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Ron Clarke

Ron Clarke
Way back in the mid-1960s, I was living in London where my father had been posted for three years.  Like many young teenagers, I played several different sports and still believed, that one day, I could be world class in one of them.  Sadly, reality gradually dawned on the tennis court, cricket ground and rugby field as I recognised a lacked of the physique and ball skills to ever be a champion.

Like many expatriates I was proud when homeland heroes did well on the international stage and Ron Clarke toured Europe at just the right time to get my attention.  Just a few months after my family settled in the UK in 1965, Ron toured the US and Europe, breaking 12 track world records, including becoming the first man ever to run 3 miles in less than 13 minutes, 6 miles in less than 27 minutes and 10,000m in less than 28 minutes.  The times themselves didn't mean much to me, but Ron's style of running did.  Although he seemed to lack the finishing kick to win tactical major Games titles, he was a machine when it came to world record attempts.  He generally ran from the front and gradually burned off his competitors, often breaking world records by prodigious amounts.  Ron was indisputably the best distance runner in the world during the mid-60s.  Possessing the characteristics of toughness, discipline and excellence that I admired and aspired to, he was a worthy hero.  I don't want to overplay it, but he certainly got me thinking that running might be my sport.

Ron Clarke wins bronze in the 10,000m at the 1964 Tokyo
Olympics behind Billy Mills (USA) and Mohammed
Gammoudi (Tunisia)
After returning to Australia and getting more serious about my running, I became even more appreciative of Ron's talents and record.  I probably saw him at Victorian running events during this time, but have no specific memory.  However, when I began to reach my marathon prime in the late 70s and did well in some bigger races we had some brief interactions and he got to know who I was.  I remember being very proud when I won a small fun run in Melbourne's north-eastern suburbs and Ron, who was presenting the prizes, referred to me as one of Australia's up-and-coming distance runners.  I can also remember him giving me a toot on his car horn near the Tan as I ran to work during the morning commute.  His acknowledgement seemed to give my running efforts credibility in my own mind, and that was important to me.

Ron Clarke tracks Michel Jazy (France) during a
1965 two mile race in France in which Jazy
broke the world record
The sad thing about Ron's career was that it was brought to a premature end by a heart problem he believes developed during the high altitude Mexico City Olympics in 1968.  He faded quickly in the last few laps of the 10,000m final after being in contention with two laps to go, collapsed unconscious after crossing the line and was given oxygen.  A few years later he was diagnosed with a heart defect and in 1983, after suffering fibrillation during a run, had successful surgery to replace a faulty valve.  You can read an excellent summary of Ron's career here.

No fibrillation or flutter for me today as I walked a flat 7km for exercise.  I felt fine, but remain despondent that this is all the exercise I am allowed for the next six weeks.  It's very tempting to see if I can jog around my usual Copa 5km course at an easy pace, but I guess I'll follow the doctor's orders.