Walt Murphy is one of the finest track geeks that I know. Walt does #ThisDayinTrack&FieldHistory, an excellent daily service providing the true geek’s stories about our sport. You can check out the service for FREE with a free one-month trial subscription! (email: WaltMurphy44@gmail.com ) for the entire daily service. We will post a few historic moments each day, beginning February 1, 2024.
This Day in Track & Field–February 9
by Walt Murphy’s News and Results Service (firstname.lastname@example.org), used with permission
1929–15,000 fans in Madison Square Garden cheered wildly as Ray Conger passed the legendary Paavo Nurmi in the last ½-lap to win the Wanamaker Mile in 4:17.4. It was the first of three consecutive Wanamaker wins for Conger, who dropped out of the 1500 final at the 1928 Olympics.
He was treated to an indoor version of NY’s famed Ticker-Tape parades as he was showered with torn pieces of paper.
“When the American star broke the tape, sedate old gentlemen were slapping each other on the back. Strangers were shaking hands. The band played “Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue”. (From the NY Times Archives)
Magazine cover of the era featuring Paavo Nurmi
1957–Arnie Sowell ran 1:50.3 at the 50th Millrose Games to set a World Record in the 1/2-mile. He also got credit for the World Record for 800 meters (1:49.7). Finishing 2nd to Sowell for the 8th straight time indoors was Tom Courtney, the 1956 Olympic Champion at 800 meters.
There was a lot of pre-race hype about the impending duel, with Courtney, who had tied the 600y record the week before in Boston, moving up in distance to take on his old rival.
“Last week, I was full of running and tied the 600 record,” Courtney contemplated. “So, logically, I should run the 600 again, but I want the chance to beat Sowell.”
Sowell, meanwhile, was more concerned with getting ready to run the 1000y two weeks later at the U.S. Indoor Championships.
“While it may not be nice to say no to meet directors who invite you,” Sowell observed on Millrose eve, “I’m not ready to run my best yet. To be truthful, I’m a little tired of all the talk about a rivalry. Sometimes it can help you win, but it can also beat you. Courtney’s not the one to take the lead, but if the pace is slow, I’ll have to. If I’m out front and thinking too much about Tom behind me, I’ll be running his race, not mine. Tonight,” Sowell concluded, “I’ll see a shoot-’em-up movie, sleep late, read in the afternoon, and in the race if the pace is slow, I’ll take it.”
And slow it was, with Sowell taking the lead halfway through the race and holding off a late charge by Courtney to get the win and the records.
Milt Campbell, the 1956 Olympic Champion in the Decathlon, set a new World Record of 7-flat (7.0) in his semi-final of the 60-Yard Hurdles and matched that time in the final.
Ireland’s Ron Delany (4:06.5), the winner of the 1500-Meters at the Melbourne Olympics, won the Wanamaker Mile for the 4th year in a row.
Indoor veteran Reggie Pearman (1:11.0) won the Mel Sheppard 600y by two yards over Villanova’s Charlie Jenkins, the 1956 Olympic Champion at 400 meters.
Sports Illustrated Vault: http://www.si.com/vault/1957/02/18/599218/four-garden-duels
1968–It was billed as the first Madison Square Garden Invitational, but it’s remembered more as the last meet to be held in the “old” Garden, which was located in Manhattan at 50th Street and 8th Avenue. The promised appearance of Jim Ryun helped draw a surprising crowd of 15,000 for what used to be known as the USTFF (U.S. T&F Federation) meet, one that attracted collegians at a time when there was an ongoing dispute between the NCAA and the AAU. Ryun gave the crowd what it came for, winning the mile in 3:57.5, the 3rd fastest ever run at the time. As an experiment, he competed the next day at the Michigan State Relays, where he won the Mile in 4:03.4.
Villanova sophomore Larry James won the 500y in an eased-up 56.0, just short of the World Record of 55.5, then came back with a 47-flat anchor 440 to lead the Wildcats to victory in the Mile Relay. Jim Dunaway wrote in T&F News, “James (who excelled in the 180y- and 330y-hurdles at White Plains H.S. in NY) will be after a 400-meter hurdles Olympic berth”. Of course, James, who passed away late in 2008, went on to win the silver medal in the 400-meter at the Mexico City Olympics and won a gold medal in the 4×400 relay.
The winner of the 60-yard dash was Nebraska’s Charlie Greene. Finishing 2nd was one O.J. Simpson of USC.
Sports Illustrated Vault: http://www.si.com/vault/1968/02/19/547288/jim-ryuns-big-experiment
NY Times Coverage (For subscribers):