Wednesday, February 22, 2017

V 7 N. 11 Remember What's His Name?


In 1979 sports writer W. C. Heinz wrote the excellent memoir, Once They Heard The Cheers, following up on the lives of sports heroes who had, in the main, outlived their fame.
Each sport has its own list.  The occasional superstar will still be mentioned but, for each one,  scores and more of truly gifted athletes have faded into obscurity saved by the occasional trivia question in a sports journal or being resurrected every twenty-five or fifty years on an anniversary date.
Is it sad?  Is it better to be a “Has Been” rather than a “Never Was”?  Is this the comparison we want  to make?
That would be tragic because “Has Been” is a cruel term reducing an athlete’s peak performing years to a meaningless period of false fame instead of honoring the true achievements they actually were.
Let us focus for a moment on just track, and on just men, although the progression for women is much the same.
A review of runners who have held the world record for the mile reveals names, some more recognizable than others, who for greater or lesser periods stood on the peak of athletics’ premier event.  Just a few:
Hagg leading Andersson

Gunder Hagg……………..Runner and non-runner alike remember the name of Roger Bannister who first went sub-four in the mile.  But when was the last time you heard the name of the great Swedish world record holder who, with his countryman and competitor, Arne Andersson, drove the mile time down, second by second, until only the last twitch of the stopwatch remained before Bannister achieved immortality.
John Landy……………..Eclipsed by the turn of a head in his one race against Bannister, the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games,  Landy ran the second ever sub-four mile in 3: 58.0 in 1954 setting the world record that stood for the next four years.
Derek Ibbotson
Derek Ibbotson…………….This long forgotten runner returned the record to England briefly in 1957 when he ran 3:57.2.
Michel Jazy
Michel Jazy……………….A holder of nine world records including his 1965 time of 3:53.6 in the mile, he might be remembered in the United States solely because Jim Ryun was the next record holder.
John Walker
John Walker……………..Perhaps the most unfortunate, unremembered, hero of all, Walker was the first man to run sub 3:50 in the mile with his 3:49.4 record in 1975, twenty-one years after Bannister’s historic run.

Filbert Bayi

Steve Cram and Steve Ovett

Sebastian Coe
Nouridienne Morceli

There are others, Bayi, Ovett, Cram, Coe, Morceli, etc.  They are alive today and track enthusiasts everywhere should honor them.  Second by second they set standards for others to chase.  They pushed the boundaries of physical perfection in running but they all, everyone, whether they thought about it or realized it, demonstrated that men and women can do magnificent things if they are willing to strive, fall back, and strive again.  
To reference only an athlete’s competitive career leaves blank the years following retirement.  Most, if not all, of the world record holding milers went on to very productive and, in many cases, distinguished lives in government, athletics, business and other endeavors showing that the drive to excel in running was also present in civilian life.
Don Bowden
Fame is a tenuous thing.  We honor an athlete for his or her achievements but if one goal is met and not followed by another, the fan moves on although the achievement remains.  A case in point: when was the last time you heard any coach or runner make a reference to Don Bowden.
You remember, Don Bowden don’t you?  A great runner…………. the first American to run sub-four in the mile, 3:58.7 in 1957………..Bowden had a relatively short career as a competitive athlete due to injuries but has had a long and successful life afterward.   He helped develop the Tartan Track;  he has his own business; he is active in the Bring Back the Mile movement.  The first American to run sub-four…………..and too few remember his name.
To be sure, some runners’ competitive careers are longer than others.  Also, Americans (except for die-hard track nuts) tend to remember only the American champions.  We are a fickle lot and it is not to our credit that after their days of glory, great runners, world record holding runners, become an afterthought.
These men and women were standard bearers.  May their memories live always fresh in our minds.
Tom Coyne
February 14, 2017

 This piece by Tom Coyne brought back a memory about Don Bowden --- I was at the meet in 1957 at the College of Pacific when Don ran the 3.58.7. I was at the end of the pole vault runway getting ready to vault, the announcer was telling all about the record chance, and as Don came off the last turn into the straightaway, I dropped my pole and ran along with him on the infield shouting encouragement ---don't know if he remembers this but I sure do.

  Bill Flint

For those who don't know Bill.  He is a salty old steel  pole  man who vaulted for Stanford in those days. ed.

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