Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and
Reports

GASTON ROELANTS 'THE STEEPLECHASER OF THE 1960s' (APRIL 2012)

Gaston, Baron Roelants was Born 5th of February 1937 at Opvelp, Belgium.
I would like to say right away he was the first man 'Ever' to run inside 8:30.0 for the 3k steeplechase with a time of 8:29.6, on the 7th of September 1963. He improved on that in 1965 to run a World Record of 8:26.4. That was on the old cinder track in those day, not tartan. Previously on the 14th of September 1962, he won the European in Belgrade in 8:32.6 ahead of Zoltan Vamos (Romania) 8:37.6; and Nikolay Sokolov (Soviet Union) 8:40.6. He was third in the following European in Belgrade in 1966. After that in 1972 he ran to a World record 20k of  58:62 and went on to do another World record for One Hour of 20,664m. He improved  on those records with 57:44.4 and 20,978m in 1972. Talking about his long distance exploits he also was 2nd in the European Marathon of 1969 in Athens  (Behind the winner Ron Hill of GB) and he was 3rd in 1974. (Ian Thompson (GB) the winner that time)
Trackwise he told me in 1964 he really liked running 10,000m on the track. His best was 28:03.8 in Bruxelles on the 5th of August 1972.
   He had a long successful cross-country career. Wining the International 'World' cross country in 1962, 67, 69, and 72. In the International in Barry Wales that I saw in 1967, he won over a dry flat course with steeplechase barriers which of course suited  him. He won in 36:03 and the man that came 2nd was Tim Johnston (England) 36:20. (Johnston was a 'Classy', cross-country ,track and road runner and eventually a World Veteran Road Champion).
In Barry Wales,.England won the team event from New Zealand and France that day.
   I also remember running in the notoriously cold 'National' cross country at Sutton Coldfield in 1972, won by Thames Valley Harrier Malcolm Thomas but, when the International came up, it was a lovely sunny Spring day in Cambridge.
Where I was standing watching that day, Gaston did one of those  theatrical things.He broke off from the leaders and stood next to a friend in the crowd, pointing at his leg, as though there was something  wrong with it but then after a short while, proceeded to catch the leaders and go away from them at the finish.
The first Six that day were Gaston Roelants (Belgium) 37.43; 2 Mariano Haro (Spain) 38.01; 3 Ian Stewart (Scotland) 38:20; 4 Tapio Kantenen (Finland) 38.23; 5 Trevor Wright (England) 38.26; and 6 Pekka Paivarinta (Finland) 38.28. I noticed  Tony Simmons was 8th and the Mediterranean 5k Track Champion, Haddou Jaddour of Morocco, was 9th.. England won the team event from Morocco and Belgium. There was an epic battle before that in 1963 when Roy Fowler of England managed to beat Gaston Rolants, who was 2nd. The race was in hot weather in Spain. Anyway, Gaston Roelants went on to win five Masters World Titles- 'Over 40' and set a Masters (M40) steeplechase record of 8:41.5, in Oslo on that 6th of July 1977.That Masters steeplechase record lasted 27 years.
    Before all those events Gaston Roelants ran in the 1960 Olympic Final in Rome on the 3rd of September. It was won by Zdislaw Kryszkowiak off Poland in an Olympic record of Poland in an Olympic record of 8:34.2 an Gaston Roelants was 4th in 8:47.6 and many years later in the 1968 Olympics he was 7th in 8:59.4 and ran in the marathon in 11th place in 2:29.08. 60 finished the race which was run at high altitude and won by Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia in 2:20.26.4.The time shows how the bad effects the altitude had on many of the greatest runners in the World!
 
   Olympic 3000 steeplechase Tokyo, 11th of October 1964 First Six:- 1 Gaston Roelants (Belgium) 8:30.8 in an Olympic Record; 2 Maurice Herriott (GBR) 8:32.4 (AAA's Champion 8 Times); 3 Ivan Belyayev (Russia/Ukraine) 8:33.8 ; 4 Manuel de Oliviera (Portugal) 8:36.2; 5 George Young (3rd in '68' Olympics USA) 8:38.2; 6 Guy Texereau (France) 8:38.6.
     The heat in Tokyo was Roelants' first competition for two months, following a serious set-back with leg injuries:
   " I did not start my hard training for the Olympics Games until only one week before the Belgian team left for Tokyo, and then I covered only about 50-55 kilometres a week' It was the long lay-off at the most important time, followed by my final speeding-up for the Games, that caused an apparent loss of pace-judgement resulting in my going too fast in the first round heat I think.' (2nd in Heat 'C' 8:33.38).
   For the Final " At about eleven o'clock in the morning on the day before the final race I thought that I had broken my leg- or at least injured it badly- and that I would be unable to compete in the final. After I had been training for about twenty minutes or so, during which time I had warmed up very well, done four 100 metres fairly fast followed up by some hurdling. Several time I hit my leg on the hurdles, in exactly the same place at each clearance, on the upper part of the leg below the knee (the shin). Suddenly the pain became very bad when I hit it again, so was sent to bed - where I remained for four hours - with the team  coach and two doctors armed with ice-packs and liniment. It was not until three o'clock that I was able to put my foot on the ground, and leave the bed"
   " In the Final I did not feel any pain at all and, just to make certain that I did not a hurdle in this race, I hurdled over them very high, and did not hit one. I always like to go into the lead position in a race so that I can see the distance between the hurdles, and in this case there were two reasons for leading the field- the first kilometres was a slow 2:52, so I just went."
   The Start " A challenge led me to my first steeplechase when I was 18 years old. I started off in the sport like most schoolboys do, pounding over the countryside near the school. Then one day I challenged a friend of mine to a steeplechase race after he had done 10:27.0. I can remember he laughed when I said " I can beat you " Two weeks later came 5th in the Belgian Championships in 9:57.0. This made me decide to take the event seriously, but through the years since then, I have still stuck to the flat events from 1500 to 10,000, for a steeplechaser has to be a very fast flat runner as well' That was when I was talking to Gaston in the Tokyo Olympic village in 1964.
   He went on to say then, the day after he won his 'Gold' " I train for 2 hours every day, and because of this, although I am married, I have no time for children at the moment. I do interval running covering most competition distances, Twice a week I include distance runs over about 14 miles or so, three times a week I do a good session over the water jump. In the Winter of course my training consists mainly of cross-country running'
   'Cross country running gives me strength for steeple, and anyway it is a great sport in Belgium, but interval training is a major part of my training all year round. Although I know that many English runners cover a lot of distance in training by road running, I do not run on the roads at all.' (Remember that was said back in 1964!)
   ' My coach has been a great help an inspiration to me all along, and I know from personal experience, It was my coach who helped instil my first real athletic ambition -to win the International cross-country race. Still, the Olympic Gold medal has obviously given me my greatest satisfaction so far -and my coach made it possible"
   At the time of the interview  Gaston Roelants was a Public Relations Officer for a large Belgian Brewing Compo. In his spare time he learned German, and also taught English.
Charles Elliott the Editor of Athletics Arena,who was an established steeplechase coach said in 1964
   "There's no doubt that this tough Olympic steeplechase Champion is destined to become one of the World's All-Time Greats -if indeed he is not already"

Alastair Aitken

Back to Reports Index

Back to Archive index