Elliott Denman is 89 years old and still full of spice and vinegar. The Nike Pre Classic inspired Elliott and having a much longer memory than most of us, he decided to put. together his list of amazing events he has seen, experienced and lived through! Elliott made the1956 Olympic team at the 50,000m race walk, the longest event, for many years, on the Olympic schedule. This is part 1.
The photo is of Milt Campbell, who won the gold medal in the decathlon in 1956, becoming the first African American man to do so. Milt was also in the high school hall of fame for lacrosse, swimming, track and football and played in the NFL.
From 1990-1994, I spent a few days with Milt as part of the VISA Decathlon program, a program that VISA developed, under Fred Samara and Harry Marra, to build up the historical power of the US in the decathlon.
THE GREAT DAYS OF TRACK AND FIELD,
AND HERE IS ELLIOTT DENMAN’S VERY FIRST SEGMENT
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
The events of Saturday/Sunday, September 16-17, 2023 – at the 48th annual
The Nike Pre-Classic, doubling as the World Athletics Diamond League final – was big, blazing, and brilliant/magnificent, marvelous, and masterful.
Wow, and wow, and wow again. For the men: Mondo Duplantis 6.23 WR (20-5 ¼), Jakob Ingibrigtsen 3:43.73 and 7:23.63, Yared Nuguse 3:43.97 AR, George Mills 3:47.65, Mario Garcia 3:47.69, Hansle Parchment 12.93, Rai Benjamin 46.39, Karsten Warholm 46.63, Joe Kovacs 22.93 (75-2 ¾), Ryan Crouser 22.91 (75-26), etc. etc.
For the women: Shericka Jackson 21.57, Athing Mu 1:54.97 AR, Keely Hodgkinson 1:55.19, Faith Kipyegon 3:50.72, Gyudal Tsegay 14:00.22 WR, Femke Bol 51.98, Chase Ealey 20.76 (68-1 ½) AR, etc, etc..
Note: Real track fans, you know what I mean. Others: You may now check the
What a day for the ages! As seen by so many (thank you NBC for most of us; for the others, 12,364 Saturday, 12,355 Sunday, who actually had seats at Hayward Field.)
And that got me pondering.
I’ve been around the block a few times.
Lots of blocks, lots of times, actually.
Around the track a few times, too.
There are lots of tracks, indoors, outdoors, here, there, and everywhere.
In my backyard, my hometown(s), my state(s), my country, and a whole bunch of other countries. But just this single planet.
All dates back to the middle of the previous century when my immersion in this sport of track and field (as I soon found be named athletics to the rest of the universe athletics) commenced. Thank you thank you/thank you, Big Brother Marty, for leading me to this sport – and in a lot of other great directions. .
Well, one thing led to another, and another, in that long stretch, and I thus became an expert witness to some of the greatest sporting feats of humanity. Fortuitously so, the majority of them in person. Slightly less fortuitously so for the rest of them via all those modern miracles of electronic communication and in days of antiquity, print media.
So, directly attributable to another lifelong inclination – to collect stuff, physical stuff, and temporal lobe stuff – my thought processes came up with this one:
Hey, how about compiling a very personal list of the best of the best of the best of all that stuff I’ve encountered (one way or another) all this time?
Well, why not? So here we go, backtracking years and years and years. (And just how many years? We’ll let you do that arithmetic.)
June 30, 1945, Triborough Stadium, Randalls Island, NYC. Barney Ewell blazes 10.3 meters; Herb McKenley edges Jimmy Herbert in a near dead-heat 400, Roland Sink stuns Jimmy Rafferty in the 1500, and, as WW II nears end, the National AAU Championships ends its four-year at this storied stadium below the Triborough Bridge. (Personal and still-vivid memories of a sixth-grader at P.S. 21.)
August 23, 1947, the Long Branch, NJ, boardwalk. Herb McKenley, running for the Shore AC, dashes a quarter-mile in 45 seconds flat, a full 1.2 quicker than the listed world record. But since it was run on a straightaway course, it merits only one very large asterisk. (Thank you, Asbury Park Press archives.)
January 31, 1948, Madison Square Garden, NYC. Gil Dodds leaves a quality field half a lap behind and wins the Millrose Games’ classic Wanamaker Mile in a WR 4:05.3. He’s thus the early favorite to win the London Olympic 1500 – but it won’t happen. (Upper balcony-view memories of an Evander Childs H.S. sophomore now smitten by the sport.)
July 9-10, 1948, Northwestern University’s Dyche Stadium. Evanston, Illinois. WR-holders Charley Fonville (SP) and Gil Dodds run into shocking trouble and miss the boat to London at USA’s first Olympic Trials in a dozen years. WR-holding Harrison Dillard runs into his own shock in the 110HH but does win the 100 as an afterthought and goes on to London double gold (the dash and the 4×100.) (Thank you, Mr. Jesse Abramson and the NY Herald-Tribune)
August 1-7, 1948, Wembley Stadium, London – The Olympic Games resume after a 12-year gap. Tulare, California’s Bob Mathias, all of 17, takes the decathlon; Jamaica’s Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley go 1-2 in the 400 as they launch their island nation’s era of track greatness; Ohio Stater “Marvelous Mal” Whitfield follows in fellow Buckeye Jesse Owns’ multi-golden path and takes the 800 and anchors the winning 4×400. (Thank you again, Mr. Jesse Abramson and the NY Herald-Tribune.)
April 28, 1950, Franklin Field, Philadelphia – The Hugo Maiocco-Hartley Lewis-Ira-Kaplan-Reggie Pearman NYU quartet lowers the sprint medley world record to 3:22.7 at the Penn Relays. A few Violet fans chant “Hail New York University, drives away all adversity,” and I’d – four years later – become a Violet trackman, too. (Thank you, Mr. Joseph M. Sheehan and the NY Times.)
July 19-26, 1952, Olympiastadion, Helsinki – Team Soviet Union joins the Olympic fray, Germany and Japan return, and the Games are never the same. And I rush to the dictionary on reading that Josy Barthel – “the Lachrymose Luxemborger “ – had won the 1500. That’s lachrymose, as in tearful, as in overjoyed, emotionally overcome Barthel atop the victory stand, as so perfectly labeled by Mr. Red Smith. (Thank you, once again, NY Herald Tribune.)
July 4, 1953, Plainfield, NJ High School Stadium – Milt Campbell, the local lad who took the ’52 Olympic decathlon silver medal back of Bob Mathias, puts on a rousing show in his hometown to win the National AAU decathlon title over Rev. Bob Richards. (Both would go on to 1956 Melbourne gold medal glory, Campbell convincingly outscoring Rafer Johnson and Richards soaring to renown as the Games’ still-only two-time PV champion. (Witnessed from the grandstands along with big brother Marty.)
May 6, 1954, Iffley Road track, Oxford, England – The sport is never again the same after this low-key hush-hush mid-week meet conjured up by the elite of Britain’s mailing corps. With Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher serving as volunteer pacemakers – an ethical matter many would debate for years thereafter – Dr. Roger Bannister crosses the line in 3:59.4 as shouts of “stop the presses” are heard at newsrooms around the globe. (Thank you, Associated Press.)
June 29, 1956, The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The quadrennial USA Olympic Trials open with two more epic barrier-smashing WR performances. Charley Dumas is the first high jumper to clear 7 feet (going 2.25/7-0 5/8), and Glenn Davis is the first 400 hurdler sub-50 with his 49.5 win over Eddie Southern. John Bennett and Greg Bell share first in LJ, but Bell would win in Melbourne. Harold Connolly edges Marty Engel for third place in the hammer throw (by mere centimeters), but like Bell, goes on to Melbourne gold. (Thank you, once again, Mr. Jesse Abramson and NY Herald-Tribune.)
September 14, 1956, USA Olympic 50K Trials, Baltimore. In the 25K stroll out from downtown Patterson Park out to Sparrow’s Point, Maryland, followed by the 25K return trip, the longest of long shots, this recent NYU grad walks his way to Melbourne, Australia, and his life is never-ever the same. (Still vividly enshrined, every blister, every inch of pavement, in my memory bank.)
December 1, 1956, Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Victoria, Australia. Bobby Morrow (4×100) and Tom Courtney (4×400) anchor their nation to relay golds and thus complete the grandest-glitteringest-goshalmighty-greatest performance ever-ever by a men’s USA Olympic team (15 golds, 9 silvers, 4 bronzes, 9 Olympic records.) Best of all, the rest: Egil Danielsen (WR javelin), Vladimir Kuts, Ron Delany, Norman Read. (Witnessed from the athletes section of the venerable MCG.)
(to be continued)