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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)

Panorama of the Playground — “New Zealand's Mile of the Century”

page 62

Panorama of the Playground
“New Zealand's Mile of the Century”

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.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A recent photograph of the Railway Department's Workshops at Woburn, Wellington.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A recent photograph of the Railway Department's Workshops at Woburn, Wellington.

Matthews Not Competing this Season.

Information that Cecil Matthews, New Zealand and Empire's best distance runner, has had to receive medical and surgical attention for a rupture will be received with dismay by those who were anticipating something even better from the young Canterbury athlete. However, Matthews had not intended making this season a big one; he was concentrating on the Olympic Games to be held at Helsinki, Finland, next year.

This set-back to Matthews, although unfortunate, has come at an opportune moment. Matthews will now be able to rest for the remainder of the track season and commence his training with a view to the Olympic meeting. It is a theory I have advanced on many occasions—that New Zealand should select its Olympic team a season in advance and relieve them of strenuous qualifying competition in the season of the Games, thus enabling them to train under an amended schedule—and with Matthews in compulsory retirement—and resting—he page 63 should be all the better for his enforced spell. World records may fall to this flying New Zealander.

“Fitness Week.”

On February 18th, New Zealand will have its first “Fitness Week.” It is paradoxical that the sponsors of this campaign—the Physical Welfare and Recreation Council—will be more than satisfied if there are no people watching the displays! They would prefer everybody to be taking part and nobody looking on!

It may seem to be stretching the long bow to say that everybody—except those in hospital or invalids—will be able to take part in this “Fitness Week,” but an analysis of what can be done will show that there is a place for everybody.

The men of advanced years will be able to participate in bowls, or fishing; mother will have croquet or bowls—yes, quite a number of the fair sex play this intriguing game; the not-so-old men will have bowls, tennis, swimming, hiking, and most of the sports to which the youth of New Zealand has a leaning. All that is needed is a resolution that each and every New Zealander shall participate in some form of physical exercise during “Fitness Week”—and, having done that, to resolve that every week in the year shall be a “Fitness Week.”

Physical exercise is not necessarily based on sporting activity—although sport is a pleasant way of “taking the medicine.” A return to a pleasant half-hour of wood-chopping or lawn-mowing would do much to restore fresh vigour to many a husband who feels that Age is creeping up on him!

Learn to Swim!

Just as a drunken driver is a menace to the community, so is a non-swimmer who persists in bathing in the sea, or rivers. Every New Zealander owes it to the community that he or she shall learn to swim. A survey of deaths by drowning during the summer months reveals that there are more deaths brought about in this manner than by motoring!

It is not difficult to learn how to swim. Of course, the younger one is when learning the easier it becomes, but even adult persons may learn in a very short time if they will only take the trouble to try. “Learn to Swim” week will be held concurrently with the “Fitness Week” and will provide an opportunity for all New Zealanders to learn and so reduce the mortality rate.

Visit of Sir Julien Cahn's Team.

A red letter date in the history of New Zealand cricket will be the day on which Sir Julien Cahn's cricket team steps ashore in New Zealand. Sir Julien, a wealthy London business-man, makes cricket his hobby, and yearly assembles a team of cricketers worthy of international ranking and takes the team on tour. Included in the team to visit New Zealand is a New Zealander who has made his mark in big cricket—Stewart Dempster. In addition, representatives from South Africa and Australia are included, and the tour should serve to test out New Zealand's best. One interesting match will be that played against a Combined College team. This will be played at Auckland.