Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running


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.

Welcome


Welcome to Racing Past, a non-profit website dedicated to the history of competitive running.

You will see that Bob Phillips is now carrying the baton for this site, as I have moved on to another website on the arts (coppice-gate.com).

The main reason I have stopped writing articles for this site is that I have covered everything I wanted to write about. Above all, I wanted to write about the great runners who were competing when I was competing at club level for Brighton AC. These were the runners who inspired me and to whom I feel I owe a great debt. 

I have been surprised and gratified by the response to this website over the past decade. I will keep Racing Past "running" for as long as I can and am very grateful and honored that such a fine writer as Bob Phillips is continuing to improve this site with his historical articles.

 

John Cobley

January 2024

 

 

Latest Articles



Parades across the world are often military, the Russian May Day Parade for example. But there are many other types of parade—processions of people along a road that celebrate historical events (the end of World War 2) or promote groups of society (the Brazilian Rio Carnival Parade). And of course there is always a Parade of Nations to open the Olympic Games. A unique parade was held in Paris, France, on November 11, 1935. It was organized by the newspaper Paris-Soir to pay homage to a runner who had been banned for life some four years previously. Jules Ladoumègue had captured the hearts of his nation when he had broken six world records and won an Oålympic silver medal. A very sensitive and modest man, “Julot” nevertheless appealed to the French, who were still recovering from German occupation in World War 1. He also appealed to the public with his elegant running style.

George Young Profile

American middle-distance runner George Young will be remembered most of all for establishing American steeplechasing on the international map, for solidifying the 1952 gold-medal achievement of Horace Ashenfelter. Young placed fifth and third in the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Steeplechase finals and set an American record of 8:30.4. He will also be remembered for his competitive toughness. This toughness was perfectly exemplified near the end of his career (at  age 36) when he had an memorable battle with 21-year-old Prefontaine in the 1972 USA Olympic Trials 5,000. Young’s ongoing reputation as a tough guy was brilliantly captured in the Prefontaine movie Without Limits. In a memorable scene (http://cdn1.anyclip.com/BTCO2tntJhYbu.mp4), Donald Sutherland, playing Coach Bill Bowerman, visits Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) to announce with great gravity: “George Young is in town.” This echoes a classic line in many western movies when locals learn that a famous gunfighter has arrived in town. George Young was indeed a “famous gunfighter” on the American track scene in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Martin Hyman Profile

“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.

Gerry Lindgren Profile

Few runners have appeared on the distance-running scene as dramatically as American Gerry Lindgren. In 1964 while still a schoolboy, he emerged from a remote area of Washington State near the Canadian border to run a series of world-class races. His successes that year took him to the Tokyo Olympics as one of the favorites in the 10,000. Until the 1960s teenagers rarely competed in distance events. It was universally believed that distance running was a mature man’s sport; teenagers were strongly discouraged from running long distances on the road and track. Only in cross-country races were they allowed to run longer distances up to 5,000.

Jean Wadoux Profile

Jean Wadoux emerged in the 1960s as one of the world’s finest middle-distance runners. He was a worthy successor to Michel Jazy, in whose shadow his early career developed. His greatest achievement was a European 1,500 record of 3:34.0 in 1970. At that time it was the second-fastest 1,500 ever recorded. Wadoux also ran the 5,000 in 13:28.0. His competitive record was excellent, although critics have noted his poor record in major competitions. This is unfair. A closer look at his two Olympics and three Europeans shows that he performed well in two of these meets and was handicapped by altitude (Mexico) and by an injury in two others. Only in the 1966 Europeans did he disappoint. Wadoux won many races for his country in international matches and was French national 1,500 champion for seven consecutive years. When he moved up to the 5,000 later in his career, he posted impressive wins over Keino and Clarke and won a European silver medal in his last year of competition.

Latest Book Reviews


The Landy Era

Johnson, Len


2nd February 2017


The Landy Era by Len Johnson: Book Review   There have been several books on Bannister’s breaking of the four-minute Mile, but until now we haven’t had a book that focuses on John Landy. This is not to say that there hasn’t been some good material on the great Australian miler. Neal Bascomb’s excellent The Perfect Mile provides some excellent material on Landy’s build-up to 1954; Nelson and Quercetani cover Landy’s career with their usual thoroughness in their indispensible The Milers. There is also good material on Landy, although on a smaller scale, in John Bryant’s 3:59.4: The Quest to Break the Four-Minute Mile and in Jim Denison’s Bannister and Beyond. But was not until Len Johnson’s The Landy Era, published in 2009, that have we been given the full story.

Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek

Butcher, Pat

The late Emil Zatopek ranks as one of the most inspirational figures in the history of track. He inspired us not only as a competitor but also as an innovative trainer and as a human being. Such was his stature that a regular number of “pilgrims” used to travel to Czechoslovakia to meet him. So it is surprising that until 2015 only three books on him had been published (See my book review “Three Books on Zatopek”) However, there has been a veritable deluge of Zatopek books in the last year. First to appear was Pavel Kosatik’s Emil-Bezec, which was written in the Czech language. Then early in 2016 two more were published: Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zatopek, Olympic Legend by Richard Askwith and Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zatopek by Rick Broadbent. Later in 2016 a fourth book appeared: Quicksilver: the Mercurial Emil Zatopek by Pat Butcher.

55 Years Running

Oxlade, Edwin

There must be lots of people in the British running community who know the name Edwin Oxlade. Not that he was a top-level runner. In fact, he was a good club runner with times of 49:52 for 10 Miles, 1:05:57 for a half Marathon and 2:24:24 for a Marathon. For a long time he was deeply involved with the UK club scene, and he has now decided to put all his memories and opinions into print. “ I like to think of the book as a personal view of the history of running,  in particular British distance running, during the course of my lifetime,” he explains in his short preface. “Personal” is a key word here because Edwin Oxlade has a lot of opinions--and I don’t mean this in a negative way.

The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games

Beck, Jason

The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, by Jason Beck. Half Moon Bay, BC, Canada: Caitlin Press, 2016. Softback, $29. 95. 318pp This large-format book is beautifully produced (kudos to Vici Johnstone, who designed the over and text), and it offers a generous amount of black-and-white photography. It is clearly a labour of love for author Jason Beck, who is the Curator and Facility Director of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver. Much of the work on his ten-year project for this book was done while commuting. Although he had no spare time during business hours to work on this book, his job did give him one big advantage: “Access to the largest collection of BECG-related material anywhere in the world as well as key contacts, each of whom had some connection to the Games as an athlete, spectator, volunteer official or coach.” (BECG = British Empire and Commonwealth Games)

Conquerors of Time

McConnell, Lynn

It took me a while to get hold of this book, but I’m glad that I persevered. It’s now in my must-have collection. This highly researched book focuses on the 1,500 and covers the 1932 and 1936 Olympics and the years in between. Primarily the book is about Jack Lovelock, Luigi Beccali, Glenn Cunningham, and Bill Bonthron, the first three having run in both Olympics. There is also information about other great 1,500 runners of this 1932-1936 period: Sydney Wooderson, Gene Venzke, Phil Edwards, and Jerry Cornes. Wooderson and Venzke had one disappointing Olympics in 1936; Cornes and Edwards, however, medaled in one Olympics and placed in the top six in the other.

Latest from Bob Phillips



The Toil, the Tactics, the Triumphs of the Track. Paul Martin, “The Good Companion”   Hundredths of seconds decide races, and in the bygone age before such precision timing came into widespread and then universal use tenths of seconds were equally vital. Numerous instances can be quoted of titles won and lost by such a narrow margin, and in an Olympic context early classic examples can even be found in as many as three track finals in middle-distance and long-distance events at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, where the close-run winners were James Meredith, of the USA, at 800 metres; Arnold Jackson, of Great Britain, at 1500 metres; and Johan Kolehmainen, of Finland, at 5000 metres.

Jules Ladomègue: Julot, the French Idol

      Julot, the French idol. “Above all of us others”, said Nurmi The life of Jules Ladoumègue Author’s note: John Cobley’s profile of Jules Ladoumègue on this website covers his competitive career in admirable detail, and this article is intended to complement that. Living in France, I can hopefully bring a further perspective to the contribution made to French athletics by Ladoumègue, with whom all subsequent middle-distance record-breakers from that country are still compared. 

How George Bonhag Won his Odd Gold Medal

“Going along at a merciless chip”. How George Bonhag Won his Odd Olympic GoldGeorge Bonhag became the leading American distance-runner of the early years of the 20th Century, and it seems that, somewhat surprisingly, he had a British Army officer to thank for that. Bonhag went to the 1906 Olympic Games in Athens and did not do quite as well as might have been hoped for in his favoured events – 4th in the 5 miles and 6th in the 1500 metres. Then, bizarrely, he entered the 1500 metres walk on impulse the next day and won after the first two competitors to finish were disqualified.

AGK Brown's Selfless North American ADVENTURE

A.G.K’s selfless North American adventure a year after Olympic gold A “Track Stats” inquiryRivalled only by Sydney Wooderson, Godfrey Brown was the most famous of British athletes in 1937. He had lost the 400 metres at the Berlin Olympics the previous year by the narrowest of margins and then anchored the 4 x 400 relay team to a famous victory over the Americans. Frequently the headline to any press report about him read no more than “A.G.K. Brown”. Readers knew to expect that another record had been broken or at least seriously challenged. Whether or not Brown himself endorsed the “record attempts” so frequently predicted on his behalf in excited media coverage is another matter.