By John Cobley
8th February 2011
Arne Andersson v Gunder Hägg (1944)
1,500 Gothenburg, Sweden, July 7, 1944
Great Races #4
|Hagg forces the pace. Note the huge crowd.
In his first race of 1944, Gunder Hagg had been humiliated by Arne Andersson in a 1,500 race. Andersson had stayed with Hagg throughout and then roared by in the last 120 to open up a nine-meter lead. Hagg’s defeat had been so decisive that rumours spread that the great man had thrown the race.
Clearly Gunder Hagg had to recapture his reputation as the world’s greatest runner. His plan was simple. In view of the devastating finishing kick that Andersson had demonstrated, a kick that seemed to be more potent than ever, Hagg would literally have to run his opponent off his feet with a blistering pace. To help with this plan, Hagg enlisted the help of 23-year-old Lennart Strand, who was to win a gold medal in the 1946 European Championships and a silver in the 1948 OG—both in the 1,500.
Andersson, well aware of Hagg’s plan, sought tactical advice. He was persuaded to avoid being sucked into a pace that was too fast. He was to judge if the pace was maintainable. If he thought it was too fast, he would bide his time and wait for Hagg to fade.
The pace was indeed fast: Strand took Hagg through in 56 for the first lap. So Andersson did allow a gap to develop. At 400 it was about three metres. And on the second lap the gap almost doubled before Andersson made a decision just before 600 to close it. At 800 in just over 1:56, Strand dropped out to leave Hagg with a two-meter lead over Andersson. Hagg was 4.5 seconds ahead of Andersson’s own WR pace from the previous year.
Hagg looked smooth and in control, while Andersson was clearly struggling to make proper contact with him. Throughout the third lap Hagg maintained just enough lead to keep Andersson out of contact. It was an epic struggle.
That same small but significant gap stayed through most of the last lap. On the final bend Andersson made a do-or-die effort, closed a little but not enough. Hagg held on brilliantly to record a new WR of 3:43.0, with Andersson, also under the old mark, some six metres behind in 3:44.0.
It was a great race, a classic contest between a hare and a hound. Hagg had shown exactly how to break a fast finisher with a perfect demonstration of front running. Despite all his brilliant races in 1942, I would call this one his greatest. We are lucky that this race was filmed and has been made available on the Internet by the Swedish Television archives.
Footnote: Lennart Strand, the pacemaker who helped make this world record possible, equaled Hagg’s 3:43.0 time two years later in Malmo. He thus shared the world record with Hagg (and later with Werner Lueg of Germany) until it was broken by American Wes Santee in 1954.