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The following article on the development of long distance running in the United States was written by John F. Moakley, track coach at Cornell. Moakley, track coach at Cornell. Moakley, who has trained some of the leading Intercollegiate distance men of the last 20 years and who was on the coaching staff of the last Olympic team, reviews the records of past stars and discusses the chances W. L. Tibbetts '26, Harvard's crack two-miler has of bettering them in this year's I. C. A. A. A. A. meet.
America's college distance runners gradually are approaching pre-war standards and I look for a wonderfully balanced field in the fiftieth annual I. C. A. A. A. A. two-mile event at Harvard Stadium May 29. This distance event was added to the championship program in 1899, consequently this year's race will be the twenty-seventh on record.
Willird L. Tibbetts of Harvard, winner of the 1925 championship, naturally will be an outstanding favorite to retain his title. Anyone who has seen the determined clear-striding little Harvard captain at his best will readily concede that the may lower the association record. The present mark of 9 minutes, 22 2-5 seconds, set by Ivan Dresser of Cornell in 1919, already has withstood six assaults.
Berna Holds Best Record
The best record for two miles ever made by a college man is that of T. S. Berna, another Cornellian, intercollegiate champion of 15 years ago, but his best mark of 9.17 4-5 was, not made in the I. C. A. A. A. A. meet.
I often have been asked whether I consider Berna's record to be within the reach of Tibbetts of any other competitor in the forthcoming struggle on May 29. Frankly, such an opinion must be based on pure guesswork, for the weather must be just right, the track fast and the competition keen. An adverse wind would militate against a runner of Tibbetts' comparatively frail physique, but if conditions are ideal it is within the possibilities that the collegiate record will be lowered.
Distance running in American colleges blossomed with the launching of the Intercollegiate Cross-Country Association in 1899. England led the world in distance running in those days, yet is was only a matter of half a dozen years before the performances of our athletes were on a par with those of the Englishmen. One reason why America has failed to hold its own in the international distance classics is because men give up distance running after being graduated.
Distance Men Soon Disappear
Outstanding college distance men drop from view just at the time they begin to get an idea what it is about. With the same incentive they possess in college competition there is no reason to suppose that they could not keep improving for a number of years after their college days are over.
One must readily concede that there is ample reason why a college man is justified in giving up distance running after he has entered business. It is may belief that there is more wear on a man's physique in distance running than, for instance, in the quarter and half-mile events. The training for the two-mile run must perforce be arduous. This is particularly true in the summer season, because training in warm weather caused loss of weight, and this, in turn, brings on exhaustion and loss of nervous energy.
Occasionally the question is brought up as to why the distance runners of the Far West have not seriously threatened the supremacy of the East in the two-mile event as they have done in other branches of track. Some are inclined to the theory that the climate in California is detrimental to distance runners of high caliber. I cannot subscribe to this view. I believe that this backwardness traces to a general lack of schoolboy interest and competition in the distance events in that section. This condition is reflected in the college ranks. When the schoolboys do become interested the westerners will furnish the East with just as sturdy competition as they provide in other standard events.
Athletes who are strong and mature are best fitted to become consistent distance runners. We have an exception to prove the rule in the case of Tell Berna, which provides conclusive proof that speed can be obtained by an athlete with little more than persistency. Berna was an Ithaca High School boy. He first reported for track in his senior year. He was one of the also rans on his school team. It was not until his senior year that he developed anything like a decent stride. Then he ran the fastest two miles ever credited to an American collegian. Furthermore, in the race in which he set the present collegiate record of 9.17 4-5, he ran five feet out from the pole, which means that he ran at least 30 yards over the two-mile distance. Had he continued running another year he would, beyond question, have lowered his best mark.
John Paul Jones never had an opportunity to concentrate on the two-mile event during any spring campaign when he was undergraduate. It is my firm belief, however, that he could have broken any American college record existing today from 880 yards to ten miles.
Harvard Has Two Two-Mile Titles
In the 26 two-mile championship races in I. C. A. A. A. A. history the titles have been won by athletes of eight colleges. Cornell men have won 14, Penn 4, Harvard 2, Johns Hopkins 2 and one has gone to Yale, Columbia, Michigan and Williams. The record has been lowered eight times, exactly 41 seconds having been sliced off the original mark set by Alex Grant of Pennsylvania in 1899.
A table showing how the two-mile record has yielded to assaults in I. C. A. A. A. A. competition, is as follows:
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