Many Olympic athletes have won more gold medals than Herb Elliott. But few people have ever exercised such absolute authority in any branch of sport as Elliott did in middle-distance running. In 42 races from 1957 to 1961, he was never beaten over 1500 metres or a mile. Testimony to his greatness is the fact that, although he won the Olympic 1500m in 1960, his winning time then would have still been good enough to win gold medals in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).
Elliott travelled from Perth with his family in 1956 to watch the Melbourne Olympics. He had been a schoolboy champion, but the deeds he saw on the MCG awakened a glow of commitment, a desire to be the best, the toughest, the fastest. Mainly, he was inspired by the performances of Vladimir Kuts, the Soviet sailor who ran the best athletes in the world off their feet in the 5000m and 10,000m.
Elliott did not return to Perth with his parents, who were persuaded by the coach Percy Cerutty to leave the young Herb in his care. Cerutty was an eccentric visionary who worked on the bodies and minds of his charges. The challenge he offered Elliott was not to beat opponents, but to conquer himself. The chemistry worked. Elliott went on to set world records in the mile (in 1958) and the 1500m (in 1958 and at the 1960 Games). His winning margin of 20 metres at the Rome Games was a record.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian