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Athletics at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games:

Men's 1,500 metres

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Host City: Stockholm, Sweden
Venue(s): Stockholm Olympic Stadium, Stockholm
Date Started: July 9, 1912
Date Finished: July 10, 1912

Gold: GBR Arnold Jackson
Silver: USA Abel Kiviat
Bronze: USA Norm Taber

Summary

As late as 1985, Cordner Nelson and Roberto Quercetani, two distinguished track & field historians, labeled this “the greatest race ever run,” noting, “The 1912 Olympic Games at Stockholm produced the greatest mile or 1500 meter race ever run from the standpoint of exciting competition between fast runners.” Much of what follows is based on their excellent summary.

There were five highly considered runners who started this event at Stockholm. One was the defending Olympic champion, Mel Sheppard. He was primarily a half-miler, and only the day before this event started, he lost narrowly in the 800 metre semi-final.

There were three other top Americans. John Paul Jones had won the 1911 and 1912 IC4A title at 880 yards and one mile. On 27 May 1911, Jones set a world amateur record in the mile with 4:15.4 in winning the IC4A at Cambridge. After the 1912 IC4A meet, he stopped training, not planning on competing at the Olympics, but he was convinced to resume training and travel to Stockholm.

Norm Taber of Brown University had done little prior to 1912. But on 1 June he finished in a dead-heat with Jones in the IC4A mile. And at the eastern Olympic Trial, one week later, he ran 1,500 metres in 3:56.4, bettering the world record, but he finished only second in the race.

Taber finished second in the eastern Olympic Trial because of a highly talented, diminutive runner named Abel Kiviat. Kiviat had first achieved prominence in 1909, winning the Canadian mile championship. In 1911 he won the AAU mile championship. On 26 May 1912, Kiviat ran in the New York Post Office Clerk’s Association Games at Celtic Park on Long Island, winning the mile narrowly over Mel Sheppard, but setting a new mile world record of 3:59.2 in doing so. In a handicap race at the same track on 2 June, he bettered that mark off scratch, recording 3:56.8. The record would be short-lived, as on 8 June, at the eastern Olympic Trial, he defeated Taber with another world record of 3:55.8. His hot running and three world records in only a few weeks made him the Olympic favorite.

Despite the four great American runners, Britain had a top talent in Arnold Jackson, but one who had little background as a miler. A well-rounded athlete who attended Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1912 he won the Oxford University Athletic Club mile and won the mile against Cambridge in a good time of 4:21.6. Based on those performances, he was named to the British Olympic team for Stockholm.

There were seven heats in round one, with the top two finishers in each heat advancing to the final. The five favorites qualified easily, although Jackson and Jones had been drawn in the same heat. The final consisted of 14 runners - seven Americans, three Swedes, two Brits, and a lone Frenchman and German. The four top Americans would be well protected by their group of seven teammates.

The “greatest race ever run” began at 3:30 PM (1530) on Wednesday, 10 July 1912. The pace was set by the Frenchman, Henri Arnaud, who passed 400 metres in 1:05 and 800 metres in 2:08. Taber led at 1,000 metres in 2:39, but at 1,200 metres, Kiviat took the lead in 3:09, closely followed by his teammates, Taber and Jones. Jackson had been running last most of the race, but passed Sheppard on the backstretch and began moving up the field. On the final curve, Kiviat continued to lead, followed by Taber, Jackson, Jones, and Sheppard. Taber pulled even with Kiviat at the start of the straightaway. With 50 metres remaining, Jackson pulled even with Kiviat and Taber, with Jones close behind and Sweden’s Ernst Wide closing fast as well. It was only 10 metres from the tape that Jackson edged ahead to win by 1/10th second from Kiviat (silver medal) and Taber (bronze medal). Kiviat and Taber were so close that the finish camera was needed to determine the final medal placements, the only time this was used to determine a placement at the 1912 Olympics. Jones finished fourth with Wide in fifth.

Jackson described the race in his own words, “Perhaps it is impossible in an Olympic mile to notice who got the lead, when and where, and Kiviat seemed to me to have the lead inside most of the way and Mr P. J. Baker and I had to get along the best way we could and not very near the front either. There we rubbed along until the bell went for the last lap. We then moved up and dropped Sheppard and several others who no doubt were rather tired after the general bustle and their previous efforts. With three hundred and fifty yards to go Paul Jones and Kiviat were well placed but coming round the last bend I got in behind them and running wide caught them with about a hundred yards to go. Running neck and neck for fifty yards I passed them and got home by about two yards, as far as I am told. A perfect day and capital fellow competitors helped the Olympic record to go and I am very grateful and proud to have run with Mr Kiviat, Taber, and Jones and all the others. I believe that the result of the second and third places was not given out until the photograph had been developed and Mr Kiviat just beat Mr Taber on the post with Mr Jones right on to them. ‘U.S.A. right there all the time!’”

Arnold Nugent Strode Jackson (who later changed his name spelling to Arnold Nugent Strode Strode-Jackson) ran only a few more races in a very short, yet meteoric career. He won the Oxbridge mile race again in 1913 and 1914, and his career totalled no more than six top quality races. He joined the British army in World War I, serving with distinction, and becoming the youngest Brigadier-General in the British Army. He won the DSO and three bars, decorations so matched by only six other British officers. He was later a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1921, and was awarded the CBE for his works. He settled in the United States, eventually becoming an American citizen.

Final Standings

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal
1 Arnold Jackson 21 Great Britain GBR Gold OR
2 Abel Kiviat 19 United States USA Silver
3 Norm Taber 20 United States USA Bronze
4 John Paul Jones 21 United States USA
5 Ernst Wide 23 Sweden SWE
6 Philip Baker 22 Great Britain GBR
7 John Zander 22 Sweden SWE
8 Walter McClure 19 United States USA
AC Henri Arnaud 21 France FRA
AC Erwin von Sigel 27 Germany GER
AC Evert Björn 24 Sweden SWE
AC Mel Sheppard 28 United States USA
AC Frederick Hedlund 24 United States USA
AC Louis Madeira 20 United States USA
3 h1 r1/2 Albert Hare 24 Great Britain GBR
3 h2 r1/2 Georg Amberger 21 Germany GER
3 h3 r1/2 Norman Patterson 25 United States USA
3 h4 r1/2 John Victor 20 South Africa RSA
3 h5 r1/2 Herbert Putnam 21 United States USA
3 h6 r1/2 William Moore 22 Great Britain GBR
3 h7 r1/2 William Cottrill 23 Great Britain GBR
4 h3 r1/2 Jack Tait 23 Canada CAN
4 h4 r1/2 Lewis Anderson 21 United States USA
4 h5 r1/2 Richard Yorke 26 Great Britain GBR
4 h6 r1/2 Nils Frykberg 24 Sweden SWE
4 h7 r1/2 Efraim Harju 22 Finland FIN
5 h3 r1/2 Ferenc Forgács 20 Hungary HUN
5 h4 r1/2 Oscar Larsen 24 Norway NOR
5 h5 r1/2 Georg Mickler 19 Germany GER
5 h7 r1/2 Yevgeny Petrov 24 Russia RUS
6 h4 r1/2 Arnolds Indriksons 18 Russia RUS
7 h4 r1/2 Alfrēds Ruks 21 Russia RUS
AC h2 r1/2 Teofil Savniky 17 Hungary HUN
AC h2 r1/2 Rūdolfs Vītols 20 Russia RUS
AC h2 r1/2 Dmitry Nazarov Russia RUS
AC h3 r1/2 François Delloye 23 Belgium BEL
AC h3 r1/2 Eddie Owen 25 Great Britain GBR
AC h3 r1/2 Ole Jacob Pedersen 23 Norway NOR
AC h5 r1/2 Charles Ruffell 23 Great Britain GBR
AC h5 r1/2 Aleksandr Yelizarov Russia RUS
AC h5 r1/2 Nikolay Kharkov Russia RUS
AC h6 r1/2 Fred Hulford 29 Great Britain GBR
AC h6 r1/2 Guido Calvi 19 Italy ITA
AC h6 r1/2 Andrejs Krūkliņš 21 Russia RUS
AC h7 r1/2 Vahram Papazyan 19 Turkey TUR