Lovelock wins ‘Mile of the century’

15 June 1935

Jack Lovelock after his victory in the ‘Mile of the Century’ (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-8163-31)

The Ivy League Princeton University hosted an annual elite mile race during the 1930s. New Zealand medical student Jack Lovelock, who had set a world record there in 1933, was invited to return in 1935 to run in what became known as the ‘Mile of the Century’.

It was a match race between Lovelock and the top Americans: world record holder Glenn Cunningham, Glen Dawson (who had beaten Cunningham a few weeks earlier), Bill Bonthron (the world record holder for the 1500 m), Gene Venzke and Joe Mangan. On a warm and windy evening no world record would be set, so it became a tactical affair.

Dawson led for most of the race, followed by Cunningham and Lovelock. The New Zealander made his move just before the final straight and finished comfortably ahead of Cunningham, who was also overtaken by the fast-finishing Bonthron.

Lovelock’s time of 4 minutes 11.5 seconds was his second-fastest mile but well outside the world record. As hundreds crowded around him, someone stole his trademark panama hat, but later returned it.