Lovelock's world mark recalled

KIWI GOLD: Jack Lovelock's dramatic finish in the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
KIWI GOLD: Jack Lovelock's dramatic finish in the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

On July 15, 1933, Jack Lovelock broke the world mile record at Princeton University with a time of 4 minutes 7.6 seconds. Past Times this week marks the 80th anniversary of that achievement.

Jack Lovelock led a remarkably full life before his death, just a few days shy of his 40th birthday, on December 28, 1949.

He is remembered in New Zealand and abroad largely for his athletic achievements, especially his dramatic finish in the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which won New Zealand its first athletics gold medal.

Runner Jack Lovelock
Runner Jack Lovelock

Lovelock also achieved academically, forged a successful medical career, and was a husband and father of two.

A cartoon from the New York Sun newspaper, showing Lovelock just after he had broken the world mile record, described him as the "modern Mercury" and listed his time and those of the other five fastest mile runners.


JACK LOVELOCK: Remembered for his athletic achievements, Jack Lovelock also had a successful medical career.
JACK LOVELOCK: Remembered for his athletic achievements, Jack Lovelock also had a successful medical career.

Lovelock's run at Princeton University beat the existing record for the mile, set by Jules Ladoumegue, by almost two seconds. Time Magazine dubbed it the "greatest mile of all time".

The race occurred during the sixth annual Oxford-Cambridge v Princeton-Cornell track meet.

There was considerable media interest in the mile match-up between Lovelock (Oxford) and Bill Bonthron (Princeton), with speculation that a new world record might be set. Bonthron had impressed while winning that year's intercollegiate 800m and 1500m events. Before the Princeton-Cornell meet, Lovelock and team-mate Forbes Horan (Cambridge) competed against the Yale- Harvard team in the mile.

Lovelock won in a time of 4 minutes 12.6 seconds, an intercollegiate record.

On the day of the event, there were up to 6000 spectators at Palmer Stadium, Princeton. Rain held off and by the start of the programme at 4.30pm the conditions were good for running.

The mile was a tactical race. Bonthron took the initial lead, then gave way to John Hazen (Cornell). To Lovelock's delight, they set a fast pace. With half a mile to go, Bonthron retook the lead. As they came to the top corner, Horan overtook Bonthron, keen that he and Lovelock reach the three-quarter mile in the time they had set themselves. Horan soon dropped back, leaving the race to Bonthron and Lovelock.

With 300m to go, Bonthron pulled away. Lovelock was prepared and shortened and quickened his stride, closing the gap before the final bend. As they came into the home straight, he drew level and then passed Bonthron, who was unable to muster his usual blistering kick. Lovelock breasted the tape seven strides ahead.

Lovelock's time of 4 minutes 7.6 seconds broke the world record by 1.4sec. It was the first time a New Zealander had set a recognised world record. As the top miler in the world, Lovelock was inundated with invitations to social engagements and races in Europe and the United States. In 1933, Lovelock ran 33 major races and won most of them. That year, he was voted second in the Sportsman of the Year poll in the US.



The Timaru Herald caught up with Lovelock's achievement and was quick to clarify some confusion over early reports of the race.

July 18, 1933

The cable message, as received in Timaru, concerning Lovelock's great run, contained one obvious error which, in the view of some sceptics, cast doubt on the whole performance. This was the statement that the last quarter was run in the manifestly impossible time of 48.9sec or 48 9-10. It is extremely unlikely that Lovelock could run a single quarter in better than 52, let alone the final section of a mile in under 49. Inquiry reveals that the correct figures were 58.9, still a magnificent achievement. The message was received in this form in Christchurch, from whence press telegrams for southern stations are retransmitted.

It is agreed among experts that Lovelock's mile ranks as the greatest achievement by a New Zealander in any branch of sport, and, although comparison is extremely difficult, it seems to equal the world's best over any distance in the realm of track athletics.

The only other sporting feat by a New Zealander to rival that of Lovelock was that of Bob Fitzsimmons, a middleweight, in winning the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. Strangely enough, Fitzsimmons was a Timaruvian, though born in Cornwall. Of "Fitz", however, it could be said only that he was better than the best of his day. Of Lovelock, it appears to be true that he is the best miler of any day.

An arresting feature is the extraordinary improvement made by the South Canterbury runner since he left New Zealand less than a couple of years ago. In this country, he was classed as a 4.28 man. A year ago, he astonished his countrymen by establishing a new British mile record of 4.12, as a result of which he was added to the Dominion team for the Olympic Games, the major part of his expenses to Los Angeles being subscribed by pupils and old boys of the Timaru High School, at which Lovelock first showed slight promise of his present greatness.

Lovelock's progress undoubtedly is due largely to the advantage of competition with another great Oxonian miler, J E Cornes, who is in the 4.12 to 4.13 class, as well as to coaching by experts in distance running, who are plentiful in England.

Prior to coming to the Timaru High School, Lovelock attended the Temuka School. At Timaru he was senior 440, 880 and mile champion, and held the school mile record.

In Dunedin he won the university mile championship, and was inter-varsity champion.

Even in Timaru, Lovelock's running was impressive, and New Zealand championship honours were predicted for him, but no-one at that time envisaged him as a world record-holder of the future.

There need be no hesitation in accepting his time, as this would be taken on an electrically operated timing apparatus.

In addition to his mile record, Lovelock has bettered the existing official figures for three-quarters of a mile, having registered 3.2 1-5 in London about a year ago. This, however, was in a handicap event in which he finished fourth, and as a result cannot be recognised. It is a basic principle of record-breaking, that a runner must not only start from scratch but must win the race.

Jean Ladoumegue previously had recorded 3.0 1-5, but it was not passed by the International Federation, probably because the Frenchman's amateur status was in doubt.


The success achieved by J E Lovelock, a former pupil of the Timaru Boys High School, was referred to at yesterday's meeting of the Timaru Rotary Club, by Rotarian G D Virtue, who congratulated Rotarian W Thomas, rector of the school, and the school itself, on Lovelock's latest record.

Acknowledging the congratulations on behalf of the school, Rotarian Thomas said that Lovelock had been with them five years. He had excelled in track running, and still held some of the school long-distance records. Lovelock, who now held the world's record for one mile, was of the type that would never get a swelled head through his success on the other side of the world.

"When one thinks of a little champ like him, it is certainly out of the ordinary," he said.


On behalf of the Timaru Boys' High School and the Old Boys' Association, the following cable was last night sent to Lovelock, care of the British Ambassador, Washington: "Congratulations on wonderful achievement. School and Old Boys delighted." Signed W Thomas (rector), A N Leslie (president, Old Boys' Association).

The best mile by a New Zealander prior to Lovelock's entry in the champion class was Randolph Rose's 4.13 3-5 in his historic encounter with the American Lloyd Hahn.

The Timaru Herald