This clip combines footage from Movietone News (NFSA title 28827) and Cinesound Review (NFSA title 55807) both released on 15 March 1956 showing the iconic one mile race where Clarke took a fall and Landy returned mid-race to check that he was not hurt.
On 10 March 1956, John Landy lined up at Melbourne’s Olympic Park for athletics’ then glamour running event, the One Mile race (1600m) at the Australian Championships. Looking to run his fourth consecutive sub-4 minute mile in Australia – a time once considered impossible - Landy was racing for a chance to lower his own world record time of 3.57.9, one he had held for nearly two years. With a strong field of 10 runners, including future British Empire & Commonwealth Games medallist Merv Lincoln, and current world junior mile record holder Ron Clarke, a capacity 21,000 crowd would witness a remarkable race, made memorable by an entirely unexpected incident!
Two and half laps into the hotly contested four lap event, pacesetter Clarke would be clipped by eventual second place getter Alec Henderson, causing him to fall into the path of race favourite Landy. Unable to avoid a collision, Landy’s running spikes made significant contact with the prostrate Clarke. Instantly, a concerned Landy stopped and turned back to see if he had seriously injured his fellow competitor, telling The Age post-race, “I tried to leap him but landed on him and was scared I had spiked his head”. Landy then resumed racing, remarkably catching the field to win the race in a time of 4.04.2, later admitting he had “never punished myself so much in a mile…it took a lot out of me”. A world record opportunity instantly foregone, The Argus trumpeted Landy’s selfless gesture “will be given world-wide publicity in newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, films and telecasts”, while The Sun News-Pictorial journalist Harry Gordon wrote the next day “it will be remembered as one of the finest actions in the history of sport”.
Unfortunately, the famous moment of Clarke’s fall occurred at a time just as the camera operator had stopped filming, intent on preserving their limited supply of film for the race’s closing stages. As 1950s newsreels generally ran 4-6 stories for each 6-7 minute edition, a four minute race was never likely to be shown in its entirety. One can imagine the frustration of both Cinesound and Movietone producers to discover that the key seconds had failed to be recorded by the main camera positioned directly in line with the incident! It must have been a bitter pill to acknowledge that a single still image from a Sun-News Pictorial newspaper photographer had achieved what a moving image camera with the ability to film at 24 frames per second had not! A close comparison of the footage indicates that both newsreels utilised the same film source, indicating a likely agreement for both companies to share resources here.
Watch for yourself the combined footage of the March 1956 Cinesound Review and Movietone News reports presented as one clip. Please note, as the soundtrack of the Movietone edition has not survived, this second sequence has no audio.
Notes by Simon Smith