The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)
Wellington athletes and supporters had a great day when the Australian stars, Ted Best and Gerald Backhouse, appeared at the Basin Reserve on January 7th. There was the best attendance at an athletics meeting for many years, and some brilliant racing was witnessed.
“New Zealand's Mile of the Century” brought together Gerald Backhouse, second at the Empire Games, Pat Boot, third at the Empire Games, and Billy Pullar, sixth at the Empire Games. It is history now, how Boot won from Pullar in 4 min. 14 3/5 sec.—the second fastest mile ever raced in New Zealand, but there is an “inside story” which is not so well known.
Backhouse had the distinction, at the Olympic Games in Berlin, of defeating, in the first heat of the 800 metres, John Woodruff, ultimate winner of the final. Backhouse told me that Woodruff was fortunate to qualify for the semi-finals. Backhouse used sound track tactics to beat Woodruff, when he went to the front and chopped down the long stride of the American Negro champion. Off-balance and striding too short, Woodruff could not settle down to run his usual race, and had to draw on all he possessed to reach the semi-finals. In the final, Woodruff did not allow any competitor to interfere with his freedom of movement, and won comfortably.
There was a repetition of this incident when Boot, Pullar and Backhouse met at Wellington. Backhouse went to the front at the start and shortened his stride. Boot, instead of falling into the trap, dropped back a little into third place. Then Pullar went to the front.
Pullar has a natural short stride and when he took the lead he set a solid pace which was acceptable to the other competitors. However, his short stride unbalanced Backhouse, who endeavoured to drop back a little and so get in his natural stride. Unfortunately for Backhouse, Boot was right behind him and he could not get out of the box. He was then forced to run slightly to the side and rear of Pullar. This forced him to face some of the strong wind that was blowing. Boot, on the other hand, was tucked in behind and sheltered from the wind.
For two and half laps, Billy Pullar, who had raced 4 min. 14 4/5 sec. at the national championships in Auckland two years earlier, set the pace to two of the Empire's best milers. A strong wind made his run a difficult one, but he did not shirk it. Never have Wellingtonians seen a more determined run than that shown by Pullar, but it was merely a repetition of his New Zealand titular effort at Auckland. A furlong from home, Boot shot to the front; it was the first time he had taken the lead, and he had waited until he had the advantage of the following wind. Once he went to the front there was no stopping him; he won by 15 yards in 4 min. 14 3/5 sec. Backhouse made an effort to overhaul him, but lacked the pace and condition, and gallant Billy Pullar, making a fresh return to life, chased Backhouse and passed him to take second place.
Boot received a wonderful ovation—and deserved it! But I do not place so much value on the actual winning of a race; I prefer to analyse what happened to others in the race and base my criticism on that. Boot won, because he ran a sound race; Pullar did not win, because he went out to run a fast race, a race to thrill the public with its concentrated speed and dramatic quality. I will never forget the “Mile of the Century,” but it will live in my memory, not because Pat Boot won in such grand time, but because of Billy Pullar's gallant run.