Probing the Artifacts
By Marc Bloom for DyeStat
When I think back 36 years ago to an historic track event that I created, I still shake my head in wonder: when putting together the field I overlooked one of the greatest of all American runners. It was only when two men pulled out of the race with injuries, and then at roughly the same time I received a plea from the slighted athlete, that I offered him a spot on the starting line at Madison Square Garden.
Oh, me: the embarrassment! The appeal came in the form of a letter (see above), dated December 8, 1986, still in my possession. Reading it recently, I wanted to cover my eyes in shame. The letter started out with an oddly formal, “Dear Sir,” and went on to enumerate various credentials of obvious pertinence — expressed with the same humility that the gentleman demonstrated at 77 when we recently spoke — delivering quite a blow to my track expert ego, then and now.
The letter specified:
— 1968 Olympian in the 10,000 meters after winning the U.S. Trials, first American finisher in the high altitude of Mexico City;
— Set world indoor record for 3 miles on three different occasions, the last time in 1973 at the Garden;
— Competed on the International Track Association “Pro” Tour in the mid-1970s;
— At age 39, ran a 3:55 1500 meters, equivalent to about a 4:14 mile;
— Once 40, won the World Masters 10k road race in 31:24 in California;
— At 41, No. 2-ranked masters road runner in the U.S. by The Runner magazine, running masters best of 30:51 10k, also in California.
That last point of excellence really hurt. I was editor-in-chief of The Runner, sponsor of this new event. I had certainly known of the performance extolled in my own magazine, hadn’t I? How had it slipped my mind?
The athlete’s letter had begun: “I am very much interested in running the Masters Mile, which I read about in The Runner.” And the letter ended with this: “My real love has always been indoor track. I have done seven weeks of speed work. I am confident I would be one of the strong contenders and would make the race exciting.”
What the athlete did not say, with a sense of restraint that marked our reminiscences, was that in his heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s he defeated Billy Mills, Steve Prefontaine, Gerry Lindgren, Jim Ryun, George Young, Ron Hill, and Michel Jazy, at one time or another. It’s doubtful anyone else from that era had earned such distinction.
Perhaps, if you know your track…