Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Book Reviews

Run to Win


Run to Win by Charlie Capozzoli 


This autobiography is a wonderful historical document. It tells the story of  a young American, the son of Italian immigrants, who became a top schoolboy runner in the late 1940’s and then an Olympian at the age of 21 in 1952. “Vanity may be a reason for writing this,” Charlie Capozzoli writes in the introduction. “However, the main purpose is for my children, their spouses, and their children (our grandchildren) to have something to look back on.” And the book does provide some family history as well as conveying a strong religious (Catholic) faith. Still, this book will not just be valuable for the Capozzoli family; it will also be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the American running world from 1945 to 1953. I thus highly recommend it to visitors to this website.

In the post WW2 era, distance running in the US was neither popular nor successful (at a world level). But there was a strong tradition in the one- and two-mile races and in cross-country at high schools and universities. The problem was that there was no proper system in track and field for those who wanted to continue after university graduation. Only a very talented American athlete was able to break into any kind of international level in distance running before he retired upon graduation at 22. Capozzoli was one of those rare athletes. 

Run to Win tells how he emerged from a tight family background to become one of the very few post-war American distance runners to reach international level. In his second year at high school he took aim at the school Mile record of 4:26. As a Senior in 1949 at Madison Square Garden he improved his mile time from 4:42 to 4:26.3. The headline in the New York Times read: Capozzoli Shatters Meet Record: Bayside Ace Victor in 4:26.3 at Garden.” Outdoors he went even faster (4:22.9) to beat the top schoolboy miler from New Jersey, Fred Dwyer. The photo of the exciting finish of this race in on the cover of the book. 

Then it was on to Georgetown University in 1949. He was encouraged by his high-school coach to aim for the 1952 Olympics. So he trained hard through his freshman year even though freshmen weren’t allowed to compete. Reward for his hard training came the next year when he placed second in the NCAA Two miles (9:04). Then he was invited to represent his country in Europe. On this tour he won five of his eleven races and ran a 4:11 Mile PB. 

At the end of his Junior year, Capozzoli made the American Olympic team for the 5,000. He ran well in Helsinki placing seventh in his heat, behind such great runners as Mimoun, Pirie and Reiff  but in front of Landy. But he was eliminated. 

However, two weeks later in London  he represented the USA in the Three Miles against the British Empire. Up against Pirie (4th in the Olympics) and Frank Sando (5th in the Olympic 10,000), he ran the race of his life, bursting past Sando and Pirie with 300 to go and hitting the tape in a new American record of 13:51.8. 

Capozzoli still had one more year of university. He ran an indoor Two miles in the fastest ever collegiate time (8:55.2) and then beat Olympic Steeplechase champion Ashenfelter with an 8:55.3. These races, as well as many others, are covered in this book, which is also crammed full with cuttings, photos, and even drawings. (Readers will be interested to see many examples of the quasi-caricature sports drawings that were popular in American print media at that time.) 

Capozzoli’s 1953 outdoor season produced “one of the greatest races of my life”: a 4:07.8 Mile, equaling the fastest time by an American runner since 1950. He did this in his last race at Georgetown. Then after winning the IC4A, he went to Europe and won races there too. 

Back home again, he became a law student and was thinking of marriage. Still, he trained through one more winter and ran a 4:08 Mile behind Wes Santee in 1954. But by then he was suffering from a respiratory ailment, which hastened his retirement. 

Run to Win is as much a visual book as a prose book. It is packed with hundreds of cuttings, photos, letters and telegrams, drawings and diplomas. It tells a wonderful story of a wonderful man. His zest for life shines through on every page. How lucky are those whose path has crossed Charlie Capozzoli’s.


Run to Win (243pp) is available through for $15.95. Postage is extra outside the USA.

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