During Herb Elliott's two-year career the world's best distance runners have been trying vainly to catch up with the 20-year-old Australian clerk who holds the record for the mile at 3:54.5. His competitors' frustration has been shared until now by sports journalists, who have also found it impossible to get close. This fall, while negotiating with Promoter Leo Leavitt, Elliott put such a gap between himself and the press that even his own countrymen had no way of knowing what really prompted him to turn down Leavitt's $250,000 offer to turn professional.
But in the report by Don Connery in this issue you will find some answers to that—and many other enigmas around Herb Elliott.
To get his story, Connery performed feats of legwork which for sheer distance might try even the indefatigable Elliott. Between leaving his home base, TIME Inc.'s Bureau in New Delhi, and his return, Connery traveled some 15,000 miles—all to talk to one young man who was not sure he wanted to talk.
Arriving in Melbourne, in fact, Don first had to content himself with interviews with Runners John Landy and Mervyn Lincoln, Coaches Percy Cerutty and Franz Stampfl, Elliott's boss Lewis Luxton, his parents, classmates and teachers at his old school, family friends, brother Laurie, fiancée Anne, plus chats with countless Australians about "our Herb."
Perhaps by this time the elusive Elliott had begun to realize that, if no one could catch him from behind, he had finally encountered one man who had simply surrounded him.
Connery himself cabled us the happy ending: "Last Friday night Herb, his close buddy and fellow runner Robert Morgan-Morris, a Dalmatian hound and I bundled into Elliott's Austin for the 60 miles to his Port-sea training camp. The bunkhouse sleeps four in as many bunks, but by Saturday afternoon more runners had turned up. Two volunteers slept in sleeping bags. When the athletes roared out of the camp for their morning gallop, I trailed behind like a penguin after greyhounds—feeling very old and fit as a corpse. That day I walked more miles than I know and scrambled up about a dozen sand dunes. Ditto Sunday. Elliott was always moving, forever exercising, but he talked some between bites of carrot and cabbage and at night before losing himself in sleep. Late Sunday when I returned grimy, unshaven and soggy in my sneakers, my Melbourne hotel had grave doubts. But the bellhop asked, 'Owyer goin', mate, orright?'
"By then I was...and so, I hope, was the story."