Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and


JIM RYUN came to London in 1967, already a World Record holder for the 880yards (1:44.9) in 1966; 1500 (3:33.1) in 1967 and Mile (3:51.1) in 1967. It was pure luck that I was able to talk to him, as he was not giving interviews at the time. An American coach asked him to talk to me so I had to immediately fired some questions at him, out of the top of my head. We sat on the stairs in the Lancaster Gate Hotel, where he was staying in London. It was just after he had taken the 'Great' Kip Keino to the 'Cleaners' with his withering sprint finish. His time, on the White City cinders was 3:56.0 to Keino's 3:57.4. It was amazing to see such a great runner as Keino so well beaten for speed but in 1968, at the Olympics in Mexico City, things were different and the finalists were:-
First Eight 1.Kip Keino (Kenya) 3:34.9; 2 Jim Ryun (USA) 3:37.8; 3 Bodo Tummler ( FRG) 3:39.0; 4 Harald Norpoth (FRG) 3:42.5; 5 John Whetton (GBR) 3:43.8; 6 Jacques Boxberger (FRA) 3:46.6; 7 Henryk Szordykowski (POL) 3:46.6; 8 Josef Odlozil (TCH) 3:48.6.
   JOHN WHETTON was the 1969 European 1500 Champion outdoors and 3 times European Champion Indoors, plus a World Universities Champion when he was studying at Manchester University.He had an interesting take on Jim Ryun the 'Great American' miler after that Olympic Final in 1968 from my interview in 'Athletics Arena' " Ryun is undoubtedly one of the greatest milers that has ever lived. In 1968 he had undoubtedly lost the confidence that he once had, following his illness. I am convinced that the result might still have been the same at sea-level, with Keino the winner, but only because Ryun lacked this confidence, more especially at altitude where he thought it was impossible to run any faster than 3:39.0 for 1500 metres. If Ryun had shown, with the same tactics that I did in going with them - then he would have won and beaten Keino hands-down. With 300 yards to go in that race Ryun was still behind me - but by that point Keino was close on 200metres from the line."
   MARTY LIQUORI was a very good miler and also he was 2nd in the 'First Ever' World Cup 5000 behind Myruts Yifter in Dusseldorf in 1977 (1 Myruts Yifter (Ethiopia) 13:13.82; 2 Marty Liquori (USA) 13:15.06;
3 David Fitzsimons (Australia) 13:17.42; 4 Nick Rose (GB) 13:20.35.)
. As a 19 year old Marty was the youngest ever to make the Olympic 1500m final in 1968 but suffered a stress fracture and finished 12th. He was a Pan American Games Champion over 1500 in 1971.
   It was in 1971 he had a 'Titanic Battle' with Jim Ryun on the 16h of May. It was the Dream Mile in Philadelphia
which Marty won in 3:54.6 with Jim Ryun credited with the same time. He comes in with his account of what happened  when I talked to him in 1975 for Athletics Weekly when Mel Watman was the Editor.
   My Question was "You ran 2:09.8 for the half-mile when you were 15 and you said it was your greatest psychological barrier to get under 2:10 but then, only three years later in 1967 you were seventh in a mile at Bakersfield in 3:59.8 when Jim Ryun set a World record of 3:51.1 What did you think of Ryun then and what were your own thoughts about breaking four minutes?"
   "At the time he was a God, he was American track, and in that race he just went off from the first turn and was by himself and ran the record. I had been on the West Coast for about four weeks, I had run 4:00.2 and 4:00.1, and the night before I ran 4:00.8. In the trial so when I found myself 40 or 50 yards behind after the first half I thought I was running a terrible race, and then I came up to the three quarter mark in about tenth place. I heard 3:02 so I said to myself f " I have done a 58 quarter so many times in practise", so I then just fortunately just got under four minutes.  That has got to be one of the great thrills. I still can't figure it out! I am always asking people how I did it. I guess 1967 is quite a long time ago--I was 17 and a senior in high school--but the strange thing is nobody has done it in high school, yet the year before me Tim Danielson had done it, and the year before him Jim Ryun."
"However in 1971 you were in a terrific race in Philadelphia which you won in 3:54.6 with Jim Ryun credited with same time?
   " They did give Ryun the same time as me, then about a week later they amended it to 3:54.8 for him as it was obvious that it was not the same time, he was two or three yards behind. I have a lot of memories of that race: it was probably the biggest mile race in 20 years to be held in America because of the amount of publicity it received
Not since Bill Bonthron and Glen Cunningham were running at Pincetown were there races like that! We had about 25,000 people on a rainy day and 56 degrees come to the race, and we probably would have had 50,000 which in America would be unbelievable for track. Jim Ryun had been the best, then he retired, and in two years since I had come of age and was the top miler in America and in fact had been ranked number one in the World. So it was like the champion coming back to reclaim his title and we were such diverse personalities that there was so much material there for journalists.
  ' It was a very strange race. The first lap was very slow, about 61 seconds, then 2:03 for the half mile. With about 700 yards to go Ryun worked his way into the lead and I got right on his shoulder and he only led for about 100 yards. I passed him from 650 or so out, we  were neck and neck really, running as fast as we could. We ran the last half mile in 1:51, which at the time was one of the fastest last half miles ever run and it was a great race to watch. We were really sprinting for a long time."
   Going back to Jim Ryun he was coached by Bob Timmons who coached Archie San Romani. Ryun's philosophy at the time was something worth repeating I think." For me there are so many things that happen in life (He eventually became a Member of the U.S House of Representatives from Kansas' s 2nd district!)--Jim Ryun continues in 1967 ' I just don't know. As far as track goes, it is to me what it is probably is to most other track athletes, a sideline-hobby. I am not imprisoned in a web woven by anyone else: my parents, for example, are interested in my track career, but they don't put any pressures on me to keep at it. Bob Timmons, as another example, made me work, but I wouldn't have done the work unless I had wanted to. We just worked out together what would be the best thing to do, as we went along. However, without him in the beginning I would not have come so far so quickly. He started me on training hard when I was young, and without him I would not have matured physically as fat. But you see, in the long run it depends on yourself. I then had to do that work .Bob Timmons showed me how. Everybody needs someone to guide them if they are to realise any potential they may have; nobody can truthfully say that he can' do it all alone.' It was just luck that I happened to choose a cross-country run one day for something to do. I couldn't to do anything else  at school, I couldn't make the school team in any other sport. In fact I just did not participate in them at all."
   Going further back in time to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo JOHN WHETTON casts an interesting light on both the race and his friend and rival Alan Simpson also from Great Britain, then finishes with a bit of his philosophy on training. That was when I met him at Nottingham University where he was lecturing.
First of all Tokyo 21st of October 1964 First 8:- 1 Peter Snell (NZL) 3:38.1; 2 Josef Odlozil (TCH) 3:39.6; 3 John Davies (NZL) 3:39.6; 4 Alan Simpson (GBR) 3:39.7; 4 Dyrol Burleson (USA) 3:40.0; 6 Witold Baran ( POL) 3:40.3; 7 Michel Barnard (FRA) 3:41.2; 8 John Whetton (GBR) 3:42.4. (John Davies of New Zealand told me in London how pleased with the fact his friend Peter Snell one and he really liked Josef Odlozil as a person so he, was not only pleased he came 2nd but also of course the fact he gained a medal himself).
  John Whetton on his part in the race:- " In Tokyo I was still a fairly young runner, and considerably weaker physically than I am today(-1969).
The semi-final was extremely fast, and I ran my fastest time to date -3:39.4-to qualify for the final. Two days later I had still not recovered from the semi-final; I was sluggish and very tired, and the last thing you need when you feel like that is to be bumped in a race.
   "Just after the bell the field was all together, and I had Peter Snell on my inside, blocked; Snell said 'Can I come out' putting his right arm in front of me - naturally I did not say either 'Yes' or 'no', I continued my own race - and he barged me, knocking me flying into lane three; this is where he got out for his breakaway, his 'lucky break', and went on to win the race. Having gained my balance, I was going back to join the pack, when Michel Bernard for France did the same thing, knocking me back out into lane three, and so I felt somewhat dizzy and of course lost a lot of energy at that point and, just coming into the back-straight I got tangled- up with Alan Simpson, and this then put-paid to my remaining energy which I used merely to keep my balance so I only finished eighth, but not too disappointedly.'
                    ALAN SIMPSON the Rotherham miler used to beat John Whetton in the 1960's when they met and before of course John won the European 1500 in 1969. Simpson was second behind Kip Keino in the 1966 Commonwealth Games One mile.
   " I think it was not psychological but physiological my being unable to beat Simpson. After all he had been an established runner since 1961 and was reaching his peak in 1964 and in 1965 whilst I did not come onto the scene until 64 (I was a 'B' international in 1963) with an 'A' international but by this time Simpson was never fitter, and right on top. I was gradually improving meanwhile and by 1967 had got the edge on him .It was not the fact that I beat him  that caused his retirement, he had just had enough, used up all his energies and would not take any more of the hard training that he had been doing.'
  Simpson's retirement then, it seemed, had nothing to do with fact that you beat him?
   " Not at all. He had the problem of not bing able to train as he wanted; he would have continued, I think. His retirement did not spur me on for there were many others in miling to replace Simpson people like Walter Wilkinson.
If I had come in at the same  time as Simpson, in 1961, I just hate to think just what would have happened".


"My favourite type of running is Fartlek. I don't like training on the track or running on roads - to me these can be very, very boring. Personally I like to feel that I am part of the environment: if I am enclosed by trees and bushes, somehow feel part of it, and of course there is always the point that, when training in woods or forest land, the running can hardly be boring since the environment is changing continually - maybe short trees, tall trees or no trees, soft grass or pine needles. Now and again you will scare a rabbit out of its hole, or suddenly find a pheasant swooping down close to you. All this adds interest to one's training session, and takes one's mind off the hard work and, honestly I feel that If I cannot think about aesthetic things in training I do become bored'
' Were I to think about athletics all the time I would want to pack it up, and I have felt this sometimes. The answer is to take your mind off it, and that is why if I have something beautiful and stimulating to think about I want to continue, that is why I enjoy Sherwood Forest so much. Without the Forest I think I would have finished running a long time ago

Alastair Aitken

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