Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Articles / Profile

Herb Elliott

7th February 2011

Profile: Herb Elliott b. 1938    The bare facts of Herb Elliott’s career say it all: unbeaten over One Mile and 1,500; Olympic 1,500 champion in WR time; and Empire Games double champion. He was one of the greatest runners of the twentieth century.Something of the unique character of this man can be shown in my sole encounter with him. He had committed to run an 880 in my home town of Brighton. However, he was completely out of shape, not having run for weeks. Nevertheless, he still turned up and ran his guts out—literally. He was violently sick afterwards. His time was a mundane 1:55, but he had honored his commitment and given his best. Once he had recovered I approached him for an autograph in his book The Golden Mile. He signed it with pencil, and in response to my comment that I had enjoyed the book, claimed that he hadn’t read it. Modesty, perhaps false modesty, but still modesty.

HORACE ASHENFELTER: PROFILE  b. 1923  5’10”/1.78m  128lbs/58kg Horace Ashenfelter’s 1952 Olympic win in the 3,000 Steeplechase is widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in Olympic track. To start with, he was not a steeplechaser. So he was competing as a novice in what is the most technical running event. His steeplechasing experience was limited to just six races (some say eight). Over the previous winter he had been practicing hurdling, but this was limited to working on a single hurdle that he built himself. Then he was up against two highly experienced and technically trained Russians, Vladimir Kazantsev and Mikhail Saltykov, the first two to break the 1944 world record of 8:59.6 with 8:49.8 and 8:57.6 respectively. Ashenfelter came to the Olympics with a best of 9:06.4, a full 17.8 seconds slower than Kazantsev’s new 1952 world record of 8:48.6.

Ian Stewart

18th October 2012

Ian Stewart Profileb. 15 Jan 1949  A cursory review of Ian Stewart’s running career would suggest that he was a teenage prodigy. He set a UK age-best for 2 Miles at 16 and then Junior European records for 3,000, 2 Miles, 3 Miles and 5,000. And the next year, as a first-year Senior at age 20, he was European champion at 3,000 indoors and at 5,000 outdoors.  The following year he beat the two greatest distance runners of the 1960s, Ron Clarke and Kip Keino, to win the 1970 Commonwealth Games 5,000, clocking the third-fastest time ever and setting a European and UK record.

IHAROS, ROZSAVOLGYI, TABORI:PROFILE:  THE HUNGARIAN TRIO   In 1955, the year before the Melbourne Olympics, Hungarian runners shocked the world with a slate of nine world records from 1,500 to 5,000. It was one of the greatest record explosions ever in track running. This breakthrough came from three runners: Sandor Iharos, Laszlo Tabori, and Istvan Rozsavolgyi. A crucial reason for this explosion was the coaching of Mihaly Igloi (see Profile). Igloi had become coach of the Army team Budapest Honved in 1951; he took over as Hungarian National Coach in 1953.

Jack Holden

10th February 2011

PROFILE: JACK HOLDEN1907-2004 Of the many great runners that England has produced, Jack Holden stands near the top of the list. He wasn’t the elegant greyhound type of runner; he was built more like a boxer and ran on pure grit. Except during the Second World War, he competed at international level for 20 years.  Jim Peters, the great marathoner of the next generation, saw him as “a ruthless runner, full of confidence and always starting with an absolute determination to ‘kill’ the opposition right from the start.”  (Peters, In the Long Run, p.62)

PROFILE: JACK LOVELOCK 1910-1949 An Olympic champion and Mile WR holder, this New Zealander dedicated himself to becoming a complete runner. He applied a professional attitude to an amateur activity. According to Jerry Cornes, the President of Oxford University AC when Lovelock arrived there in 1931 as a Rhodes Scholar, “Lovelock…tried hard to know himself and was single-minded in his efforts to eradicate his weaknesses and to exploit the best in his mental and physical make-up. He was a pioneer in the analytical study of the one-mile and 1500-metre races.”  Cornes, himself a fine runner and Olympian, went on to say that Lovelock “contributed in no small measure to what I will always regard as the final achievement—Bannister’s breaking of the ‘sound barrier’ of the four-minute mile.” (Quoted in Norman Harris, The Legend of Lovelock, p.9) Indeed it is interesting to compare Lovelock with Bannister: both developed their running careers while training to be doctors, both studied at St. Mary’s in London, both were highly strung, and both broke the Mile world record.

Jean Wadoux Profile

1st December 2015

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.

Jim Peters

17th February 2011

Jim Peters was one of the greatest marathon runners.  His domination in marathon running in the early 1950s is often overlooked because his dramatic collapse near the end of the 1954 Empire Games marathon in Vancouver is so well documented. From his first marathon in 1951, Peters was breaking records.  In this marathon, his 2:29: 24 clocking made him the first British runner under 2:30. In the next three years he gradually improved his times. With his Poly Marathon win in 1954, he ran a World Best for the fourth time with 2:17:39.4, his career best. During this progression from 2:29 to 2:17 he was he first man under 2:25 and the first under 2:20.  The previous World Best was 2:25:39 by Korean Yun Bok Suh (disputed for being on a short course); Peters improved that by 8:00 over his career. No one before or since has lowered the World Best marathon time by so much.

Jim Ryun

14th February 2012

PROFILE:  JIM RYUNb. 1947 Once every generation or so, a prodigy appears on the running scene with a talent far above his contemporaries. American Jim Ryun was one such prodigy. At 17 he broke the 4-min barrier and represented the USA in the 1964 Olympics. At 18 he ran 3:55.3, breaking the American Mile record. Today, almost 50 years later, he still holds five of the six fastest mile times in U.S. high school history. In his five years at the top, he consistently performed at the highest level, breaking four world records. Only in the Olympics did he fall short of his expectations. In his three Olympics his best was a silver medal.

John Landy Profile

17th February 2011

The second man to break the four-minute-mile barrier, Australian John Landy is universally respected as one of the great runners of the twentieth century.  His dignity, sportsmanship and courage are beyond dispute. However, he will always be seen as the one who could have—could have run the first four-minute mile and could have won Olympic and Empire titles.Born into a prosperous family in 1930, Landy went to the prestigious Geelong Grammar School and then studied agriculture at Melbourne University.  Like most Australians, he was sports-minded, originally trying to succeed in Australian–rules football. He also ran to keep fit for football. When he made the state athletics team in 1951, he decided to take the sport more seriously.  After winning the Combined Schools Mile in a modest 4:43, he was introduced to Percy Cerutty, the colourful local coach. This meeting changed Landy’s life; he gave up football and started to train seriously as a runner.