Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

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John Whetton

12th September 2012

John Whetton Profile b. 1941 Few world-class runners have been able to exploit their physical potential to the extent that John Whetton did in the 1960s. Not as physically gifted as some of his rivals, this British runner nevertheless managed to achieve a competitive record that few have equaled. His achievements on the track were the result of careful planning, dedicated training and intelligent race strategies. Ian Stewart called him “the bloody cleverest” 1,500 runner in  Europe. Whetton’s greatest victory was in the 1969 European 1,500. He also ran a fine fifth in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic 1,500. But perhaps his competitive ability came through most clearly indoors. He was unbeaten indoors in the UK and Europe throughout his career and won the European 1,500 three times in a row (1966-1968). Such was his indoor reputation that he was known as the King of the Boards.

Jules Ladoumegue

3rd November 2012

Jules Ladoumègue Profile1906-19731.71 (5’7”) 59kg (130 lbs) Not many runners can attract a 300,000 crowd to watch a ceremonial run in a city street. But on a gloomy and foggy November day in 1935, French runner Jules Ladoumègue did just that when he ran the length of the Champs Élysées to receive the homage of the French people. He had been banned from competition for nearly four years, yet the French people still remembered their beloved “Julot.” His popularity stemmed not only from his brilliant short career of six world records and an Olympic silver medal but also from his exquisite running style and his sensitive and endearing personality. For someone who had experienced several tragedies in his early life, the cheering of the massive crowd on that drab November day must have been all the more inspiring.

Kerry O’Brien Profileb. 17 April 1946  1.80 68kg “Slow down! Slow down!” This can often be good advice—but surely not when you’re a champion runner like Kerry O’Brien. Yet the South Australian world-record-holder has continually been told to slow down for most of his life. It’s nothing to do with his running; it’s his personality. “I’m an A-type triple plus,” he admits. “My life’s a constant go.” Of course, an A-type personality is a double edged sword. It can lead to overwork, stress and even breakdown. But with intelligence and self-discipline it can enable great achievements. Kerry O’Brien made good use of his A-type personality to break world records for the 3,000 Steeplechase and the Indoor Two Miles, win nine Australian titles, earn a Commonwealth silver medal, and place fourth in the 1968 Olympic Steeplechase final.

Kip Keino

18th July 2011

Profile: Kipchoge Keinob. 1940   Kipchoge Keino was not the first Kenyan to win a medal in an Empire Games nor the first to win an Olympic medal, but he was the first Kenyan to have a major impact on the international running  scene and the first Kenyan to break world records. For eight years, from 1965 to 1972, he was one of the best if not the best middle-distance runner in the world. He won two Olympic gold medals and two silver, as well as three Commonwealth gold medals and one bronze. And though more a competitor than a record breaker, he set WRs for 3,000 and 5,000. Kip Keino always raced with panache and courage; whenever he was in a race, the interest rose. And of course he was the precursor of the flood of Kenyan runners that is still a dominant force in distance running today.

Lasse Viren Profile

18th January 2015

Lasse Viren Profile b. July 22, 1949 This great Finnish runner will not be remembered for his three world records. Rather, his name will always be associated with the four Olympic gold medals he won at two consecutive games in the 5,000 and 10,000. Lasse Viren’s wins in Munich in 1972 and in Montreal in 1976 were controversial as he rarely showed top form in other races. But he was only interested in the major meets and had the discipline to train for long periods without peaking or racing at his optimum level. New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard has paid tribute to Viren’s “systematic training” and has called him “perhaps the finest distance runner the world has ever seen.” (Garth Gilmour, Arthur Lydiard, p. 149) American Frank Shorter, who raced against him and trained with him on occasion, saw Viren as the complete runner: “He has had everything it takes to win—the talent, the intelligence, the determination, the discipline, and in innate tactical sense of his competitors’ weaknesses.” (Olympic Gold, p. 107)

“I’m driven, analytical, and a keen observer.” English distance runner Martin Hyman lacked basic speed. He couldn’t beat 2:00 for 800; his best 400 was a pedestrian 57.5. Yet he was able to place 4th in three major track championships, and from 1958 to 1964 he recorded times that even today would put him in the top six of the British rankings for 10,000. On the road he was considered by some as unbeatable. He had notable wins in Spain and Brazil and set many course records. Even in cross-country, which he considered his weakest event, he ran 3rd in the 1961 international championships.

Marty Liquori Profile b. September 11/1949 Marty Liquori in full flight, still viewable on the Internet, has to be one of the finest sights in competitive running. He appeared on the running scene in 1967 as the third American high-schooler to break the 4-minute mile. The 17-year-old from New Jersey was only seventh in the Bakersfield, California, race and finished 8.7 seconds behind the winner Jim Ryun, who broke the world record with 3:51.1. Within two years, this talented runner was defeating Ryun in major races. Under the coaching of Jumbo Elliott at Villanova University, the dedicated Liquori quickly emerged as the world’s top 1,500 runner in 1969. A fierce competitor, Liquori looked a sure bet to dominate the 1,500 for many years. But this never happened. His harsh training schedules and frequent indoor competition led to a string of injuries that kept him out of some major competitions. And although there were many really fine performances throughout the 1970s—he was the world’s number one over 5,000 in 1977—Liquori never quite fulfilled his early promise, and he ended his long career without a major title.

Maurice Herriott

27th November 2013

Maurice Herriott Profile b. 1939  While many of his international rivals were being financially supported by their countries, 1964 Olympic Steeplechase silver-medalist Maurice Herriott had to work a 45-hour week on a factory production line. Nevertheless, he managed to train three times a day and perform at international level for eleven years from 1958 to 1968. During these years Herriott was British Steeplechase champion eight times, won silver medals in two major games, lowered the UK Steeplechase record six times from 8:41.2 to 8:32.4, and won countless international races for his country.

Max Truex

31st October 2011

Profile: Max Truex1935-1991 Max Truex was the precursor of the successful modern American tradition in distance track running. His sixth place in the 1960 Olympic 10,000 opened the door for American distance runners in the next Olympics, where they surprised the world by winning golds in both the 5,000 and 10,000 and also a bronze in the 5,000. Before 1960 American distance runners had rarely been competitive on the international scene. Charlie Capozzoli, who won a major European Three Miles in 1952, and Curt Stone, who was sixth in the 1952 Olympic 5,000, were two exceptions. But it was Truex who made the real breakthrough when he became the first American since 1912 to place in the top six of the Olympic 10,000.

b. 1936Michel Jazy was one of the great runners of the 1960s and one of the most elegant. He possessed a lethal kick that at times looked unanswerable. His elegance and competitive success made him a celebrity in France. His best distance was 3,000 or 2 miles; for winning Olympic gold he was not quite fast enough for 1,500 and not quite strong enough for 5,000. Thus he was unable to beat Herb Elliott over 1,500 in Rome and faded to fourth in the last meters of the Tokyo 5,000. Nevertheless, he won two European golds and one silver. Perhaps more significantly he set nine WRs and 17 European records.