Monday, April 20, 2015

V5 N 32 David Hemery 68 400 IH Gold Medalist to Attempt London Marathon

Found this piece in "The Telegraph" today, it was also mentioned on TF&N's website.  Nice little background piece.  He'll be running the London marathon in 48 sec. intervals with 60 seconds walking.  The article also describes how Mr. Hemery made a few dollars in the Brit equivalent of Sports Superstars and was able to make a down payment on his first house,  then moved to Boston, where here coached at BU for a number of years.    If I recall,  Peter Snell got a little nest egg on the American version of that show and was able to fund his way to grad school in the States to become an exercise physiologist.   A group of my friends and myself included used to refer to the program as "Trash Sports",  but it looks like it did have a few positive outcomes for the participants.  NFL'ers didn't fare too well in this show.


David Hemery: why I am running the marathon aged 70

The Olympic gold medallist is running the London 2015 marathon in 48 second bursts. Harry Wallop meets him to find out why

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David Hemery, holding the union flag from the closing ceremony of the 1968 Mexico games, in his garden in Wiltshire
David Hemery, holding the union flag from the closing ceremony of the 1968 Mexico games, in his garden in Wiltshire Photo: Jay Williams 2015
At every London marathon there are always a small number of Olympic gold medallists attempting this endurance race. And there are also invariably a clutch of septuagenarians proving age is no barrier to running 26 miles.
This year is no different – former rowers James Cracknell and Zac Purchase are lining up on April 27, so too about 150 people in their eighth decade.
But 2015 is likely to be the very first time when these two circles in the Venn diagram cross over and an Olympic gold medal winner in their seventies gives it a go.
It is David Hemery, the “man killer of Mexico,” who won gold and smashed the world record in the 400 metres hurdles in 1968.

David Hemery on his way to winning the gold medal in the 400m hurdles, in the Olympic Games, Mexico 1968
He doesn’t much look like a “man killer”, or an ant killer for that matter. He is lounging, feet up, in the slightly scruffy study in his very cosy Wiltshire home, in front of a crackling fire, a dog at his side, and a garden full of 10 alpacas, two ponies, a pair of geese and seven chickens.
Dr Dolittle of Devizes is coming out of retirement.
The majority of his fellow runners are unlikely to recognise him. But to people of a certain era he will be forever associated with one of the most famous pieces of sports commentary of all time.
David Coleman, the man behind the BBC microphone, crackling all the way down the satellite link from Mexico City's Estadio Olímpico Universitario, could not contain his excitement.
"It's Hemery Great Britain, it's Hemery Great Britain, it's Hemery with one barrier to go," Coleman said in his machine gun rata-tat-tat delivery at an estimated 200 words a minute (almost a record itself). "And David Hemery is going to take the gold. David Hemery wins for Britain! Hemery takes the gold, in second place Hennige and who cares who's third? It doesn't matter."
It was actually another Brit in third. It helped spawn “Colemanballs”, the merciless column in Private Eye, which lampooned the commentator’s gaffes. But those who had stayed up late to watch knew what Coleman meant – Hemery had eviscerated the field and finished a full 8 metres ahead of anyone else. The 400m hurdles was always described as the "man killer" event, requiring a steely toughness. Coleman added Hemery "killed the rest of the field".
Not that he realised it at the time.
“I didn't know after I'd crossed the line,” he recalls. He had looked to the right and seen no one had overtaken. “But then I thought. ‘Oh no, I never looked to my left. Did I win?’ The first thing I asked the BBC interviewer, when he came onto the track, was 'Did I win?'. I didn't know. I was running scared for the last fifty metres.”
He describes the sensation as he ran for the line as no different than if someone had pulled a knife. “It's the adrenalin. I was literally, running scared. It’s the fear they are gaining on you and they will overtake you."

David Hemery in 1998
The race, along with Coleman’s commentary, made Hemery famous. This was, after all, an era when a British Olympic gold medal was a precious and rare thing. He was helped by his distinctive looks – a sweep of blond hair, shaggy sideburns, and a Roman nose large enough to pole vault over.
“Someone once said I had a recognisable physiognomy", he says wryly. "People still come up in the street and say: "Are you Dave Hemery?”
But what really made him a household name was the BBC Sunday afternoon show, Superstars – a strange, but phenomenally successful, hybrid of It’s a Knockout and Grandstand. It gathered some of the best sportsmen of the time and got them to compete in a range of completely different sports, including a rather brutal gym test. The calibre of the contestants was astonishing. Alongside Hemery, there was Jackie Stewart, Bobby Moore, Joe Bugner, Roger Taylor, Tony Jacklin and Barry John. “We were called the magnificent seven. What a great group. I loved it.”
Of course, now, no football club or Formula One team would allow their star performer to risk injuring themselves doing squat thrusts or cycling around an athletics track, let alone for peanuts money. “Modern sports stars paid far too much. Most of us were complete amateurs.”
Hemery and the rest were not paid a large appearance fees. "I think they might have paid us £250 to turn up. But I turned up for the fun. And the challenge.”
And, also, the prize money, which was for the mid 1970s, pretty considerable: £4,000.
Hemery won not just the first series, but two others.

Kevin Keegan, competing in a 1970s BBC Superstars cycling event
“I put a deposit down on a house with my first Superstars win. It was quite a lot of money. I put £2,500 down on a flat in London, in Fortis Green, north London. That doubled in value, which I took to the US [where he worked as a head coach at Boston University] and meant we could buy a house there, and that doubled in value which allowed us to put a deposit down on this …” he points to this modest, but comfortable cottage a mile up a country lane. His wife, Vivian is in the kitchen cooking a frozen Waitrose pizza for their lunch. Along with their menagerie in the garden, it seems a pretty idyllic life.
He has Coleman to thank too, in a roundabout way, for his appearance in this year’s marathon.
It was at a celebration for the commentator’s life at the BBC – after his death at the end of 2013 – that Hemery bumped into Dave Bedford, fellow former athlete and long-time director of the marathon.

Runners in the London Marathon passing Buckingham Palace
“He said, ‘you haven't done London, have you’. And I said: ‘Why would I want to do that, as a sprint hurdler?’
“And he said: ‘Because you could earn your charity a quarter of a million pounds’.”
His charity is an educational one called 21st Century Legacy. Lord Coe asked him to set it up to help the London Olympics deliver on its promise that it would “inspire a generation”, a promise many feel has withered, as playing fields have been sold off and participation in sport has failed to increase.
21st Century Legacy is not about inspiring future sports stars, per se, but giving schoolchildren ambition to “be the best they can be”, even if that means no more than improving their handwriting. It sends inspirational speakers to schools – often former gold medal winners – and trains teachers to “unlock potential”. It has a whiff of management training gobbledegook about it, which is how Hemery has been earning his living for the last couple of decades, after a stint as a teacher himself. There is a lot of talk about “the shift going on in education from a didactic approach to an enhanced facilitation, child-centred style.”
But 160,000 schoolchildren have taken the course and Hemery insists the programme leads directly to better behaviour and results within schools.
His own potential is being unlocked come April 27, because he intends to treat the marathon as an extreme form of interval training: running for 48 seconds, his world record time from Mexico, and then walking for a minute. Repeatedly. For 26 miles and 385 yards. It should take 5 and half hours.
“It’s mostly because I can’t sustain a run anymore,” he says.
It will be an impressive feat if he can sustain his sprint-walk for 26 miles, though a number of increasingly senior athletes are hitting the track. Earlier this year, 95-year-old Charles Eugster ran 200m in 55.48 seconds.
There was a time when extreme fitness training was Hemery's bread and butter. In the run up to the Olympics in 1972 he’d do 500 press ups and 500 sits up every single day, and run 10 miles in between.
He's still the same weight as he was in '68 but he now trains by going out with his wife, who rides a horse-drawn carriage across the Wiltshire countryside. “I run beside it, and when I am out of breath, I jump on the back. When I get my breath back, I leap off and run ahead and open the gates.”
His marathon tilt will certainly catch the eye. If only David Coleman were still around to commentate.
• You can sponsor David Hemery's marathon here:http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DavidHemery

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