Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vol. 3 No. 8 The Springbank International Road Races

The Springbank International Road Races
London, Ontario  1968-1985

A recently discovered treasure was sent to me last month.  The children of Jim Gerard a journeyman runner from Dayton, OH, found a set of photos Jim had taken during the peak of his thirty year running career with the Kettering Striders.  Many of those  pictures in  Jim’s estate had been taken at the Springbank International Road Races in 1973, 74, and 75.  
Jim Gerard #248

 Springbank was a major gathering point of most of the big names in North American road racing  before entry numbers, appearance money, and monetary prizes took over the sport.  The gathering was the last weekend in September in London, Ontario Canada at Storybook Gardens a city park and zoo along the banks of the River Thames.  Races were 3 miles for high school boys,  4.5 miles for women and men.  There was also a 6 mile race for masters runners, and a 12 mile race for all comers.  The course was a pristine narrow three mile loop that afforded spectators some good viewing of the race, for the  runners an excellent, relatively flat road surface in the shade nearly all the way.  It was indeed a place to go for some fast company on a very fast course.  The actual distances were a bit off from the mileage listed.   The 12 mile race was really 11.504 miles, the 6 mile was  5.752  miles,  the 3 miles  2.876.   No one cared much about the odd distances , they were there for the shear pleasure of racing in such a beautiful place with some of the best in the world.

People who came there to run included  +Frank Shorter, +Karel Lismont,  +Bill Rodgers, +Jerome Drayton, +Kenny Moore, +Jon Anderson, +Nick Rose. +Miruts Yifter, +Ron Hill, +Amby Burfoot, +Neil Cusack, +Mike Boit, +Philip Ndoo, +Lionel Ortega, +Rick Rojas, +Steve Stageberg, +Barry Brown, +Alberto Salazar, +John Treacy, +Duncan MacDonald, Sid Sink, Steve Foster, and John Vitale.  On the women’s side were +Francie Larrieu, +Thelma Wright, +Brenda Webb, +Cindy Bremser.  In 1972  one month after the Munich Olympics,  the gold and silver marathon medalists Frank Shorter and Karel Lismont of Belgium met again in the 12 mile race.   Shorter again prevailed, with Ron Hill coming in second and Lismont , third.

The ambiance was nothing short of electrifying, because even the non-elite runners who came there felt very much a part of the event.  The fields were small, not more than 200-300 at most.  When the gun went off , everyone was running, not waiting 10 minutes to start shuffling and eventually running.  With the course somewhat short and very narrow, you always knew where you were in the race relative to the top guys, because you could look across the way and see the lead pack maybe two or three hundred yards ahead.  
The racing lasted from 1968 when Amby Burfoot won the first 12 miler until 1986.   By 1986 I imagine the growth of road racing brought and end to Springbank, because of appearance fees, prize money, and huge fields.   The course could never accomodate a large field whose entry fees would pay for the elite runners to keep coming to the race weekend. 

A history of the Springbank International Road Races can be seen at the London Pacers website.  The programs and results are on the site below.

Note:  If you find the view of the pictures obstructed by the narrow margins, just click directly over the picture for an uncluttered view.   Ed.

Brenda Webb in Blue running for Kettering Striders,  she would win the women's race 3 times in later years for U. of Tennessee

On the last weekend of  September my club, the Kettering Striders from near Dayton, Ohio, would make the 300 mile trip there, because we knew we would rub elbows with some of the greats in the distance running world, and we were going to have  fast times.  The course had some mild hills , long straightaways, and one sharp hairpin turn.

Abbie Hoffman, Canadian Olympian  1973 third place

Brian Armstrong leading Jon Anderson 1974

Anderson finishing

Barry Brown  1973

Kenny Moore (USA)  Andy Boychuck (CAN)

Brenda Webb (U of Tennessee) Three time winner

Barry Brown

Dick Burkele and Brian Armstrong

Neil Cusack (Ire and East Tennessee) leading Kenny Moore 1973   12 miler

Cusack and Miruts Yiter (Ethiopia)  1974   12 miler

Cusack and Yifter    Yifter won this one 1974

Drayton finishing in 1974

Jerome Drayton (CAN)  1974  12 miler

Ed Leddy 1973

Kenny Moore, Tom Fleming(red shorts)  Philip Ndoo (Kenya)

Francie Larrieu

Francie winning the 1973 race

Lead Pack early in 12 miler 1974

Lead Pack 4.5 miler  1974  Mike Boit (Kenya #302)

Lead Pack 1973  4.5 mile race

Grant McLaren (Toronto Olympic Club) 1974

Ed Misner (Florida)  Grant McLaren (yellow) after 1973 race

Lead Pack early in 1974  12 miler

Thelma Wright (CAN) women's champion 1974

Ndoo, Fleming, Moore, Cusack   changing gears on the hairpin

Tom Fleming

Top women's finishers coming off course after finish 1974 Thelma Wright (orange) Debbie Mitchell #806, Katie Schilly of Syracuse behind her and Claire Morgan.
Thelma finished 4.5 miles in 23:16.4 almost a minute faster than Francie Larrieu's record set in 1973.

Yifter, Cusack, Dan Shaughnessy, Paul Baldwin , Drayton

Claire Morgan finishing second to Francie Larrieu in 1973


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