Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Articles / 1960s

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.

Mills v Clarke v GammoudiGreat Races #1610,000, Tokyo Olympic Games, 1964 This race was billed by Track & Field News as “the greatest 10,00 meters of all time.” There was a large field of 38 starters. Even more had entered, and there was a strong lobby to schedule heats. As it turned out, the large field did affect the race in the last lap as the leaders had to dodge in and out of the 12 lapped runners. Clarke compared his  last lap to “a dash for a train in a peak-hour crowd.” (Ron Clarke, The Unforgiving Minute, p. 19)

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)

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.

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.

Ron Clarke

20th April 2011

Profile: Ron Clarke1937-2015 One of the great distance runners of the 20th century, this Australian broke new ground in the longer track races, just as Emil Zatopek had done 15 years earlier. Comparisons across different eras are difficult, but some statistics are illuminating. Clarke reduced the 5,000 WR by 9.2 seconds, Zatopek by 1.0; Clarke reduced the 10,000 by 38.6 seconds, Zatopek by 33.0. So Clarke wins on that score. However, competitively, Zatopek wins on an Olympic medal count with four gold and one silver to Clarke’s one bronze. This second comparison underlines the one flaw in Clarke’s career—his relatively poor competitive record in major races. Still, both men were for a time the dominant distance runner in the world. Perhaps the main difference between the two was that Clarke was more of a front runner than Zatopek. Zatopek had a race-winning kick, whereas Clarke, despite his claims to the contrary, did not. This comparison is not complete without acknowledging Zatopek’s great admiration for Ron Clarke. In 1966 Zatopek invited the Australian to Czechoslovakia, and as a parting gift he gave him his 1952 Olympic 10,000 medal with the following words: “Not out of friendship but because you deserve it.”

Ron Hill: Part One

26th March 2012

Ron Hill Profile: Part One1938-2021 (This is by far the longest profile I have written. I have tried to keep it brief, but there is so much material to cover. Much of the information here comes from Ron Hill’s wonderful autobiography The Long Hard Road, Part One and Part Two. Quotations from it are acknowledged by noting the part and the page (i.e., 1:222). I highly recommend Hill’s autobiography; it gives an honest, detailed account of all aspects of Hill’s life as a runner.) In the history of distance running, few have challenged human physical limits more radically than Ron Hill. The 828 pages of his two books describe for us in rich detail the “trials and tribulations” he endured while trying to become the world’s best distance runner. After reading these pages, no one can question his courage, dedication and determination.

Ron Hill: Part Two

26th March 2012

Ron Hill Profile: Part Two  1938-2021    Ron Hill’s seventh place in the 1968 Olympic 10,000 final was his first good performance in a major games. After disappointments in the 1962 Euros, the 1964 Olympics, the 1966 Commonwealth Games and the 1966 Euros, he had finally performed up to his expectations in Mexico. “With such a good run,” he wrote, “I was confident that my training program was right.  Long term, I now had the Munich Olympics, and the Marathon there, firmly set in my sights; but, before that, The European Games in Athens (1969) an the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (1970) were to be looked forward to.” (1:404) What he wanted most was an Olympic gold medal--“the ultimate symbol of success in running” (2:6)--or if not that, then a European or Commonwealth gold medal.

Snell v Tulloh v ThomasMile, Wanganui, New ZealandJanuary 27, 1962Great Races # 19 Early in 1962 a small coastal town in New Zealand hit the headlines across the world. Wanganui was the site of an unexpected Mile world record by Peter Snell, the current 800 Olympic champion. He had never run under 4:00. So although his well-publicized attempt at the first sub-four Mile in New Zealand looked feasible, anything close to Herb Elliott’s 3:54.5 WR was not expected. But the odds seemed stacked against even a four-minute Mile. Torrential rain was forecast for the area, which was crucial since the race was to be held on a grass track in Wanganui’s Cook’s Gardens. And then the track itself, although in good condition, was only 385 yards (352m) long. To make matters worse, a running friend of Snell’s had drowned that morning, and although this tragedy was kept from Snell, it did affect significantly the performance of Murray Halberg, one of the assigned pacemakers.

The Cold War Track Series 1958-1965 At the height of the cold war, the USA and USSR engaged in a series of dual track meets that saw some of the most intense competition in the whole history of the sport. Sports Illustrated came to regard this almost annual meet as “The most important track meet the US takes part in except for the Olympic Games.” (July 27, 1964) Kenny Moore, the great American track writer, called it “One of the Cold War’s great events.” (p. 109) By 1958, when the series began, the cold war was reaching fever pitch. The threat of a nuclear holocaust was on everyone’s mind. And the two great nations were learning how to deal with each other’s nuclear ability. In some ways, the athletic competition became a non-military battle with propaganda well to the fore. Thus the competition was intense. Before the first encounter in 1958, American coach George Eastment told the US team, “There are international tensions in the world and today is very important.” (Sports Illustrated, Aug 4, 1958)