Lovelock smashes world mile record

15 July 1933

Lovelock newspaper cutting, 1933 (Alexander Turnbull Library, MSX-2247-058)

Jack Lovelock’s run at Princeton University beat the record for the mile, held by Jules Ladoumègue, by 1.6 seconds. The race was dubbed the ‘greatest mile of all time’ by Time magazine.

The race was part of the sixth annual Oxford-Cambridge vs Princeton-Cornell track meet. There was much media interest in the showdown between Lovelock (Oxford) and Bill Bonthron (Princeton), with speculation that the world record might be broken. Bonthron had won that year’s intercollegiate 800-m and 1500-m events impressively. As a warm-up for the Princeton-Cornell meet, Lovelock and his teammate Forbes Horan (Cambridge) competed against a Yale-Harvard team in the mile. Lovelock won this race in 4 minutes 12.6 seconds, an intercollegiate record.

On the day of the event there were about 5000 spectators at Palmer Stadium, Princeton. Rain threatened but held off, and by the start of the programme at 4.30 p.m. conditions were good for running. The mile was a tactical race. Bonthron took the lead before giving way to John Hazen (Cornell). To Lovelock’s delight, they set a fast pace. With half a mile to go, Bonthron moved back to the front. At the top corner Horan overtook Bonthron to make sure the ¾-mile mark was reached in the target time. Horan soon dropped back, leaving the race to Bonthron and Lovelock.

With 300 m 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 hit the front. Bonthron was unable to muster his usual ‘blistering kick’ and Lovelock breasted the tape seven strides ahead.

Lovelock’s time of 4 minutes 7.6 seconds broke the world record by 1.6 seconds. It was the first time a New Zealander had set a recognised world record. Now 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, winning most of them. That year he came second to baseballer Carl Hubbell in the Associated Press Athlete of the Year poll in the US.