Athletics News

Michel Jazy, former world mile record-holder, dies aged 87

Michel Jazy, former world mile record-holder, dies aged 87

French middle-distance runner ran 3:53.6 for the mile in 1965 during a career that saw him set nine world records and win two European titles and an Olympic silver

In Rennes, France, in June 1965, Michel Jazy joined the exclusive club of world mile record-breakers when he broke Peter Snell’s mark with 3:53.6. It was one of nine world records that the French athlete, who died on Thursday (Jan 31) aged 87, set during an illustrious career.

On the Olympic stage he did not enjoy the same success. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, for example, he finished runner-up to Herb Elliott of Australia in the 1500m. Four years later in the 5000m final in Tokyo he enjoyed a lead of several metres with 200m to go but faded to fourth as Bob Schul of the United States sprinted to gold.

He did, however, win European 1500m gold in Belgrade in 1962 and European 5000m gold in Budapest in 1966.

The Frenchman will be best remembered for his record-breaking ability, though. As well as his mile mark in 1965, he set world records in the 2000m (5:01.6 in 1962 and 4:56.2 in 1966) and 3000m (7:49.2 in 1962 and 7:49.0 in 1965), the two miles (8:29.6 in 1963 and 8:22.6 in 1965) and 4×1500m (15:04.2 in 1961 and 14:49.0 in 1965).

Michael Jazy leads the 1964 Olympic 5000m (Mark Shearman)

His mile world record survived for just over a year until Jim Ryun of the United States clocked 3:51.3 in Berkeley. It also remained the European record for 10 years until Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland beat it.

Born on June 13, 1936 in Oignies, France, into a coal-mining family from Poland, Jazy was a keen footballer in his youth. His early athletics success saw him win age group titles and he went on to make his Olympic debut aged 20 when finishing seventh in his 1500m heat in Melbourne in 1956.

At those Melbourne Games he shared a room with Alain Mimoun, the Olympic marathon champion in 1956, and Jazy later said it was a life-changing experience as Mimoun taught him what was necessary to become one of the world’s greatest athletes.

Four years later Jazy took 1500m silver at the Rome Games in 3:38.4 behind Elliott’s world record of 3:35.6. In Belgrade two years later he won his first major title with European 1500m gold in 3:40.9.

Four years later in Budapest he won European 1500m silver behind Bodo Tümmler and then took gold in the 5000m in a championship record of 13:42.8.

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