Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Sir Christopher Chataway (31/1/31 - 19/1/14)

I learnt on Sunday afternoonn (19/1) that Chris Chataway had died that morning.
The one thing I would like to say was, when I interviewed him in 1986, when he was Chairman of Crown Communications Group plc in the City and again, after I finished just ahead of him in the Vets AC cross-country Championships at Wimbledon (A few years later), when he was somewhat older than me, that he appeared incredibly modest to talk to, compared to several other middle distance athletes from major Universities in his day. If one considers he had been a famous Television Broadcaster, A Government Minister and an Executive Director in Commerce and Education.
Of course any sports fan living through the 1950's would remember that incredible 'Last gasp' victory over Vladimir Kuts, in a World Record 5000m, in front of a capacity White City Stadium crowd in 1954.
Chris Chataway was educated at Sherborne School and Magdalen College, Oxford. He has been associated with being with three running clubs over the years. Walton AC, Achilles and in his later veteran years he competed for Thames Hare & Hounds. Although he played hooker for the rugby first team at Sherborne, he  ran the quarter mile and then, as a senior ran the mile in 4.42, which was a senior school record in 1947.
     However going forward to the end of his international running, he was the first Newscaster along with Robin Day for Commercial Television. "I threw myself into other activities in 1956 and I was working hard in television" That was when running took a back seat for him, certainly for many years till his later veteran racing at a lower standard.
He went on to be a Cabinet Minister in Edward Heath's Government etc.
  I felt to see what he had to say about his athletics and  his most significant races through the years would be interesting to relate to all athletics fans, around the World so here we go from my interview of 1987:-
 Enter Sir Christopher Chataway "I am sure I would have done better if I had trained more. I did honestly take it much more seriously than some of the newspaper articles would imply.  In part it was an act, a game. One liked to give the impression of effortless superiority, that was rather fashionable at the time. I did smoke, but one did not realise then how bad smoking was for you. I did not smoke all that many cigars. If I had known that, if I had trained much more I would have been much better, I would have done more. I suppose one was frightened of getting stale.'
'1954 was my best year in athletics simply because I raced. The long season started when I paced Roger Bannister in his first four minute mile; then I had  lots of races and by October I did my best 5000m. I am sure now the mistake I made was not to train or race enough, and the fact that I did so badly at the Olympics in 1956 was not that I did not want to do well but that I simply had not raced enough and trained enough'
   Chris Chataway was narrowly beaten by Roy Beckett (14:02.6) in the AAA's 3 miles in 1951 but he went on to beat Roy several times.
   In 1952. The first Five in the Olympic 5000m Final in Helsinki were 1. Emil  Zatopek (CZH) 14:06.6; 2 Alain Mimoun (France) 14:07.4; 3 Herbert Schade (Germany) 14:08.6; 4 Gordon Pirie (GB) 14.18.0 and 5 Chris Chataway (GB) 14.18.0.
   '' Zatopek was stronger. I always kicked from the beginning of the back straight, so that was what I did. I overtook Zatopek right at the beginning of the back straight, and led the way up the straight and round the bend. I was pretty tired by then, and I hit my foot against the raised kerb on the inside of the track and fell. By the time I got up, Mimoun, Schade and Pirie had gone past me, but I certainly would not have won it. If I had left my kick until the home straight, which I probably ought to have done, and had not fallen over, I would certainly have got third and might even have got second, I suppose. But I should not have beaten Zatopek." Chris Chataway had won the AAA's 3 miles that year in 13:59.6. He joined Chris Brasher and  Roger Bannister for training sessions under the watchful eye of coach Franz Stampfl.
   On June the  21st, after being a pacemaker in the famous 'First 4 minute mile race' he ran second to John Landy, the Australian who ran a 3:58. World record at Turku.
Freddy Green beat him on the tape in the AAA's 3 miles.
  In the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver Chris Chataway obtained a Gold medal in the 3 miles. "Freddy Green's win over me in the AAA's was quite a shock because I did not remember coming across him before. Chataway won the Commonweealth Gold in 13:35.2, in a New Games record. Green was about 15 yards behind with Frank Sando third.
   There was a race where Chris Chataway did his sub- 4 minute mile. At the Whitsun British Games at the White City on 28th of May, 1955 The first three were Laszlo Tabori of Hungary in 3:59.0; 2 Chris Chataway in 3:59.8 and Brian Hewson third also in 3:59.8. It was 1955 that Chris Chataway also won the AAA's 3 miles from a rising star called Derek Ibbotson, the famous Yorkshire runner.
   Now for the 'High Point' of Chris Chataway's career where he met the European 5k Champion Vladimir Kuts. He was 2nd in the European behind Kuts but ahead of Zatopek (1 Vladimir Kuts (SU) 13:56.6 - Kuts went on later to obtain Olympic gold medals at 5000/10000). At the European in Bern 2nd was Chris Chataway 14.08.8; 3 Emil Zatopek (CSR) 14:10.2).
Just something else before talking about his epic race at the White City.
Chris did set a World record in the Germany v Great Britain match of 13:23.2 for 3 miles in 1955.

That incredible race at the White City Moscow v London Match
13th of October 1954 in the White City Stadium - Packed crowd (60,000)

5000m London v Moscow Vladimir Kuts and Vladimir Okorov for Moscow V Chris Chataway and Peter Driver for London,
  Chris comes in:-  "With five and a half laps left, Kuts put in a devastating burst, slowed then quickened the pace again. I had never come across anybody who has put in sprints like that before, and I don't think anybody else had in those days. I just made up my mind that I would stick with him for as long as I could, and it hurt awfully." Said the 'Red Haired Fox' Chris Chataway. He went on "I suppose, because of the small amount of training that we used to do, the races hurt us much more than they do for people now, who are better trained and tougher. We used to run on our nerves to a much greater extent because we thought we would get stale. We did relatively little training.
   'To run to one's limit was terrible agony, and those bursts were simply appalling, even years later - more than three decades - I can remember it very, very vividly. Really, on the last two laps I had more or less given up hope. I was just living second by second. I thought if I can hang on another 10 yards and go on, perhaps, another 10 ... The final lap was terrible until the moment of hope in the last five yards.
   'I don't know whether he did slightly falter or I just discovered some last reserve. I can still recall the feeling of madness as I threw myself into that last fifty yards. It might have been that one was seeking oblivion. One really expected to expire. I could not have felt more stretched to the extremity than I did at that moment."
'In a way it was a very satisfying experience, but I absolutely know that I could not have drawn out another inch that day, that once in my life I had the experience of knowing that I had tested myself absolutely to my limit. I could have gone faster if we had run it more evenly, if we had not had those appalling bursts. It could have been a faster time, but I could not get anymore out of myself than I did that day.'
The time was a World 5k record of 13:51.6, which was improved upon to 13:51.2 ten days later by Vlaldimir Kuts and the following year by Sandor Iharos of Hungary in 13:50.8.
   In 1955 Sir Christopher Chataway was awarded the British trophy for 'Sports Personality' of the year which is an award that has been held every year since.

Alastair Aitken

Back to Reports Index

Back to Archive index