Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

V 7N. 32 Al Lawrence R.I.P.

Al Lawrence
We got news yesterday that Al Lawrence, 10,000 meter Olympic Bronze medalist at Melboure 1956, has passed away from pancreatic cancer.   He was 86 years old.  My god is that possible?  He was listed as being 26 years old when he ran at Melbourne behind Vladmir Kuts of the U.S.S.R. and Josef Kovacs of Hungary.  There is some trivia for you.  Two Joe Kovacs are now Olympic Silver medalists with the new Joe Kovacs currently reigning as Shot Put Silver medalist.

     How many American colleges can claim an Olympic medal winner matriculated to their school to start a college career?  Today that would be impossible as most medal winners are already professional.  But in those days there were no professionals.

     Lawrence was no stranger to American track and field as he was one of the first of a wave of Aussies who began emigrating to US colleges.   Johnny Morris and Oliver Jackson the coaches at the U. of Houston and Abiliene Christian got that pipeline started and it brought over Barrie Almond, Laurie Elliot, Colin Ridgeway, Geoff Walker, Pat Clohessy, John Lawler, George Scott and a few others.  Lawrence would win the NCAA cross country meet in 1959 and 1960 and the three mile at the NCAA outdoor meet 1960 in 14:19.  
Al Lawrence winning national AAU 10K 1958 in Chicago.
Temp was 12 degrees F.
Photo: Ed Dephoure

     The Aussie emigration provided a lot of knowledge and incentive to American collegiate runners at the time.  They were considered men amongst boys as they were generally in their mid to late 20's when they got to the U.S.  They were a fun loving bunch.  A few people complained that they had an unfair advantage with their physical maturity.   On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Australian authorities feared a drain of all their good athletes, and soon put a ban on their going abroad to study.  I don't know if  that applied to study in other Commonwealth countries, but it certainly did to those coming to the US.

You can read some humorous accounts of those days written by John Lawler at Abiliene Christian if you go to our blog and read through several concurrent posts.    Lawler's Chronicles
When Lawler and one of his companions were coming to Abiliene, they were told by Coach Jackson that it was dry there in the town.   Coming from Australia, a hot dry country, they felt they could handle that.  However what they didn't know was that Jackson was talking about the laws banning the consumption of alcohol.  That caused them some problems when they got to that part of Texas.  

    Al Lawrence would remain in America, founding a running club and working for many years as a coach especially for adults getting into running.   He was a contributor of information to this blog when he gave us some background on John Macy, one of his Houston teammates who had jumped ship from the Polish track team during  the European Track and Field Championships in Switzerland about 1954.  This was during the Cold War.  Al said that Macy was convnced that the Polish Secret Police were after him and he never stopped looking over his shoulder the rest of  his life.
John Macy finishing 2nd in that Chicago race.
Photo: "They were taken by a guy named Edward Dephoure who was not a runner
and who I fought for possesion of my future wife."  Ned Price

Al Lawrence Obituary   See this obituary from an Australian news service.  It includes some video of the 10,000 meters in Melbourne.

Always thought it would have been tough to be Laurie Elliot.  No matter what he did, it wouldn't be enough.  George Scott always did better as a first baseman, especially 1975 (.285-36-109) with the Brewers.  Roy

You are obviously mixing up your sports.  Happens to the best of us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

V 7 N. 31 Terry Tobacco Lit Them Up

Terry Tobacco
     With a name like Terry Tobacco, you better have some qualities about you that can add to your reputation in a positive way.  I first heard of Terry during a conversation in Eugene, OR last year.  A fellow from Vancouver, having learned I was living on Vancouver Island and writing a track blog, asked if I had ever heard of Terry Tobacco.  I thought he was referring to a brand of chew, snuff, or maybe a cigarette that had been produced on the Island.  Not so.  He was talking about  the Cumberland Comet, a sprinter from the mining village of Cumberland, British Columbia, a man who ran for the University of Washington in the 1950s, a fellow who represented Canada at two Olympic Games, a college boy who was two time 440 champion in the Pacific Coast Conference, and beat Otis Davis in the NCAA meet in 1959.  How could I not know of Terry Tobacco?

     The name comes from a line of Italian brothers who emigrated with their cousin from the Piedmont in Northern Italy.  Two ended up in Cumberland, and another went to Renton, Washington. One of those guys was Terry's grandfather.  Cumberland was a tough mining town  at the foot of the Beaufort Range, 150 miles north of the provincial capital of Victoria, BC.  It was a three tiered village of ethnic laborers, the Europeans, the Chinese, and the Japanese.  It had been founded by a Scottish mining baron, James Dunsmuir, who treated miners, immigrants, and labor unions with equal distain.  His mines had the highest death rate in the world, 23 deaths per million tonnes of mined coal. The rate at the time in all of North America was only  6 deaths per million tonnes.   Dunsmuir's name still appears along the east coast of Vancouver Island, on street signs and monuments, wherever he had an interest to extract coal and boss the locals.
Cumberland, BC from the air

Dunsmuir St. , Cumberland  

Mine Cottage

     Terry grew up in the village where there was a school but not much in the way of sports. He did have an outlet on the basketball court and was good enough to get a scholarhip offer at Oregon.  He built his strength and stamina not in a gym or being driven to little league practice by a helicopter mom, but by lugging provisions up into the hills to a lumber camp where his father worked.   He found if he ran with the provisions, his rate of pay increased.  Interval training and progressive loading can come to the athlete in a variety of ways.   If kids could find jobs, the money went toward putting food on the family's table.  The mine graciously left a pile of coal for cooking and heating behind the mine shacks where families struggled to survive the winters.  Cumberland even today is significantly colder than the two nearby towns of Courtenay and Comox, because of its higher elevation.  The town had plenty of colorful characters including 'Two Shift Bob' and 'Miss Meat', the local 'working lady' whose day job was teaching school.  Today the town is still a very special place and in the process of re-inventing itself.  The mines have closed, but people still work in the logging industry.  It is not unheard of for a kid to carry a set of brass knuckles.  But Cumberland is also becoming a center of cyclo-tourism with one of the best mountain biking circuits in Canada.  Names of some of the trails include Bear Buns,  Buggered Pig, Short 'n Curly, Spanker, Numbskulls Miners, Kitty Litter, Space Nugget, Resurrection, and Entrails. It has a craft brewery, a fly fishing shop, and two good bars, the Waverly (Sunday bluegrass brunches) and the Cumberland Hotel, coffee shops, art galleries, a bakery, and a deli.  For the runner there are two major mountain races, The Cumby (23Km and 50Km) in the Spring, and in the Fall, the 11Km Perseverance.  It also has a great Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race (MOMAR) each year, and a 24 hour Enduro.   See video of last year's race.   MOMAR

     On May 24, the Queen's Birthday,  there were celebrations, and the miners sponsored games and events for the kids of Cumberland.  They had running races that paid five dollars to win.  Terry cleaned up in the kids' races and earned fifteen dollars when they added in the broad jump.  The same day he decided to move up in the age groups and collected another twenty dollars.  That's when he knew he had a talent.   There was no track, and  little to no coaching at that time, but by age 15, Terry found himself at the provincial schools championships,  that's the state meet in U.S. parlance.  He came second, as a team, to Oak Bay HS, by a quarter of a point.  Oak Bay had 18 kids at the meet.  Years later he would be a teacher and coach at Oak Bay.

     He gradually got some coaching from Bruce Humber in Victoria and earned his way as a 17 year old to the Canadian national championships in 1954 where a team would be selected to compete in the Empire/Commonwealth Games to be held later that  summer in Vancouver .  Humber had represented Canada as a sprinter in the the Berlin Olympics.   It was Humber who saw the potential as a quartermiler in Terry and suggested he go for that distance at the Canadian Championships.

     Terry showed up at the nationals  in a pair of old soccer shorts and a tee shirt and spikes he had bought out of his savings from working in a gas station.  "They were a pair of British shoes with permanent spikes by G.T. Law, supposedly handmade.  You sent an outline of your foot and they would custom fit them.  Had to order them from Eaton's department store."   In those days in the remote areas of Canada, people did their shopping from mail order catlogues.  Not unlike online shopping today.
GT Law Spikes currently on Ebay for 1500 Pounds
     Not only did Tobacco show up for the championships as a 440 runner, he won the event.  Terry went into international competition not yet having progressed through college track ranks, although by then  he was being heavily recruited by colleges all over the US.    In the semis at Vancouver, he had the fastest time, and in the finals he finished third in 47.6.  He also won a silver as the anchor for the Canadian 4x440 relay team.   Not too  shabby for a kid from a mining community up in the hills of Vancouver Island.  At those Games he also got to witness the Miracle Mile between Roger Bannister and John Landy.  For these performances, he was honored as the male athlete of the year in British Columbia.

     Terry would choose the University of Washington to run his college track.  Why Washington?  "I had a girlfriend who was attending the University of British Columbia, and I wanted to stay near her."   

      Percy Hendershott, was assistant coach then.  Percy was father of Jon Hendershott, long time chief correspondent for Track & Field News.   As mentioned earlier, Terry won the Pacific Coast Conference 440 twice.  At the NCAA meet in 1959 he finished third.

                                        1959 NCAA 440 yards
               1. Eddie Southern (Texas) Sr ........................46.4
               2. Chuck Carlson (Colorado)Sr ....................46.5
               3. Terry Tobacco' (Washington)Sr ................46.6
               4. Mal Spence' (Arizona State)Sr .................46.8
               5. Walt Johnson (North Carolina Central)Sr 47.2
               6. DeLoss Dodds (Kansas State)Sr ..............47.3
               7. Otis Davis (Oregon) Sr ............................47.3
               8. Mel Barnwell (Pitt)...................................61.2

     Terry's first of two Olympic Games was at Melbourne in 1956.  He made it to the semis in the 400 meters but failed to advance through to the finals.  As he explained it, " I was in lane 7 and Lou Jones was outside of me in lane 8.  Jones had recently set the world record at 400 meters in  45.2.   I thought I would just have to near Jones to qualifiy which is what I did.  However we didn't know that Jones had been injured and wasn't up to par.  I stayed with him but it wasn't as fast as we needed to be going.  By the time I realized that, the field was ahead of me as we were coming off the last turn, it was too late to move up into a qualifying position."    Jones won the heat in 47.4, John Salisbury of Great Britain (47.4) and Ivan Rodriguez of Puerto Rico (47.5) got in ahead of Terry who closed in 47.7.    That summer (Australian)  Terry ran both relays.  The 4x100 team was eliminated in an event that only sent six teams to the finals, and then they placed fifth in the 4x400 in 3:10.2.   Terry's semi-final leg (45.3) was his all time best.
In action at Cal Berkeley

Getty Images

     At the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff he was a bronze medallist again in the 440.  He was also on the team that finished 4th in the 4x440.

     In 1960 he again represented Canada in the Rome Olympics, making it to the semis in the 400 and ran both relays which were eliminated in the semis.   At this gathering Terry was well  off his A game.   He had spent the year in grad school with almost no competition.  He was married and had a young baby as well.  Prepping for the Olympics was not as high a priority as in the past.  When he got to Rome he had not raced in the previous five weeks.

      One of the stories he likes to tell about Rome was going to see Cassius Clay in the heavyweight gold medal bout.  Tickets were scarce and one Canadian athlete somehow secured a press pass.  He went into a lavatory and handed it out to another athlete through a window.  This was repeated until many of the Canadian team were able to get into the stadium.

      After the Rome  Olympics he settled into a life of teaching physical education in the Victoria area and coaching basketball.  By then he had set aside his track career for good.   One of his children, Judy, was a national level athlete running 400 meters for Cal Berkeley.  Unfortunately she was hobbled by injury much of her career.

     In 2006 he returned to Australia for the 50th anniversary of the games with a number of those Canadian Olympians who represented Canada at Melbourne.  He reunited with John Landy whom he had met those many years ago.  "Landy had tried to organize a touring team to visit Africa after Melbourne, and I was invited.  But the tour fell through.  But Landy remembered me when we got there and we were able to have some time together."    He remembers Landy saying about Bannister, "I could have run him 100 times and maybe have  beaten him once."

     "I also got to know Bill Bowerman when I was in the states.  I had a chance through Doug Clement my Canadian teammate and later best man to invest in Nike in the early days but didn't have the $300 at the time."

     Other memories that came up in our conversation included his races against Tom Courtney, the 1956 800 meters gold medallist.   "We ran about 3 or 4 times against each other at 400 meters. He beat me everytime by about 0.2 sec.  It didn't matter if I went out hard or easy, sprinted the back stretch or saved a lot for the finish, he always came up and got me at the end.?"
Terry Tobacco Today

Terry and the Author

      Today he lives on a seven acre plot in the countryside north of Victoria where he raises  300 chickens each year to qualify as a farm and avoid the higher residential taxes. In the summers of those teaching years he was also a commercial fisherman catching salmon and halibut off the north coast of Vancouver Island. His next door neighbor is Burton Cummings of The Guess Who.

     Terry Tobacco was inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Below is an exceptionally well done video of his career that went with his induction ceremony.

Terry Tobacco, the Cumberland Comet  Click Here.

by George Brose


Great story on Terry Tobacco. Eddie Southern lives here in Dallas now. Not in the best of health, but I guess that is true with all. Sorry to hear about Al and look forward to more info as I do not see it on Web.


Dear George

I remember Terry Tobacco well

As a fledgling 440 man at the 1959 NCAA Meet at Lincoln, Nebraska, I made it to the semi-finals in the 440 as a greenie sophomore with a 47.9 to my credit. 
So, I got to know "of" Terry Tobacco at that meet and, from voracious reading of Track and Field News
by me and teammates, Jerry Ashmore, and Doug Wuggazer in the coach's office at WMU

Give Terry my regards!

John Bork

Thank you for those Canadian memories from so long ago.  My team mate, Bill Crothers  followed Terry as Canada's best.  I saw Tobacco in the 1960 Olympic trials.  I grew up in a Canadian Mining town (Timmons) in Northern Ontario

Sunday, May 14, 2017

V 7 N. 30 Pre We Hardly Knew Ye..

Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared in Cross Country Journal in the March/April 2015 issue and in our humble blog last year just prior to the Prefontaine Classic. The editorial board has decided that this will become an annual event.

Pre, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Paul O’Shea
Photo: Tony Duffy

To give anything less than your best, he famously said, was to sacrifice the gift.  It was an ethic Steve Prefontaine shared with us to the end of his brief life.
In the spring of 1975 I was riding under the Hudson River on a PATH train linking New York City with Hoboken, New Jersey, reading a newspaper. Buried in a sports news summary I came across these sentences: American distance runner Steve Prefontaine is dead, killed in an automobile crash in Eugene, Oregon.  Prefontaine was 24 years old.  
One of America’s greatest distance runners was gone. I was shocked, devastated by the news.
In a few weeks the international track and field community will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of the athlete who defines “iconic.” Commemorating that May 30, 1975 tragedy and honoring his memory, it’s fitting to ask: what made Steve Prefontaine the legendary “Pre”? Why does his name still resonate after all these years?  What can today’s runners learn from the way he never gave less than his best, never sacrificed his gift?  
Growing up in lumberjack Coos Bay, Oregon sports were the ticket to popularity, but Prefontaine was too small for football so he began running with the junior high team. At Marshfield High School he went out for cross country and discovered his life’s mission. As a sophomore he was an early success, placing sixth in the state meet.
“Ferociously competitive” as Olympian/author Kenny Moore would later describe him, Prefontaine twice was state cross country champion and broke the national high school two-mile record by seven seconds with 8:41.5. That got Frank Shorter’s attention who was then at Yale—the time was about the same as Shorter’s PR.
Following graduation Pre entered the 1969 AAU three-mile in Miami and qualified for the US national team, finishing fourth behind Gerry Lindgren. At 18 he was on his first international tour. That summer he ran 5,000 meters in 13:52.8, placing third in the U.S-Europe meet.
Jeff Johnson, a Track and Field News photographer, remembered seeing him for the first time after hearing about those high school performances.  At the AAU, on an elevator in the athletes’ hotel, Johnson talked briefly with “this little kid.” Later he noticed him hanging around the elite runners, apparently eager for autographs. The next day Johnson was focusing on the boldface names on the starting line--and there was the little kid, standing among the Sequoias, ready to race in his Marshfield uniform. “My God, that’s Steve Prefontaine!”
Before running his first collegiate race he’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a headline that read, “America’s Distance Prodigy.” Forty college teams pursued the Coos Bay wonder, but the hardheaded coach at the University of Oregon was a reluctant suitor.  Bill Bowerman didn’t recruit runners.  They applied for admission.
To be sure he wanted the precocious Prefontaine, but the Ducks’ leader was loath to chase the athlete who would have been the No. 1 pick in any distance runner draft.  Finally, Bowerman sent Prefontaine a handwritten letter that would transform the sport, the University and its historic Hayward Field.  For the next several years an irresistible force met an immovable object, each bending a little, but only centimeters.
In four years Steve Prefontaine won three Division I cross country titles and four consecutive three mile/5,000 meter track crowns.  He ran his best mile in 3:54.6, then just three-and-a-half seconds slower than the world record.  Bill Dellinger, who had succeeded Bowerman as coach, recalled that Pre never missed a workout or a race.
When we think of Pre we remember the biggest test of his career, the l972 Olympic 5,000 meter final in Munich, held four days after the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s terrorist attack resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
Those thirteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds he gave us, a painting that will forever hang in our memory, revealed familiar, obstinate ways.  It was the kind of race he hated, a typical championship shuffle. After a lollygagging two miles in 8:56, impatient Pre went to the front, having told the world that he would run the last mile in four minutes. “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”  
The 21-year-old led for the next two laps, then Finland’s Lasse Viren attacked with 800 meters left. In third, Pre counterattacked on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, but Viren regained the lead with 400 meters remaining.  Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Prefontaine gave chase but the Finn won going away, winning his second gold medal of the Munich Games. Viren had run 4:02.
Running the last mile in 4:04 Prefontaine was spent and lost the bronze at the finish line when Ian Stewart of Great Britain surged past. It was one of the great competitive distance races in track and field history.   
After the race, incapable of holding back emotionally, the American warned David Bedford, the UK’s 10,000-meter world record holder: “I’ll see you in Montreal and I’ll kick your butt.” Indeed, had Pre lived, he would have been a favorite to win the 1976 5,000.
The post Olympic years were ones of great achievement and personal challenge.  He set nine American bests including a 27:43.6 in the 10,000, just five seconds over the world record.
Now that he was no longer on scholarship there was a struggle to make a living. To survive he lived in a trailer, shopped with food stamps.  He tended bar where he was a regular patron, until the disapproving Bowerman shut him down.
A fledgling professional track association offered a $200,000 contract, but he rejected the offer in order to retain his “amateur” standing.  Bowerman and one of his former milers, Phil Knight began collaborating on a business that would become Nike, provider of all goods athletic. Pre sent the early Nike shoes to runners he had met, including Bill Rodgers. At first he was paid in shoes, then earned $5,000, the first athlete to sign with the company. Nike called Pre its National Public Relations Manager.
Off the track Pre pushed the pace in civilian life, too. He challenged the sport’s governing authorities, the AAU and the International Olympic Committee. Before track and field became a professional sport, he believed athletes should be paid openly, rather than under the table as was then happening.  The AAU’s per diem was three dollars.
He started a running club at the Oregon State Prison. For more than four decades the program has helped inmates cope with their incarceration. Limited to 150 prisoners, there is a four-year wait to get into the group.  He also volunteer coached at a local junior high school.

The legend grew as he won races with characteristic intensity:  “Most people run a race to see who’s the fastest.  I run a race to see who has the most guts.” Showman, hero, rebel, we remember Steve Prefontaine because he displayed front running courage.  He fed off the crowds. Spectators cheered his warm-ups.  He was spirited, cocky, even charming. He was a hero for his time, and remains a star to thousands of young runners today, who see the movies and documentaries, read the books and news stories, watch his races on film.
Accessible and immensely quotable, his words live on in interviews and anthologies: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints.  I like to make something beautiful when I run.  I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’  It’s more than just a race, it’s a style.  It’s doing something better than anyone else.  It’s being creative.”
There was nothing false or contrived: “How does a kid from Coos Bay, with one leg longer than the other win races?  All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small Pre.’ ‘You’re not fast enough Pre,’ ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve.’  But they forgot something.  I HAVE TO WIN.”
And then the man with the exceptional talent ran the last race, crossed the final finish line.
During that day Steve Prefontaine did the ordinary things that made him such an extraordinary individual.  He went for an eye-opening run (six miles at six a.m. was the regimen), and prepared for the early evening meet at Hayward in which he faced several leading Finnish runners he had invited to this country, though Viren pulled out before the meet.
When Pre won, looking back over his shoulder, defeating Frank Shorter in the second fastest American 5,000 time, it was just two seconds off his personal best. For the 35th time he was victorious on the Hayward track, losing only three races, each a mile in distance. Over his career he started l53 races, winning 120. At one point he held seven American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
Bowerman said, “He had just begun to reach maturity when the show was over,” never having won an Olympic medal or broken a world record.
Later that May 29 evening the Oregon and Finnish runners threw a party.  Moore and Shorter remember Pre had three or four drinks before calling it an evening just after midnight. He left telling his parents who also were at the party, take care driving home.  Pre dropped Shorter off, drove down Skyline Drive, swerved into a rock at the side of the road, possibly having been run off the road by another car.  His treasured butterscotch MGB convertible flipped and he was trapped under the car. Four hours after winning, he was dead.  The police measured his blood alcohol level at .16, above the legal limit at the time, though his family and friends did not believe he was in danger.
Pre’s death stunned the world.  Four thousand people attended a Hayward Field memorial service a few days later. Kenny Moore, one of our sport’s finest writers said: “All of us who now say, ‘I had no idea how much this man meant to me,’ do so because we didn’t realize how much we meant to him.  He was our glory, and we his.”
A roadside memorial was constructed a few feet from where he died; fans visited Pre’s Rock, a stone with a picture of Pre. There you’ll find medals from races, running jerseys, shoes, newspaper clippings, flowers, contributed by athletes and fans, a commemoration of his life, a connection that will echo for decades to come.
Often compared with actor James Dean, who also died at 24 in a traffic accident, Prefontaine drew immense numbers of supporters to the austere Hayward stands over the years.  His life story was the subject of Disney and Warner Bros. movies, and several documentaries including the treasured DVD, Fire on the Track, which contains rare footage of races and interviews with teammates, coaches, family and friends. On the twentieth anniversary of his death, Fire was broadcast on the CBS network before the l995 Prefontaine Classic meet.
Another essential source is Tom Jordan’s biography, Pre, The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (Rodale, l977, 1994, 1997).  The Prefontaine Classic is one of the IAAF’s Diamond League fixtures on the international track and field circuit.  Jordan is the Pre Classic meet director.
What made “Pre”?  Jordan, in his book captures the runner’s essence: “Pre’s story…is about an individual who in an incredibly short span of time helped instigate the end of amateurism, set the tone for a brash company that became the Nike colossus, and inspired generations of American distance runners by his complete commitment to wringing everything out of what he called ‘the Gift.’”
Sadly, I never saw him run. Still, his is a gift that keeps on giving.


Paul O’Shea has followed the sport for more than fifty years.  After retirement from a career in corporate communications he began contributing to Cross Country Journal and other track and field/cross country publications.  He resides in Northern Virginia and can be reached at Poshea 17 @Aol.com.

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary...