and other sharpening aspects of preparation that would help the athlete peak for the big race. His athletes would run as many as 100 miles a week to increase their aerobic capacity over time. The greater the reliance on aerobic efficiency, using so-called long twitch muscles, the less the athlete relies on anerobic running, where powerful short twitch muscles perform very well but for only short periods of time.

Lydiard’s runners would strive for a steady state of oxygen use. This efficiency would avoid ‘oxygen deficits’ that would introduce the building up of chemical compounds in the muscles, resulting in a feeling of fatigue and reduced performance.

Lydiard knew nothing about physiology except as he experienced it while, through trial and error, he developed methods that worked. It would be 14 years before a Washington State University researcher, working with Professor Peter Snell, would publish the theories of muscle contraction that Lydiard knew only in his heart.

Peter Snell
The world became aware, first in Rome and then in Tokyo, that his methods worked on the world stage. Peter Snell would break Elliott’s records in the mile in 1962 -- on grass! -- and in 1964 – Peter Snell came out of nowhere to win a gold medal in Rome and won both the 800 meters and the 1500 meters in the Tokyo Olympics.

The guy who sat next to me in my English Composition course was a participant against Snell in that 1,500 meters in Tokyo and in Rome with Elliott. He was Dyrol Burleson, a kid from Cottage Grove, Oregon, a mill town just down the road from Eugene.

Tall and thin, 6’2” and 159 pounds, he qualified for the Rome Olympics as a teenager and would become part of a large group of elite runners at the University of Oregon. He ran the first four minute mile at Hayward Field for Bill Bowerman, the U of O track coach, a disciplined teacher who blended what he had discovered himself with what other coaches had developed over the previous decade. Bowerman is, unfortunately, more known for making the first Nike shoes than for his amazing accomplishments as a great middle distance coach.

Burleson had a front row seat for both Elliott and Snell. He made the US Olympic team and lined up on the same track in Rome as Herb Elliott, first in a preliminary, where both qualified for the finals, where Burleson finished sixth. In an interview, he described what it was like to compete with Elliott, who won by 20 yards.

“There was Herb Elliott and then the rest of us," Burleson said in an interview. "I’ve never been dominated by anyone like he dominated us. I was so impressed with Herb that I traded my American sweat suit and received an Australian set in return. I had also read somewhere that Herb Elliott and his coach, Percy Cerutty, would eat raisins and raw oats, so I tried that for a little while.”

Burleson on the last turn, his
competitors already blown away
Burleson had tremendous finishing speed and always ran from behind. When he lined up against Peter Snell four years later, in Tokyo, he had a chance to medal, even win, because Snell’s true strength was in 800 meters. Snell was also running his sixth race in eight days and vulnerable to the younger field. Earlier than usual on the last lap, Snell broke free and took the lead, surprising the field, including Burleson, who felt he should have gone out when Snell went out. Burleson finished a disappointing fifth.

“My fault was that I let the runners get so far ahead of me as I was too cocky about my finishing sprint. If you look at the tape of the race the runners who got the Silver and Bronze medals were right in front of me. It would have been easy to get through to win a medal. When Snell went to the lead I should have gone with him. At the end of the race I wasn’t even tired at all. I could have gone for 200 meters more. But I can’t do anything about it now – that’s life. I don’t know what happened there but it was my entire fault. It bothered me for several months. I just really screwed up there. But there are things in life that you can’t redo.”

The careers of these fabulous athletes would all be short just as their after retirement work was substantive.

Bannister’s mark initiates the ten glory years of the event because he had courage and quietly believed in himself. If there ever was a student athlete in the modern era, it was Roger Bannister. As a very young man, he decided not to compete in the 1948 games in London, his home town, but rather continue his studies and training at Oxford. In the run up to the first four minute mile in May of 1954, he was a doctor in training at a hospital, on the track just 45 minutes a day.

He was 25 when he left competitive racing.

Sir Roger Bannister became a renowned researcher in Great Britain, running the National Hospital of Nervous Diseases and editing an International Journal in his specialty.

John Landy, a year younger than Bannister, retired two years after Bannister, his last race the disappointing third place in the Melbourne Olympics. But just prior to the Olympic race, in the Australian National Championships, he ran another great mile for which a statue was also built.

Running just behind Ron Clarke, a young Australian rising in international distance running, Clark clipped the heel of the runner in front of him and fell.  Landy was behind Clarke and he ran over him, his cleats piercing Clarke’s lower leg and arm. Landy stopped, helped Clarke back to his feet and continued the race, eventually, amazingly, winning it.

Herb Elliott

Landy worked in the chemical industry for a time, but ultimately became passionate about protecting the natural environment of his country. He was appointed Governor of the Australian State of Victoria, and served five years.

Herb Elliott, for a time the very best performer of his remarkable contemporaries, retired at 22 after the 1960 games, though he ran recreationally while at Oxford. His post-racing career includes being an executive at Fortescue Metals, a large iron ore company based in Australia, CEO of Puma, North America and head of the Australian Olympic Committee. He currently lives in Australia and is 70 years of age.

Wes Santee became a marine colonel before he retired. He died in November, 2010 in Kansas. He was 68. The AAU banned him from future competition when Santee was 24 years old.

Peter Snell retired in 1965 after the Tokyo Olympics. He carries on research in human performance that Arthur Lydiard would have loved to do if he ever got an education. Snell studied at University of California, Davis and Washington State University, where he received his PhD. Snell moved to Texas to teach at the University of Texas, Medical Center at Dallas where he ran the school's Human Performance Center. He lives in Dallas and is 70 years old. His home town in New Zealand contains a statue of him breaking the tape in the 800 meter race in Rome at the 1960 Olympics. He was virtually unknown at the time.

Dyrol Burleson recently retired from his work with the Linn County, Oregon Parks Department. He retired from racing in 1968 after trying to qualify for the 1968 Olympics, a goal he had made with the intention of redeeming what he considered his mistake in Tokyo when he didn't go out and challenge Snell. He hurt his calf in a tune-up race and was unable to continue his quest for a third Olympic Team.

He was one of the 40 million people in North America who watched Cascadia's greatest footrace.

“When I was 14 I sat at the library at Cottage Grove High School and saw the Sportsman of the Year was Roger Banister and that he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I decided that I wanted to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and that I wanted to run the mile. So I set that as my goal. I really admired Roger Bannister and I still do. What he accomplished was so much since he was only running an hour a day while he was in medical school on a crappy track. The race that is really memorable is the Commonwealth Championships in Vancouver, Canada where Bannister and Landy faced each other. We saw it on television and back then it was just incredible to be watching.”

Burleson made the cover of Sports illustrated in July, 1964, ten years, nearly to the day, after the great footrace in Vancouver, BC.


The Greatest Footrace in Cascadia There are really cool interviews at the end.

Landy picks up Clarke at the half mile mark

Bannister runs first sub-four minute mile Bannister narrates. Notice that Stampfl is one of those catching him at the tape.

Snell wins 1500 in Tokyo. Dyrol Burleson a step away from a medal, finishes fifth, surprised by Snell's early break in the last lap.

Elliott Wins 1500 in Rome Elliott wins 1500 meters in Rome. He narrates the race. Watch for Dyrol Burleson in sixth place.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Before there was Seafair, there was Potlatch and its riot

Seattle PI
When I lived in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle, a hillside overlooking the middle part of Lake Washington, I would watch the boat traffic streaming away from the southern part of the lake following the Seafair hydroplane races, the crowning event of Seattle’s 72 year old summer festival.  Though I knew there would be lots more good weather in front of us, actually the very best Northwest weather, the end of Seafair was a punctuation mark on the summer that somehow made me sad.  I’d walk out of the garden and up the stairs to the kitchen where I’d get another beer, or more likely a glass of whiskey.
While I don’t live in that house above the lake anymore, I have that same feeling of sadness at the end of Seafair and, for some reason, decided my familiarity with the history of Seafair needed some work and I took my whiskey over to my laptop when the blues came.  It didn't take long to blow past Seafair to its very interesting predecessor, Potlatch, sometimes called Golden Potlatch, a stop and start special event that began with great promise and some tragedy in the summer of 1911, seemed to gain a foothold in 1912, played host to a full bore riot in 1913 and was replaced with a choral music festival in 1915 after the Seattle Chamber of Commerce decided a better use of its money would be chasing conventions.  Potlatch revived for a few years in the mid-thirties but was abandoned as World War II broke out. 
When it ended in 1915, a former booster of the event, The Seattle Daily Times, said there was nothing to get upset about. 

“Seattle has discovered and promoted with a commendable degree of success a happy substitute for the erstwhile, noisy and meaningless Potlatch.”
Festivals have always been markers – of time, accomplishment, our spiritual life. They were, in the fundamental meaning of the concept, a special event. Today, special events are more mundane -- business tactics, things we do to communicate ideas, to carry out commerce, to advocate, to create a purposeful unity. 

Potlatch comes from Chinook Jargon, the trading language of tribes in the Northwest.  It derives from a Nootka (Vancouver Island) word and described a celebration in which many people gathered together, feasted, gambled and made gifts, often lavish, to one another. 
UW Libraries
The first Seattle Potlatch grew out of the civic energy generated by the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that celebrated the Alaska Gold Rush and Seattle’s gateway role in the riches of the far north.  Seattle’s connections to the tribes still had power back in the early part of the last century, perhaps because we had so overwhelmed them, as we had the forest, and they existed only in a pleasant myth.  My old neighborhood, Leschi, was named after a chief, likely innocent, authorities had hung just sixty years before.
Planning for the event began in April with a meeting of worthies intent on raising enough money to make a good first impression.  Mayor George Cotterill led off with his favorite topic, growing the city.  “This year’s summer visitor is the advance agent of next year’s permanent resident.”  Frank McDermott, leader of the Bon Marche, the most successful department store on the west coast, chimed in with “Cities are only learning what merchants learned long ago - that it pays to advertise.”  “It helps put Seattle on the map,” said Joshua Green of the Inland Navigation Company.  Blunt old Henry Broderick, the downtown real estate man, added:   “The Potlatch will pay if you do.  Mail your check now!”

Seattle Golf Club
UW Libraries

A prelude to opening day of the first Potlatch on July 17 was the Potlatch Golf Tournament, played at the new Seattle Golf Club, open at its present location since 1908.  One of the more popular young businessmen in Seattle, George R. Andrews, Seattle manager of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, was set to play in the tournament on July 13th.  He was good – just a couple of weeks earlier he won the Chapin Cup and the club championship in successive days. 

He would have been known as a “good club man,” a popular joiner in the Seattle upper crust social scene.  He and a number of friends had a small party at the golf club the night of the 12th which concluded about 10:00 PM.  They left at about the same time with George insisting he was in a hurry to get back to his apartments in the New Washington Hotel downtown so he could be rested and ready to tee off early on the 13th. 

They drove out onto Golf Club Road, George the second to last car out of the parking lot.  One of the cars ahead had a mechanical problem and stopped at the city limits, then on 85th Street and perhaps four miles toward the city from the course.  When the last car came along, ahead of George, his friends sensed something wrong and back-tracked for the club, finding some skid marks about a half mile from the club at a place called “The Dip,” an elevation change along the narrow, two lane road perched above a small but steep embankment.

They couldn’t see anything there until they picked up, in their headlights, the glint of broken glass. They slid down the ravine’s edge until they saw the car at the bottom and George at the foot of a stump, his neck broken.  The skid marks and other clues suggested that Andrews was driving 60 miles an hour or so or before he flew off the road.  One of his friends broke an axle while searching and another car was damaged while backing up, nearly rolling into the same ravine. There were many indicators that alcohol was involved, but the Seattle Daily Times, never a friend of governmental performance, blamed the road builder, King County, even bringing the Executive Director of the Good Roads Association to the site to evaluate the quality of the road.   Seattle Daily Times Publisher Alden Blethen was a member of the club and his sons were pretty good at the game.  He likely wished he would have exposed any problems of “The Dip” that he had driven over so many times before the accident.   
Despite George's tragedy, they finished the tournament, out of deference to the many golfing visitors in town, but Potlatch never felt the same to Blethen or the Seattle Daily Times after the George Andrews tragedy and subsequent events.

Still, the first Potlatch was a hell of a party.  It had many of entertainments we enjoy in today’s Seafair.  A big parade, water sports, even something called a hydroplane, though it was really a float plane with wheels in its pontoons that could scoot the craft noisily along the ground. 
There were nightly dances on the streets, a Chinese monster dragon dance and, in an unfortunate sentence “a Japanese feast of lanterns.”  Those Japanese and their hot food!

Pergola at First and Yesler
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle’s Potlatch goals were fairly minimal – more growth, awareness of the city’s accomplishments.  The city was working hard at gaining attention in 1911.  In 1890, Tacoma and Seattle had about the same population, around 40,000 and the same basic interests – access to major transportation linkages via the railroads and ports.  But Seattle exploded in the next two decades as it went on an annexation binge and had considerable organic growth as well.  Suddenly, it seemed, Seattle was a big city with 250,000 people.  It had pulled off a spectacularly successful world’s fair, but it still yearned for more attention.   The first Potlatch did just that and the one the next year seemed even better. 

UW Libraries
Every summer festival has its auxiliary group, fundraisers and boosters who support the event and march, in their white suits and shoes, in the big parade.  Seafair has its “Commodores” formed five years after the first Seafair in 1950.  The Potlatch had an auxiliary as well, Tilikums, another Chinook word meaning people who signify a nation.  The Tilikums marched in something even more uncomfortable than a poorly fitted white suit.  They wore great masks, really more like totem poles, over their white robes.  The masks covered much of their body and must have been clumsy at the volunteer reception after the parade or, more likely, required a really big check room at the host hotel. 
It looked like this event was on the rise in 1913, especially when Frank Baker, head of the National City Bank, committed to be the chairman at a luncheon held at the Moose Room of The Rathskeller restaurant.  Baker would become the father of another Seattle banker, Miner Baker, who for many years provided the regional economic forecast at Seattle First National Bank and later served as a Seattle Port Commissioner. 

There were no invitations sent out for the dinner, people just knew to come and, at a dollar plate, it was a big success.  When Baker spoke, he promised an event that would be the best yet. 
It was, in fact, a nightmare. 

Alden J.  Blethen, Publisher
Seattle Daily Times
UW Libraries
There are many complicated antecedents to what caused the 1913 Potlatch Riots.  First, there was Colonel Blethen, who wore his heart on his masthead, where he sometimes described his publication as “An American Newspaper for Americans.”  One of his goals, also on the masthead, was the defeat of Bolshevism, along with a 3,000,000 ton/year coking plant located in town.
The Industrial Workers of the World had Blethen’s version of America always in their sights and periodically would hold parades in front of the Daily Times offices, their Red Flag of the revolution on equal level with the Stars and Stripes.  Of course, this infuriated Blethen.  He believed that their continued organizing and speech making was dangerous, bad for business and un-American and he constantly pressured the mayor to run them out of town as other towns had done.

George Cotterill, Mayor
Seattle Municipal Archives
But the mayor and Colonel Blethen didn’t get along.  Before becoming mayor, George Cotterill was the assistant to R. H. Thomson, the great city engineer whom Blethen thought was out of control, by and large true, and Blethen had him as a socialist as well because Thomson thought highly of public ownership.  

After the Great Seattle Fire, Thomson blamed the poor performance of the private water companies for the inability of the firefighters to put down the blaze.  So, he created his own publicly-owned water department, building the city’s water system on the Cedar River, 30 miles from the town, hooking it up with wooden pipes.  The dam he built to hold the municipal water supply led him to attach a power plant and run the stored water through its generators.  The resulting city-owned electric company delivered significant value to the citizens of his town, the rate/kilowatt hour dropping from 20 cents to 10 cents in a handful of years.  Not only was Cotterill connected to Thomson, but he had defeated Blethen’s pick, Hiram Gill, for mayor the year before.
So, when Blethen and the management of Potlatch wanted the IWW silenced and off the streets of Seattle, Cotterill refused.

There are several versions of how the riots began.  One of them had a young female IWW supporter speaking to a largely IWW crowd on Washington Street in Pioneer Square.  A few soldiers and sailors here for Potlatch and having a good time in the square's many bars came upon the scene and began heckling the speaker.  She heckled back.  At some point the soldiers took over the platform and shouted their points of view to the crowd, who shouted back. 
The woman sought to get her platform back and they refused.  She told them the platform was rented and she would be charged a premium if she did not return it on time, a point the military men who now had the box did not buy.  There was a struggle, a fist was raised near the woman and one of the crowd stepped forward and decked a sailor.  

IWW Hall
UW Collections
That night, after reading inflammatory accounts in the Daily Times about the incident, a mob consisting of soldiers, sailors and their friends busted up the IWW headquarters building as fights broke out everywhere. Other offices were ransacked, newsstands with Socialist and IWW materials were destroyed. Cotterill declared a civil emergency, cut off liquor sales and told Colonel Blethen that the only way he would publish another account of the troubles then ongoing was to have it reviewed prior to publication by the mayor.

Seattle Police then refused to let a Daily Times extra edition be circulated to newsboys gathered at the Times Building.  The Times lawyers finally got an temporary injunction against Cotterill and his gag order.

By then troops had been federalized and the city was under martial law.  Soldiers and sailors were sent to their ships and barracks.  While additional violence was expected, it didn’t materialize, although it was clearly a precursor of truly bloody events in the remaining years of the decade -- the Everett and Centralia Massacres, the General Strike and hundreds of smaller incidents in the coal mine and lumbering towns across the state.  

Absent from much of the coverage of the 1913 event was the accomplishment of a young woman, Alyn McKay, who set the altitude record for women in her small plane, rising above the mayhem below in lazy circles until she reached 2,900 feet which, at the time, seemed amazing. 

Potlatch would have one more year, 1914, and disappear from the civic agenda.  Blethen would exit the following year, dying July 13, 1915.

Fantastic account by Murray Morgan of Potlatch Riots