50 Years Later!
February 2nd, 1974 – The Christchurch Commonwealth Games 1500 With  Filbert Bayi, John Walker & Rod Dixon In “The Race For The Ages”!
By Jeff Benjamin
Almost 3 years ago, friends and track geeks gathered via texting and zooming (due to the Covid era!) as we all watched the Tokyo Olympic Games 1500 meter semi-final.
Lining up in the 2nd semi was 2016 Gold Medalist Matthew Centrowitz, hoping to advance to his 3rd Olympic final. But incredulously, it wasn’t meant to be, as Centrowitz finished 9th in his race and failed to move on.
However, more astoundingly to us watching was the fact that Centro had run 3:33.69! Incredulously, some of us commented on how one can run so fast and finish out of it!
That’s when Tony Gulotta and I, betraying our age (!), commented with 2 names –
Filbert Bayi & Rod Dixon!
Our youthful pals had no clue what we were talking about, so not only did we regale them with the 1974 1500-meter Commonwealth Games race, but we linked them to the video of that unbelievable race.

Filbert Bayi, the “Mountain Man” from Tanzania, took the lead from start to finish, holding off John Walker, the Late Ben Jipcho, and Dixon to win the Commonwealth Goldando and break Jim Ryun’s 7-year-old World Record!

The top 5 times were as follows –

1) Bayi – 3:32.16

2) Walker – 3:32.52

3) Jipcho – 3:33.16

4) Dixon – 3:33.89

5) Graham Crouch – 3:34.22

Now, 50 years later, this extraordinary race, run on a track with spikes from the era, is revisited by Bayi, Walker & Dixon.

1) How motivated were you for the 74 Commonwealth Games?

Bayi –

“Yes, I was motivated almost 100% due to
I was ready to compete with the best 1500m athletes of that era. Mention the few Ben Jipcho, Mike Boit (KEN), John Walker, Rod Dixon (NZ)
Graham Crouch (AUS) and the other 6 in the race.”

Walker –

“I was very motivated. The fact that the Games was being held in NZ was a huge incentive for me to do well.”

Dixon –

“The Christchurch Commonwealth games were gathering National interest. John and I had our very successful 1973 European Scandinavian track travels. I was very determined to be the best I could be in Christchurch, and I had some exciting local races where I had beaten John once, and he had beat me once, so we were going into the games knowing that we could potentially do something special.

I believe we were ready for a World-Level Games.”

2) Who did you look at as your main competitors in the race? Who else were you looking at?

Bayi –

“Not really, as I did not even know Rod was the bronze medalist in the
1500m at the 1972 Munich Olympic
Games.

Being an underdog, I did not have any worries from anyone. I knew in the race, everyone was the best as they represented their nation. A week before the 800m and 1500m, New Zealand newspapers and radios showed all about my friends John Walker, Ben Jipcho, Rod Dixon, and Mike Boit. I was not much in the picture.”

Walker – “I was concerned about the whole field, really. I knew the race would be fast after the 800m final was won quickly. I wasn’t only looking at Bayi as the one to beat and Dixon and Jipcho. I was well aware of all of them, in fact. It was a powerful field. You would be foolish to go into a race only focused on one person.

I was sore after playing a friendly game of cricket with Arch and his family the night before, and I was a little anxious about my tired muscles more than anything, but once in the race, I felt great.”

Dixon-

“I believe John and I were very aware of Filbert Bayi running and racing. I also recognized Graham Crouch from Australia was running well – Brendan Foster UK, Mike Boit & Ben Jipcho. In fact, some world-class commonwealth athletes were equal to the best in the world at the time.

I knew that the field for the 1500 was ready to race the race of the century!”

The greatest 1,500m of all times (well, up til 1974), photo by Mark Shearman

3) The gun goes off, and Filbert immediately jumps to the front – what were you all thinking then?

Bayi –

“Taking the lead right after the gun went off was my plan, knowing nobody in the race could have known if I was doing it right. I was sure they were thinking that
I would die after a few laps. They did not know if I had trained for that suicidal
pace.”

Walker –

“I wasn’t surprised or concerned when Bayi went into the lead because that was how he ran. With 400m to go, I was worried because the rest of the field was together, and no one had attempted to follow Bayi.”

Dixon –

“Bayi was out into the lead from the gun, I expected that to happen, and I noticed that the other runners were very aware to not let that lead get too big, and we kind of kept it where it was, believing that we would be able to pick him up by at least 800 m – of course, that didn’t happen, and we weren’t able to get by!”

4) How would each of you describe your last lap?

Bayi –

“At the bell, I looked over my shoulder
and saw John Walker, Ben Jipcho, and Rod
Dixon killing each other to catch me. Coming up to the final 200m, things were hot. Between John, Ben, and Rod. At the final bend, John managed to leave Ben & Rod. The final 50m was where I
knew John was coming to me, and I said to myself, “Catch Me If You Can” John!”

Walker – ”

“With 350m to go, I moved up harder in the field, and with 180m to go, I gave chase, and I did think I could catch him, but with 50m to go, I started tying up.”

Dixon –

“With a lap to go with 400 to go, I had to try and bridge the gap so that my sprint was more at 400 meters than leaving it for the last hundred meters.

Down the back straight, Jipcho and Walker made the challenge. I then picked up Jipcho around the final turn, but I could tell that I could not get him again in the home straight.”

5) Were you each shocked by running a spectacular time?

Bayi –

“Definitely, I was shocked because
besides winning the GOLD, I also broke the
1500m World record, which was something I did not think of!”

Walker –

“It was 5 seconds faster than I had ever run before!

I did my best and so I was not disappointed. It would have been nice to win, but I was proud of my effort and felt pleased with my race. My life changed forever after that race!”

Dixon –

“I remember after we crossed the finish line, Graham Crouch and I looked at the video board and realized that that was the world’s fastest 1500 ever, with the first two breaking the world record the third place equaling the old world record, and I finished fourth in the race and ran the fifth fastest time in history and Graham Crouch set an Australian record and most of the other runners in the field also set National records, and to this day 50 years later it’s still considered to be one of the greatest 1500 meter races!”

6) Many consider this race the most excellent 1500 ever run – many fans today compare performances like yours to the technologies surrounding the new tracks as well as the “SuperShoes” of today – would you like to take a guess as to how much faster you & the others would be today 50 years later?

Bayi – “Maybe with a clean run, 50 years later from today, athletes could go
under 3:20.00 in the 1500 meters!”

Walker – “If I had the technology and track today, a 3:27 would be pretty accurate, but it is hard to say. It is just a guess.”

Dixon-

“We can talk all we want about comparisons between runners in generations, but it’s what it was at the time, and what’s happening now is this time, and we just respect the people at the time, not the greatest of all time but the greatest of their time. ”

They Sure Were!

Bell Lap – This writer thanks Filbert Rod and Hans for recalling this magnificent event!

Bayi’s new autobiography – “Catch Me If You Can” – is available at –Soulstice Publishing

Cover of Catch Me if You Can, The Filbert Bayi story

You can purchase Bayi’s book here: https://soulsticepublishing.com/product/bayi-book/amp/

 

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