The Riotous Wanamaker Mile
Gunnar Nielsen won the famed Mile and set a world record of 4:03.6 in doing it, but hardly anyone noticed, for behind the Dane, Wes Santee and Fred Dwyer were wrestling each other down the stretch
By Robert Creamer, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK - There are those who say it was the best running battle New Yorkers have seen since the Democratic Convention of 1924 took 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis. There are others who say this is not so, that there has never been anything like it before.
It is necessary to understand the importance of the Mile run to any indoor track & field meet and to understand that this was the Millrose Games, the most famous of all indoor meets; that there were 15,000 of the passionate, dedicated, perceptive breed called track fans in Madison Square Garden, and that the event was the Wanamaker Mile, the single most important indoor race in the world. As Wes Santee said in Washington just two weeks earlier, it is the race that everybody wants to win.
Last Saturday night, Feb. 5th, to the Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden came six men. All six wanted to win. But three expected to, in the way a man expects dinner when he arrives home from the office: there is simply no question about it; it is his natural due. This is called confidence, and it is a quality possessed to an extraordinary degree by the three young men in question: David Wesley Santee of Kansas, Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark, and Frederick Anthony Dwyer Jr. of New Jersey.
Wes Santee's confidence rested on cold logic. The record showed that he was best. No one had ever run a Mile indoors faster than he; only the sub-4 minute Milers—Roger Bannister and John Landy—had ever run a faster Mile outdoors. He had been beaten, true, by Nielsen's sprint finish in a slow race in Washington on Jan. 22, but a week later in Boston he had run Nielsen into the ground with a driving pace over the last half-mile that had left the Dane 35 yards behind without a sprint and Santee all alone at the tape with an indoor world record. And he had beaten Dwyer five times in five races.
"Why should I expect to lose?" said Santee.
Gunnar Nielsen's confidence rested on his great sprint finish and a curious lack of regard for Santee. Nielsen was co-holder of the world half-mile record and he had, after all, defeated Santee in Washington.
"If I stay close to him," he said in his halting English, "I can outsprint him and win. I can beat Santee. The only man I fear in all the world is Bannister."
No one knew what little Freddy Dwyer's confidence rested on. He is a good runner, a fine runner, but he had never been able to beat either Santee or Nielsen. He was confident all the same.
"I can beat 'em both," he said, and it was obvious that he believed it.
As the start of the Wanamaker Mile neared last Saturday night, the early events of the evening were all but forgotten—the powerful Audun Boysen's striking win over a splendid field in the 880; graceful Mai Whitfield's suddenly awkward struggle to stay ahead in the final yards of the 600; the commanding victories of Bob Richards in the pole vault and Harrison Dillard in the hurdles (the ninth consecutive Millrose triumph for each); Rod Richard's clear-cut win margin in the star-packed 60-yard dash. All were splendid performances. All were genuinely appreciated by the crowd. But all became of secondary importance as the time neared for the Wanamaker Mile.
The field was probably the best ever entered in the Wanamaker. There was Santee, the 4:00.6 miler, the indoor world record holder. There was Nielsen, conqueror of Santee, a great runner in his own right. There was Dwyer, who had won the Wanamaker and every other important Eastern indoor Mile in 1953 before he had gone into the Army. There was Bob McMillen, who had finished second to Josy Barthel in the record-breaking 1952 Olympic 1500 meter run, and who was slowly working his way back into top shape. There was Billy Tidwell, who had beaten Santee at the Mile in high school and who had beaten him again, in the half-mile, just last year. There was Dick Ollen, who had set a record-producing pace for Santee in Boston and who had been brought to New York to do the same thing in the Wanamaker
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