V. 1 #28 World Record Holder Races In Cincinnati
In 1943 the Swedish distance runner, Gunder Hagg, toured America. During his eight-stop tour, including Cincinnati, he scored consecutive triumphs over America’s best. It was not surprising that he was known as “Gunder the Wonder.”
Who was Gunder Hagg? From 1942 to 1945, Hagg and fellow Swede, Arne Andersson broke or equaled the world record for the mile three times each, usually by beating the other. Hagg lowered the mile time down to 4:01.3, a mark that was not reduced until Roger Bannister’s historic sub 4:00 mile in 1954. Over his career he broke a total of 15 world records, 10 of them within a three-month period in 1942
Hagg beating Arne Andersson
Hagg’s tour began in New York City on June 20. Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cambridge, and Berea, Ohio preceded his stop here. Gil Dodds and Bill Hulse, top American middle distance runners at that time, accompanied Hagg on the tour to provide the competition.
L-R Don Burnham, Bill Hulse, Gill Dodds, Gunder Hagg
His Cincinnati appearance was his seventh American race. It was contested on the evening of August 7, 1943 at the Withrow High School Stadium Track. The Cincinnati Firefighters Association sponsored the race for the Army Air Force Aid Society.
Gunder requested that the distance be two-miles. Earlier in the tour Hagg ran 8:53.6 in Los Angeles, well shy of his world record of 8:47.8 that was set the year before. The month long sea voyage had deprived Hagg of valued training opportunities but as the tour was nearing its conclusion, he felt that his speed and stamina were improving to the point that he might challenge his own record.
Hulse, who narrowly lost to Hagg the week before at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, when he ran a 4:06 mile, was given a 100-yard handicap. Since Hulse’s mile time was the best mark ever achieved outdoors by an American runner, it was thought with a lead of that distance Hagg might be prodded to eclipse his own world record. Gill Dodds, the other top protagonist spurned a handicap offer and started from scratch with Hagg. Dodds had previously clocked 8:53 for the distance so he figured his best opportunity to defeat Hagg was at this distance. A fourth starter in the race was Bob Berger, a young Bay Village, Ohio athlete. He received a full lap or 440-yard handicap.
Hulse and Berger started far in the lead because of the handicap. Hagg and Dodds ran almost even for the first mile. Hagg’s split times for the first mile were 1:01.5, 2:07, 3:15, and 4:22 at the mile. Hagg pulled away from Dodds as they entered the second mile.
Berger, needing only to run seven laps rather than Hagg’s eight, remained far out in front of Hulse. Hagg caught and passed Hulse as he entered the seventh lap. Now his sights were on the youthful Berger. Yard by yard he pulled closer. However, he came up just short of overtaking his young opponent.
Bob Berger, the 18-year old high school graduate, maintained the lead that he received due to his handicap advantage. Berger’s time for the two-mile distance, minus 440, was 8:49.7. The race was quite exciting as he broke the finish line tape only five yards ahead of the rapidly charging Hagg.
Gunder, the Swedish track champion, covered the two-mile distance at Withrow’s Stadium in 8:51.3, which was only 3.5 seconds off his existing world record. This time was the fastest ever run for that length outdoors on American soil.
Hulse, from New York, finished in third place. His time of 9:08.3 was the first time he had ever raced two-miles. Dodds, who started even with Hagg, was unable to catch up or overcome the handicaps given to Berger and Hulse. He placed fourth with a time of 9:18.3.
Afterwards, Hagg was very complimentary about Berger saying, “He’s one of the best young runners I have ever seen. You track boys had better keep your eye on him.” He felt that Withrow’s cinder oval was a little slow, but he added that he felt fine during the race and would try his best next Wednesday, on August 11, to set a new record at New York. His mile in New York would be the final installment of his American cross-country tour.
Gunder Hagg was branded a professional in 1946 because he received payments for running. Thereafter he was barred from competition.
Bob Berger died February 28, 1945. His airplane was hit by enemy fire and he perished while parachuting.
Bill Hulse was the US National 800-meter champion in 1944 and 1945.
Gil Dodds became known as “The Flying Parson.” He won the Thanksgiving Day Race five times in the 1940s.