Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Had Running Idols?

If you read my last post, you know that I had a chance to run on an all-weather track for the first time in my life. It really made me think of watching great British runners when I was a kid. I totally forgot that I had these running idols and that running was a part of entertainment back then. I had asthma, so I was never going to be really interested in running as a personal endeavor but running was a big part of British TV and I was glued to the box just like everyone else. There were great athletes before and after but the period of the late 70’s to the mid 80’s was magical. The athletes that pop for me are Daley Thompson, Allan Wells, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Zola Budd and not forgetting Steve Jones. My readers in Britain will know these people like they are members of the family. For the rest of you, I’ll give you a quick trip down my memory lane. I actually learned a few things I didn’t know about these amazing people writing this post.

Daley Thompson
"When I lost my decathlon world record I took it like a man. I only cried for ten hours".

Great shot of Thompson. Last man standing.
Photo: George Herringshaw

An amazing decathlete from Notting Hill, London. I had no idea his real name is Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson. He was a handsome, cocky but lovable fellow. A great smile and a classic mustache. I include him when I think about running because a couple of his strongest events were the 100 and 400 meters. In fact, he won medals on the men’s 4x100 team in the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. He may not have been quite as fast as the 100 meter specialists but it was amazing to see him power away from the other decathletes. He won Gold in the '78, '82 and '86 Commonwealth Games. He won Silver in the '78 and Gold in the '82 and '86 European Championships. He won Gold in the '83 World Championships. He won Gold in the ’80 and ’84 Olympic Games. He broke the World record fours times and constantly kept beating Jürgen Hingsen, an amazing West German who was probably a better all round athlete but lacked Thompson's confidence and strength in the earlier events. His '84 World record lasted until '92 and is still the UK record. Daley was amazing to watch. He was as much an entertainer as he was a competitor. I didn't realize that after he retired in '92, he became a professional soccer player and was then a fitness coach in professional soccer. He also tried motorsports and did some motivational speaking as well as general appearances. He has been an ambassador for the 2012 London Olympics. Aparently he refused to carry the British flag at one event and got himself in trouble. He claimed holding a flag for an opening ceremony would spoil his event. A lovable rougue. This guy had big time charisma. I remember the nail biting experience of watching him rack up points over two days. Enjoy this 1984 piece of Thompson magic.

Allan Wells
"It’s about taking the body and mind to the limits. And I, masochistically, say that because I quite enjoyed doing that".
A picture that sums up Well's power.
1982 Photo: George Herringshaw
I think Allan Wells is the first man that made me jealous of another man's body. His legs were amazing pieces of machinery. He was controlled aggression. There was massive power in this Edinburgh born 100 and 200 meter specialist. I didn't know that he was originally a champion Scottish triple and long jumper. He turned to sprinting late in life at age 24. He retired in his mid 30's, setting a trend for sprinters to retire later. I remember his pale skin. I remember him being super intense while he competed. He claims that there were other sprinters with equal talent but nobody could match his commitment. His wife was an international sprinter too and together they were obsessive about their training. She now has a school of speed called Wellfast. I was interested to learn that the race that made him believe that he could be World class led to him receiving a winners trophy from Eric Lidell, the Olympic champion from the movie Chariots of Fire. If you can't remember the movie, I made a post about it. He won Golds for many years in the UK Championships, the AAA Championships, Commonwealth Games, European Cup, IAAF Golden Sprints, IAAF World Cup with his crowning glory being Silver in 200 and Gold in the 100 at the '80 Olympics. After he retired, he coached the British bobseligh team. It makes sense. Sprinting is a big part of the beginning of that sport. Apparently he is a system's analyst and a sprinting coach with Ian Mackie, another well known Scottish sprinter. I remember running in the back garden and pretending to be explosive like he was. I often think about him when I finish a run with strength. Enjoy this happy moment for Wells as he beats Ben Johnson.

Zola Budd
"Running was the easiest way to escape from the harsh reality of losing my sister because when I ran I didn't have to think about life or death".
Little Zola Budd catches up to Mary Decker.
The infamous South African born Zola Budd (now Pieterse) was best known for four things: Putting on a British vest in order to compete, accidentally tripping Mary Decker at the '84 Olympic 3000 meters, being a tiny 5'2" and running barefoot. As a kid, I didn't know that much about South African sanctions and I was certainly oblivious about Mary Decker, even though she is one of the most dominant female middle distance runners of all time. I was interested in a tiny girl who ran barefoot though. She was fun to watch. I really liked her running style. When Zola was 17 in '84, she broke the World record for 5000 meters but it was not recognized because of South Africa was banned from international competition. The Daily Mail newspaper helped Zola become a British citizen because of her grandfather and she ended up breaking the World record for real in '85. Her wins on track were spotty compared to some of the dominant runners of this period. Goodness knows how this kid would have performed without all the bullshit going on around her. How she managed what she did with that sort of pressure at that age is beyond me. She took two Gold medals in the '85 and '86 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. It was amazing to see such a tiny thing compete at that level and destroy competitors with her skinny little legs and bare feet. She was treated very unfairly because of politics and the Mary Decker incident. She had protestors on the track and crazy Decker fans threatening her life. Decker later admitted that it was her own fault because she didn't have enough pack running experience. Zola eventually had enough of the pressure and returned to live in South Africa. She now lives in the U.S. part of the time and competes for the love of running in masters races. She is married to a South Carolina track coach. Her feet must have softened over the years because she is now wearing Newtons. Check out Zola taking the 2000 meter World record. If you have some time, also check out the YouTube of her 1985 World Cross Country Championship win

Steve Jones
"I just run as hard as I can for 20 miles, and then race."
Jonesy running a marathon
I have a soft spot for Jonesy because he is Welsh. A blue collar boy who is humble and gracious but has a lot of drive and a desire to devastate his competition. The quote says it all. He viewed the marathon as a hard Sunday run and then a 10K and he fancied himself in a 10K against other marathoners. He grew-up not that far from where I am from in a town called Ebbw Vale. He got into cross country running as a favor to some friends and then ran in the Royal Air Force. He tried the steeple chase, did some cross country, 5000 but eventually found his way to the 10000 meters. He was spotty but gutsy on the track but then he graduated to the marathon and found true success. He was injured in '83 but he won his first ever marathon he entered in '84 in Chicago to take a World record. He did this without any pacer, race plan or special fuel. Just instinct and grit. In '85 Jones won the London Marathon even though he stopped for a bathroom break at Charlie Spedding (the favorite's) advice. He also won Chicago again in '85, came second at Boston in '87, won New York in '88 and won Toronto in '92. He currently lives in Boulder Colorado and I believe he is a painter as well as a personal running coach. When I think of Jonesy, I think of this video. He is well known for front running because he didn't have a strong kick. This video is so inspiring. If you get time, you can also watch the 1984 Chicago Marathon win too. That is also very impressive and shows the heart and courage of of the man. The post win interview gives you an idea how humble he is.

It was fun to look these folks up again. I thought that I had no real roots in running but I realized that these people are my roots. I never ran myself. I couldn't. But, I ran through these people. I watched them and jumped up and down in front of the TV to help them win their races. Since living here, I haven't heard anything about them. It would probably be different if I still lived in Britain. You probably see them on TV from time to time. I was going to cover Coe, Ovett and Cram in this post but that's a post to itself. That was a rare trinity that deserves a little deeper dive. There was a lot of mythology built-up around the three of them and I wanted to make some sense of it. Stay tuned...

1 comment:

  1. That Steve Jones clip is immense. Proper running. I was too young to appreciate this guy at the time but I have looked up old clips etc a good few times. Ebbw Vale's finest.


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