Derek Ibbotson

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Derek Ibbotson
Medal record
Men's Athletics
Competitor for  United Kingdom
Olympic Games
Bronze 1956 Melbourne 5,000 metres[1]

George Derek Ibbotson MBE (born 17 June 1932 in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England) was an English runner who excelled in athletics in the 1950s. His most famous achievement was setting a new world record in the mile in 1957.

Ibbotson was born in Huddersfield and studied at King James's Grammar School, Almondbury. He was of the generation that included other great British milers such as Roger Bannister, Chris Brasher and Christopher Chataway. He was the junior champion in Britain in 1951.

After service in the Royal Air Force, Ibbotson returned to competition. In 1956 at Melbourne, he won a bronze medal in the 5,000 metres. After the Games, Ibbotson focused on the mile run, which was probably an error. Ibbotson began the 1957 season running in mile races, as a 5,000m or 3 mile runner would often do in the early part of the facing season - to race at a faster pace than he would need in those longer distances. After he had run a particularly fast mile at a Glasgow meeting, an experienced athletics official told the BBC that while it was a very good time, he and many others felt that Ibbotson’s greater potential was over 5,000m or 3 miles. Unfortunately, somebody then organised one of the many “miles of the century” and Ibbotson won, probably because Delaney, the 1,500m champion at Melbourne the previous year, was boxed in at a crucial point on the final lap. The time was a new world record, taking 0.8 of a second off John Landy's time of 3.58 min set in 1954. The result was that Ibbotson went on running in mile races throughout the season - although also taking part in some longer distance events - and he ran a great number of races and ended the season exhausted. It was not just the number of races but the faster pace at which they were run.

Ibbotson never found the same form again and this added to the myth of runners "straining themselves" so confidently recited by people who never understood the sport. A lot of runners dropped out of top-line athletics after one or two successful seasons but it was more because, after a winter break from track training, they were unable to re-apply themselves to the gruelling and monotonous training - interval and repetition running - that was necessary to maintain speed. Ibbotson represented England in the then Empire Games at Cardiff in 1958 and, like everyone else, was beaten out of sight by the great Herb Elliott. In 1957 the press had eulogised him at every opportunity - after Cardiff they were seeking an explanation as to why our runners had been unsuccessful and missed the obvious answer that they were up against runners like Elliott and Murray Halberg. They decided that our team had been out partying while at Cardiff and one of the chief targets for that ridiculous smear was Ibbotson.

Ibbotson soldiered on and in 1960, in a vain bid for the Rome Olympics of that year, he emulated Gordon Pirie who, when he was struggling for form, increased his racing and took part in shorter races than he usually, because it was good speed training. Ibbotson was not so successful and was not selected for Rome. He may not have regretted that after the fiasco of our top competitors being forbidden to go to Rome earlier than the main party, in a bid to become acclimatised to the heat as the Games were held in the height of the Roman summer. They all under-performed.

On 3 September 1958, Ibbotson entered sports trivia books by running the first ever 4 minute mile, finishing fourth in exactly 4:00.00 at White City.

He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours for services to athletics.

In 2011, he was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.

Preceded by
Australia John Landy
Men's Mile World Record Holder
19 July 1957 – 6 August 1958
Succeeded by
Australia Herb Elliott


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