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Four long distance runners train in different parts of the world for the Olympics in Rome; all are planning to run in the gruelling 26-mile marathon. In England, milkman Harry Hayes trains under his ruthless coach, Bill Oliver, who forces Harry to give up his girl friend Christine. Yale University student Scott Reynolds uses stimulants during a race in Japan despite his heart ailment. Sunny Pintubi, an Australian aborigine under the tutelage of Charlie Gilmour, an unscrupulous promoter and gambler who wagers heavily on Sunny's races, is entered in the Olympics over the protests of the racially prejudiced Australian Olympics Committee. The Czechoslovakian champion, Col. Pavel Vendek, enters the race at the request of his government despite the fact that he is 41 years old. The big race finally takes place, but in extremely hot weather. Reynolds is overcome by the heat and stimulants and runs into a wall; Harry, fiercely driven by Oliver, collapses in exhaustion long before the finish; and Pintubi manages to beat Vendek, the sentimental favorite, and win the gold medal.