Friday, October 2, 2015

V 5 N. 91 Fred Abington, Georgetown, USAF, Vanderbilt, SEC, Igloi, South Africa

Almost a year ago I received an email from Fred Abington through an intermediary, as Fred was not yet using email.  I negligently forgot to follow up on that letter, but Fred, now with email, contacted me again recently and sent  me  the article below about his very interesting career as a runner and through life as a world traveler.  I plan to learn more about Fred and continue the saga.  Here is a taste and a story about the South East Conference before it became a track and field power.

In addition here is a great track trivia question forwarded from John Cobley who writes, in my opinion, the best track blog out there, covering distance runners through the ages.  See:

What child of a British track and field gold medalist became a world class actress?
See next post for the answer.

Former SEC champ traded running shoes for boots
May 6, 2015

Commodore History Corner Archive

Fred Abington was an elite distance runner on the Vanderbilt track teams in 1958-59. He broke Vanderbilt records in the one-mile and two-mile runs and was the SEC individual champion in both events in both years. Abington now lives in Cape Town, South Africa in a suburb named Gardens. That location is near the foot of Table Mountain.

This interview was obtained through the Internet by email with help from his friend Jean Bramley. This is a summary of Abington's life told in his own words: 
"I was born on August 11, 1933 in Mineola, Long Island, NY and grew up in Chatham, N.J. where I went to high school. I graduated in 1952 where in my senior year I ran the mile in 4:23.3, which I was told was the second fastest schoolboy time in the nation. I also played on the soccer, baseball and basketball teams in my sophomore, junior and senior years.

"I had to develop my own training methods in conjunction with Fred Wilt who a few years earlier had been one of the premier America mile runners and an FBI agent that ran for the New York Athletic Club.

"From high school I went to Georgetown University on a track scholarship. In my sophomore year, the track coach found out I was playing on the baseball team and he pulled my scholarship thus ending my stay at Georgetown.

This reminds one of the Bruce Dern's being removed from the team at U. Penn about the same year when he grew his hair too long.  See V 4 N. 15 of this blog.  ed. 

I spent two years in the Air Force where I ran a few races, but without any training. I was honorably discharged in 1957 and drove to Nashville where my family had moved during my military service. I was on the G.I. Bill and accepted into Vanderbilt with no intention to ever run again. I just wanted to get my degree, which was Experimental Psychology.

"I did my thesis on my track training, but I couldn't resist and started running again. In the next two years, I won seven SEC championships, two of which were conference records in cross-country (Atlanta, Nov. 24, 1958) and the mile in Baton Rouge in 4:12.2 in April 1959. However, in the Meet of Champions in Houston on June 7, 1958, I ran the mile in 4:07.3, which I'm sure, is still a Vanderbilt record.

"Upon graduation I moved to San Jose, California with my new wife from Nashville and began training under the great Hungarian coach Mihaly Igloi. I was also beginning a career as a probation officer and soon had two children that were 11 months apart. I continued to train daily, but with a new career and children it became increasingly difficult.

"Then the track club moved south to form the Los Angeles Track Club. Since I had a new career and children, I had to stay behind. I never ran again although I did get my time down to 4:04:3 under Igloo. In the decades to follow my life went through some trying times including divorce, bankruptcy, job change among others. In December 1971, I took a job with the city of San Jose as relocation specialist and retired in November 1992 at age 60.

"By this time my daughter and son were married and had children of their own. Prior to my retirement, I had done a three-week Outland Bound survival course in the Oregon wilderness at the age of 55. The following year, I did an Outward Bound three-week expedition to 17, 000 feet in the Himalayas. The next year, I helped put together a whitewater rafting expedition in the Yukon Territory in Canada and Alaska.

"With these behind me, and full of energy and enthusiasm, I decided to strike out on my own. After years of preparation and having informed all of my family, I donned my backpack and purchased a one-way ticket to Katmandu, Nepal with the intention of backpacking the world with no plans and no date of return. I was terrified! And I was scared. It was October 1995 when I backpacked in Nepal, India, Thailand and Sumatra. I was forced to curtail my travels in December and returned to the States to have a hip replacement.

"At the end of my recuperation period I received a call from a friend I had made in the Himalayas and Alaska. We had many conversations about someday going to Africa. She was calling from a place called Cloudbreak Backpackers Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa. Within a week I joined her. I loved living at the Cloudbreak where I met many very interesting people; almost all were college students or graduates from around the world.

"I hit it off with all of them as they used Cloudbreak as their jumping-off place. I became one of them. I stayed at the Backpackers Lodge for six years making new friends and traveling the world. I've been through 43 countries and have had experiences you would not believe especially here in South Africa. I literally lived out of my backpack for 10 years from the age of 62 to 72. The six years I lived at the Cloudbreak were without a doubt the best continuous six years of my life and Cape Town became my home."

Igloi was a Hungarian distance running coach. He was a multiple champion in Hungary in the 1930s. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin in the 1500 meters. Igloi became a coach in Budapest and the Hungarian Army Club. He coached many of his students in the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics.

Igloi moved to the United States and formed the Los Angeles Track Club then the Santa Monica Track Club. One of his runners was Jim Beatty that became the first man to run a four-minute mile indoors. Beatty set many American indoor and outdoor distance records. Another one of his runners, Bob Schul, ran a world record (8:26.4) in the two-mile and won the 5,000 meters the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Fred AbingtonIn Abington's first race representing Vanderbilt as a junior, he broke a school record in the mile (4:29.3) that had lasted 43 years set by Robert Garner. Abington then erased the two-mile record that was held by Evan Howell in 1921 with a time of 9:49.4.

This article written by John Bibb of theTennessean appeared in the sports section in the May 21, 1958 edition:

"Vanderbilt's Fred Abington plans to forgo the two-mile after Saturday's Southeastern AAU meet in Atlanta.

"Abington, the finest distance runner in Vandy history and among the best in the Southeastern Conference annals said yesterday he will concentrate on the mile only in the Meet of Champions in Houston and the NCAA in Berkeley, Calif., next month.

"`I'm going to run the mile and two-mile in Atlanta,' Abington said, `but after that I am going to forget the two-mile and concentrate on improving my speed in the mile.'

"Right now Abington is bothered with a blister on his little toe. But, blister or not, Fred is top a heavy favorite to win the SEAAU.

"`I don't know how I got this blister,' Abington said while receiving treatment from Vandy's trainer Joe Worden. `I supposed my sock bunched up or something. It is a little late in the season to be getting blisters.'

"Abington who set two Vandy records in winning the SEC mile and two-mile in Birmingham Saturday now has lowered the Commodore standard to 4:15.2 in the mile and 9:30.3 in the two-mile.

"When Abington started competition this spring for Vanderbilt, the Commodore record in the mile was 4:29.2 and the two-mile was 9:49.4."

Abington finished in fourth in the mile at the Meet of Champions in Houston with a time of 4:07.3. At the NCAA Championships in June, Abington placed seventh in the mile at 4:08.4. Abington also ran a race in the famed Madison Square Garden.

Longtime Vanderbilt track coach Herc Alley led the Commodores in this era. In 1959, Abington repeated as the individual SEC Champion in the one-mile (4:12.2) and the two-mile (9:32.6).

Abington said in a Nashville Banner article in May 1959:

"Admittedly I am a poor loser. When I lose, I know there must be something wrong somewhere, and I've got to find out where. It is not impossible for me to just rub it out of my memory."

This will be the final Commodore History Corner story for this school year.

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email

What a great article about Fred Abington.  He has done so many things which make the rest of us look like slackers.  The SEC was really primitive in those days, as was the stadium at Vanderbilt.  The Igloi portion of his training did not surprise me, especially with his significant improvement.  Igloi did not only have a sound physiological plan but he was very motivational to nearly all of his athletes.      Bill Schnier


Hardy said...

Hi There - Dear Fred passed away yesterday 17th October 2017 in Cape Town having lived a pretty incredible life.

Richard Wooding said...

I new Fred in Cape Town, South Africa. He passed away yesterday.

jay abington said...

Jay Abington
He was a happy man and lived a long life doing what he loved most.we should all be doing that.I miss you Dad.

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