Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vol. 2 No. 69 Olympic Games 1964 10,000 meters and the legacy of a Sri Lankan Runner


While anxiously waiting for the swimming and gymnastics to end and track and field to begin at the London Games, some of us were recently trying to identify all of the participants in this photo of the 10,000 meters from Tokyo. When identifying each runner, I will put their finishing place in ( parentheses)    Some are easy, some are difficult to nearly impossible without the help of some good websites that contain all the stats.   Still some detective work had to be done.  For instance there were three Africans in this race, one from Kenya and one from Tanzania, and one from Ethiopia.  How to tell them apart when teams were not putting their nation's names on the 'vest'.   Mamo Wolde ,red shorts , black vest,(4th)  was the easy one in the picture as he  later won the Mexico City marathon and is well known.   But who is the leader?  Naftali Temu from Kenya or Pascal Mfiyo(DNF) from Tanzania.  That question was answered by looking at the picture of the finish of the 5000 meters where Kipchoge Keino is clearly seen wearing a similar logo as the lead runner in this photo, identifying him as Naftali Temu (DNF  ), who would win the Steeplechase (Correction Temu would win the 10,000 and get third in the 5,000 at Mexico City. ed.) four years later in Mexico City.  Correction:  There were 4 Africans.  I didn't not count Gammoudi who hailed from Tunisia.  Thanks to an astute reader. ed.  

Moving back in the pack it gets easy for awhile.  Ron Clarke (3rd)  #12 is on the rail and Gerry Lindgren (9th)#221 is just on Clarke's right.   Right behind Clarke is Billy Mills (1st) the eventual winner, and running wide in the red vest is Mohammed Gamouddi (2nd) from Tunisia.  The other Aussie just behind Mills is Tony   Cook (8th)  and just behind Cook is the Russian  Leonid Ivanov  (5th ).  I determined Ivanov from photos of him in other races.  After Ivanov Kokicu Surybara (6th) of Japan can be seen wiping his brow.  Surybara would get the bronze medal in the marathon.  He was in second place entering the stadium but was passed on the last lap by Basil Heatley of Great Britain.  The next runner behind Surybara is Nickolai Dutov (DNF) another Russian in the race.  A third Russian not seen in the picture was Pytor Bolotnikov (25th) the defending champion at  10000 meters.   The next runner ,  a bit of a challenge but determined by ethnic appearance is Ranatunge Karunanda (29th) of Ceylon now called Sri Lanka.   Below this account you will find a story about Karunanda that was dug out of cyberspace by Dennis Kavanaugh.   On the outside in the black vest is Murray Halberg  (7th) of New Zealand the defending champion at 5000 in Rome.   Murray appears to be indicating to Karunanda to step off the track or move to the outside, as Karunanda was lapped several times in the race.  He also ran the 5000 meters at Tokyo , but was eliminated in the heats.  There were no heats for the 10000.     The next runner I am guessing is Franc Cervan (10th) of Yugoslavia followed by Siegfried Hermann (11th) of Germany.   There was a second German Sigfried Rothe (30th) but probably not in this picture.  The last runner is Jim Hogan (DNF) of Ireland who also DNF'd in the marathon that year.

Other runners of note, not seen, were Ron Hill (19th), Barry Magee (23rd), Ron Larrieu (24th) and Bruce Kidd (26th).

A  film produced by the Japanese of this race covers the Sri Lankan runner Ranatunga Karunananda in his last lap alone on the track.  This finish drew a lot of sentiment from the Japanese public resulting in him being treated quite well by the local press.  His story is worth reading if only to show the spirit of bringing the world together at the Olympic Games.  Today with qualifiying standards this would not have been possible for Karunanda to appear in a final.  His time in the 5000 prelim was 17:52, so he most likely would not have found his way into the 10000 now that qualifying standards are in place.  The article has been written by Kalana Sandhana who in 2009 was in his last year as an engineering and computer science student at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka. The following story is an edited version from his blog.

by Kalana Sandhana
Karunananda did his best to win a medal for his country, one could see the effort he took from beginning to end of the race.  The spectators gave him a standing ovation when, alone on the track, he completed the race.

The Sri Lankan media has forgotten this great athlete.    Those who see Ron Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad might be surprised to see Karunanda featured in a light equal to many who won their races.  Karunananda finished only 47th out of 52 attempting qualifiers in the 5000meters and was 29th and last in the 10,000 meters.  He did not compete in the marathon.  He was already ill and in a considerably weakened state, but this was  a time when athletes were less prone to scratch from races when they were sick.  They were not then pampered with corporate sponsorships, employment, vehicles, houses and other gifts (exception being the Eastern bloc countries ed.).   Karunananda competed instead because he wanted his young daughter to be proud of him and see that he competed from start to finish.  He could have dropped out, and it would have changed nothing.  He was lapped four times. Initially when he was completing those last three laps there was jeering, the next lap there was silence, but when he continued on to the finish, they were cheering and gave him a standing ovation.  Today the Japanese still cite him as an example to schoolchildren teaching the virtue of determination and triumph of the human spirit.

A clip of the 10,000 meters in which Karunananda is clearly seen being passed and then running the extra laps can be viewed at  

Days after the race he was still receiving gifts from the Japanese public.    Karunananda was the first "Marathon Karu".    K.A. Karunaratne or Marathon Karu is known to Sri Lankans as a national hero.    He was a multiple marathon winner in Southeast Asia  and quite famous in his homeland.  In April, 2008 he was killed in a suicide bombing alongside a cabinet minister, and all Sri Lanka mourned his death. ed.

Karunananda died a few days before he was to go home to Sri Lanka.  He had been offered a job in Japan.  His cause of death is unexplained whether by and accident or foul play.  Years later a Japanese film crew went to Sri Lanka to learn more about him.  They were taken to Marathon Karu by mistake.  Marathon Karu led them to Karunananda's widow and children and learned that they had for a time been homeless after his death until a relative had taken them in.  Sri Lanka had all but forgotten Karunananda.   (I'm not sure if Karunananda died a metaphorical death or really died.  He is still listed as being alive in the Sports Ref. web site.  The point is not entirely clear to me. ed.)

We don't have to look beyond our shores.  We are a nation blessed with our own heroes.  In fact there is one in everybody.   If we want to remember men and women who stood taller than the multitude then let us remember Ranatunga Karunananda.


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