You, You, You Oughta Know – The Past


There has been much debate in the running community recently about how much the general running public cares about having elite runners in large races, such as the Rock N Roll series. Some writers have gone so far as to suggest that elites aren’t doing enough to ingratiate themselves with the mid-pack crowd. I’m not going to wade into that debate, but I will suggest that, generally speaking, it would be a good thing for more runners to have a general sense of of the names in our sport that matter, the ones who have represented our country internationally, the ones who inspire both through their speed and their heart. This list will be non-exhaustive and clearly reflects my biases towards my personal heroes. It is also focused on distance runners (and “mid-distance” on the track) because, let’s face it, sprinters get all the glory anyway, what with their “muscles” and whatnot. So, I give to you: The Ones That Matter.

The Past

1. Steve Prefontaine – Perhaps the most idolized, mythologized runner in American history.  At one point held the American record at every distance from 2000 – 10000 meters.  First Nike sponsored athlete.  Known for his front-running style, which arguably cost him a medal at the 1972 Munich games.  Featured in two feature films, Prefontaine and Without Limits.  Fought for the rights of amateur athletes.  Died tragically in a car crash at the age of 24, but not before leaving an everlasting impact on the sport.

Prefontaine

2. Bill Rodgers – Synonymous with Boston.  Won both the Boston and New York Marathons 4 times each.  Boston Billy is still a fixture in the Boston area and makes frequent appearances at running events.  Raced with the still-present Greater Boston Track Club.

Bill Rodgers

3. Alberto Salazar – Cuban born runner who grew up in Wayland, MA, joining the Greater Boston Track Club with Bill Rodgers while still in high school.  Salazar won New York 3 years in a row from 1980-82 and out-dueled Dick Beardsley in the famous Duel In The Sun in 1982.  Salazar was known for pushing his body beyond its limits, requiring total immersion in an ice bath to cool his body down after nearly dying after competing in a hot Falmouth Road Race one year.  Salazar is now the head coach of the Oregon Oregon Project, coaching some of the top runners in the world, including Galen Rupp and Mo Farah.

Salazar_01_0

4. Frank Shorter – One of the runners responsible for leading the running boom of the 70s.  Shorter was the last winner of the Olympic marathon, winning the gold medal at the 1972 Munich games and then the silver medal in 1976.  Shorter founded the legendary Florida Track Club and earned a law degree after graduating from Yale University.

FRANK SHORTER

5. Joan Benoit Samuelson – Affectionately known as “Joanie” to her fans, JBS won the Olympic Marathon the first year women were allowed to run it in 1984.  JBS held the Boston Marathon record for 11 years and still holds the American course record for the Chicago Marathon, not to mention having won the Falmouth Road Race 6 times.  JBS founded the Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine, one of the most prestigious road races in the country and still runs competitively.

JBS

6. Mary Decker-Slaney – In 1982 Decker set six world records, at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000 meters.  The following year she achieved a “Decker Double”, winning both the 1500 meters and 3000 meters events at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.  

Decker

7. Katherine Switzer – Switzer is best known for being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a bib, having registered as “K.V. Switzer,” and then having race director Jock Semple attempt to shove her off the course.  Switzer would go on to win the 1974 New York Marathon and would continue to be instrumental in the movement to allow women equal access to road races as men.

Switzer


Coming up in a future post…The Present.

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