Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

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Mihaly Igloi

18th February 2011

This celebrated Hungarian coach started his track career as a pole vaulter before becoming a successful 1500 runner.  He had several Hungarian titles to his name and competed in the 1936 Olympic 1,500. Furthermore, he was a member of the Hungarian team that set a 4x1,500 WR of 15:54 in 1939. His motivation to change from pole vaulting to track running came from watching Polish 10,000 OG champion Kusocincki, who, according to Frank Litsky would run 200 repetitions in training. (This training method precedes Gerschler’s interval-training innovations as Kusocincki must have been doing this in 1932 or before.) During his running career, Igloi spent time in Germany, Finland and Sweden learning about training methods.

Murray Halberg

14th February 2011

MURRAY HALBERG: Profile1933-2022 Playing rugby as a 17-year-old, New Zealand runner Murray Halberg injured his left shoulder in a tackle; his left arm was paralysed. Contact sports were now out of the question, but he was still able to run, holding his limp left arm “tucked up, pumping myself along with my right.” (A Clean Pair of Heels, 24) His local running coach saw Halberg’s potential, so he asked Arthur Lydiard to take over the coaching. Lydiard, who had not yet achieved his worldwide reputation, saw “astonishing tenacity” in his new pupil. (Arthur Lydiard, Master Coach, 43)

Otto Pelzer Profile  1900-19706ft 1/186cm  159lbs/72kg  Peltzer was a fierce and successful competitor, but he is now mainly remembered for his 800, 1,000 and 1,500 world records. His 1:51.6 broke James Meredith’s 14-year-old 800 record by 0.3 of a second and lasted two years; his 2:25.8 broke Séra Martin’s one-year old 1,000 record by exactly one second and lasted three years; and his 3:51.0 broke Nurmi’s two-year-old 1,500 record  by 1.6 seconds and lasted four years. (He also claimed a world record in the 500m (1:03.6), an event rarely run.)

Paavo Nurmi

12th February 2011

PROFILE:  PAAVO NURMI1897-1973 Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi was truly a legend in his own lifetime. In the 1920s he was by far the dominant distance runner in the world. He improved world records by the following margins: 1,500: 2.1 seconds; Mile: 2.2 seconds; 3,000: 12.8 seconds; 5,000: 8.4 seconds; 10,000: 52.6 seconds. Nurmi also broke new ground in racing and training techniques. In his training he developed an ability to judge his speed.  He understood the need to run at an even pace when attacking records and carried a stopwatch in his races. He trained twice a day and did some speedwork. Later, he admitted that he did too much steady running at the expense of fast intervals.

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.

Percy Cerutty

7th February 2011

To call Percy Cerutty passionate would be an understatement. To call Percy Cerutty eccentric would also be an understatement. To call Percy Cerutty a deep thinker would be accurate.  To call Percy Cerutty an inspirational coach would be accurate too, although he was too extreme for many athletes. Cerutty’s eccentricities, which were fuelled by his unbounded enthusiasm, often got him into trouble. His run-ins with authorities led to his being passed over for a coaching job at Melbourne University that opened up just before the 1956 Olympics. Cerutty was already the most successful coach in the Melbourne area when Franz Stampfl was brought in from England. “I was the local boy,” he wrote later. It was understandable that Cerutty was sorely miffed, but he would never have settled into the discipline of a university position. Indeed, he claimed that he would have refused the job: “Nothing could have appealed to me less that having to organize classes and lectures.” (Cerutty, Sport Is My Life, 53)

Peter Snell

13th February 2011

Profile: Peter Snell    1938-2019 Few runners have made such a dramatic impact on the international scene. Peter Snell stunned the running world in 1960 when he won the Olympic 800. He had been lucky to have made the New Zealand team in the first place, and then to have got through the two elimination rounds was beyond anyone’s hopes. What was also shocking was the marathon training that helped get him to the pinnacle of his sport in such a short time. From his Olympic gold medal in Rome, Snell went on to be the dominant 800/1,500 runner of the first half of the 1960s.

Pyotor Bolotnikov

7th February 2011

PYOTR BOLOTNIKOVb. 1930-2013 Pyotr Bolotnikov was a worthy successor to his countryman Vladimir Kuts. This tough Russian competitor set two WRs for 10,000 and won Olympic and European gold medals. Bolotnikov’s tough childhood formed his personality. He lost his mother at 4, and then lived with his stepmother in the Urals while his father and his brothers fought in World  War 2. After his father and a brother were killed in action, Bolotnikov left his stepmother and went to live alone in the family house in Krasnaya Mordovski. The house had been boarded up, but Bolotnikov opened it up and set about making a living. In 1944 he enrolled in factory training and eventually qualified as an electrician.

Ralph Doubell

12th June 2012

RALPH DOUBELL PROFILE  b. 1945  Perfection is an overused word, but few would disagree that on October 15, 1968, Ralph Doubell achieved perfection in Mexico City. The 23-year-old Australian not only ran a tactically perfect 800 race but also won an Olympic gold medal in a world-record time. This perfect race was the product of five years of intensive training under the coaching of Franz Stampfl. During this period, Doubell was either a full-time student or a full-time employee. In his most successful years from 1965 to 1970, Doubell was Australian 800 champion five times. He won the World Student Games 800 in 1967 and was an 800 finalist in both the 1966 and 1970 Commonwealth Games. And in addition to his outdoor 800 WR (1:44.3), he set two indoor WRs: 1:47.9 for 880 and 2:05.5 for 1,000 yards. As well, he won many indoor races in the USA, taking six of six in 1968.

Roger Bannister

7th February 2011

Profile: Roger Bannister b. 1929  Roger Bannister’s name is synonymous with the four-minute mile. Why was he the first to break through this psychological and symmetric athletic barrier of four laps at a minute each? There were certainly some before him who were physically capable of running a mile under four minutes. Of course conditions had to be right and there had to be some pace-making help, but there also had to be the strong belief that it was possible. This strong belief was surely lacking in some of the early attempts—by the likes of Andersson, Haeg, Santee and Landy. That the four-minute mile was a psychological barrier can be seen in the veritable avalanche of sub-fours in the years immediately after Bannister’s epic run.