A several years ago, Rod Dixon called me on September 10th. “Do you know what happened today 36 years ago?” (it was 2008) In 1972, September 10th was the last day of Track & Field at Munich Olympics. Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the marathon that ignited the running-craze in his home country of USA, and went on to win Fukuoka Marathon for the second straight year in his life-time best time of 2:10:30 and went on to win 2 more times (record of total of 4 times in a row). But that was his 1972 Fukuoka performance that inspired me to get into running. Naturally Frank being my running hero, I remember September 10th being his gold medal winning day. Well, the last day of athletics also included the final of men’s 1500m where Rod Dixon won the bronze medal. Ever since that little trivia, I make a note of congratulating Rod for his performance.
As well as Shorter winning the marathon and Rod winning the bronze medal in the 1500m, September 10th also marks the day that the unknown barefoot runner by the name of Abebe Bikila won the gold medal for the first time in the Olympic history for a runner from East Africa (and many more to come in the future) and also, in the same race, the (Lydiard) mission was completed with Barry Magee winning the bronze medal. It came only a week and one day after two of his neighborhood runners by the name of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg winning the gold medals.
New Zealand has proud history in athletics in the Olympic Games. The first gold medal won by Kiwi athlete in the Olympics was Jack Lovelock in 1936 at Berlin Olympics. That was the beginning of New Zealand’s proud Olympic middle distance tradition. After collecting two gold medals in 800m, Peter Snell won the gold in 1964 Tokyo Olympics 1500m. John Walker continued that tradition by winning the gold in 1500m in 1976 Montreal Olympics. In between, Rod won the bronze at Munich. Of course, in the recent years, Nick Wills won the silver medal in 2008 Beijing Olympics in 1500m.
New Zealand’s Olympic marathon tradition continued after Magee with Mike Ryan in 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Lorraine Moller in 1992 Barcelona Olympics–all of them the bronze medal. All these runners, as well as middle distance stars mentioned above, are Lydiard-trained runners.
New Zealand’s All Black uniform is known to be a force to be reckoned in the marathon in Japan where any distance beyond 100m can be classified as “marathon”. After Rome Olympic marathon, Magee traveled to Japan and became the first man to go under 2:20 on Japan’s soil in the inaugural Fukuoka Marathon (then called Asahi Marathon named after its major sponsor, Asahi Newspaper). Magee’s victory triggered Japanese Federation to send the derogation of their top marathon runners to New Zealand to learn the Lydiard method of training in 1963 to prepare for Tokyo Olympic Games. Out came the performance of the late Kokichi Tsuburaya breaking Emil Zetopek’s world 20,000m and 1-hour run finishing behind Bill Baillie, another Lydiard-man. Tsuburaya went on to win the bronze medal in the marathon behind Abebe in Tokyo. Toru Terasawa broke Abebe’s earlier world best marathon time of 2:15:15 that he set at Rome Olympics. Kenji Kimihara won the Boston Marathon in 1966, and the silver medal in Mexico City Olympics ahead of Mike Ryan. In 1963, Fukuoka Marathon was held over the same Tokyo Olympic marathon course and served as the Pre Olympic Games as well as Japanese Olympic Trial. Jeff Julian, another Lydiard-man, won handily and Japanese called him “King Julian” and was bigger focus of attention more than Peter Snell when the New Zealand team arrived Tokyo for the Olympic Games. Fukuoka Marathon became the unofficial world championships of the (men’s) marathon by IAAF and now called Fukuoka International Marathon. The inaugural winner in 1966 was New Zealand’s Mike Ryan. Then Paul Ballinger won it in 1982, securing the Kiwi status as the marathon nation by the mara Japanese.
Lydiard-trained Rod Dixon, having gone through many of what Lydiard termed “Marathon Conditioning”, naturally moved up to the marathon before LA Olympics in 1984. As a bronze medalist in 1500m in 1972 as a young 21-year-old, Rod went on and won what many consider as THE most thrilling marathon finish in Central Park, 1983 New York City Marathon, beating England’s Geoff Smith coming from behind, overtaking Smith in the final 300m. He had secured the title as one of the most versatile distance runners of all time.After Halberg’s gallant effort in 1960 Rome Olympic 5000m, it was Dick Quax and Rod Dixon’s turn to challenge the Olympic hardware in the 5000m in Montreal in 1976. In what amounted out to be one of the most thrilling 5000m races in Olympic history, Quax lost to Finland’s Lasse Viren, also Lydiard-trained, by 0.4 second–length of mere 2 eye-blinking–and came home with the silver medal. Dixon was robbed of the medal at all by German’s Hildebrand falling at the finish getting his chest crossing the line inches ahead of tightening Dixon. Nevertheless all four runners diving through the finish line within 2-second was the race to be remembered, in fact, being immortalized by the Finnish sculptor, Eino, with his work called “The Last Meter“..
So once again, this 10th day of September, I texted the old friend, Rod Dixon, congratulating him for the anniversary of his winning the Olympic bronze medal this morning. “You are amazing,” he says, “Where do you store all this information?” Well, to tell you the truth, it was in association with Frank Shorter winning the Olympic marathon!! ;o) But either way, a lot had happened on 9/10 in terms of athletics. As for endurance training revolution Arthur Lydiard had started, it was the final testimonial proven when Barry Magee finished 3rd in the historic marathon through torch-lit Appan Way, finishing at the Arc de Constantine more than 50 years ago. “Mission has been completed,” Barry Magee called it.
Of her own Olympic bronze medal, Lorraine always says that “(this) is my gold medal and it’s so valuable to me I bronzed it!” In “Peter Snell and Kiwis Who Flew“, Vern Walker wrote, of Magee’s bronze medal, “…It’s not a medal you would cry out and say: ‘Gosh, isn’t it beautiful.’ It’s a dull bronze…But it is what the medal represents that matters.”