Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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The Most Astonishing Race in Tokyo in 1964 (August 2019)

The Most intriguing Olympic track final was the Men’s 10,000 in Tokyo Olympics of 1964

It was on the 14th of October 1964, in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, in the cloudy weather 18.5c humidity 84% wind 1.2m (N), when, I witnessed the most intriguing race of the games.
The 10,000 favourite was Australian, Ron Clarke. His brilliant World record run in 1963 of course, helped statisicians to rate him No.1 in the world over the distance...
The field was loaded with most of the best 5 & 10k runners in the World. Here are some of the names besides Ron Clarke. Ron Hill; Jim Hogan; Pytor Bolotnikov (The 1950 Olympic Champion over the distance); Murray Halberg,; Mohamed Gammoudi (The 5k Olympic Champion in Mexico); Gerry Lindgren The US Olympic Trials winner over 10k & Billy Mills the runner up in those Trials.; Mamo Wolde (The Mexico marathon winner from Ethiopia); Kokishi Tsuburaya from Japan (Who was overtaken on the track in  the stadium at the finish by that ‘late’Great runner Basil Heatley of GB)
Then there was Ron Clarke’s friend and clubmate Tony Cook; Bruce Kidd; Siegfried Herrmann. Two Frenchman, who were Jean Fayolle & John Vaillant and two British runners Mike Bullivant & Fergus Murray; Franc Cervan, Barry Magee, Henry Clerckx and Josef Suetoe had impressive records too.

In the race, to begin with Bolotnikov, shot off before Clarke led, with his famous surges, for seven laps. The 5000 was covered by the leader in 14:04.6.. Billy Mills was leading in a breakaway quartet with Clarke; Wolde and Gammoudi following closely Wolde was dropped by the time of the last lap, as the stadium erupted. The trio tried to go round a lapped runner to-gether.. They all had to have quick  reflexes and a good tactical sense  as, the crowd in the stadium were on their feet shouting.. Then as the first three were together and tried to go round a lapped runner on the back straight, they had  choices to make!

Billy Mills & Ron Clarke explained the position they were in
Mills “I think Clarke found himself boxed in, as we were lapping a runner. Ron was at my shoulder, panicked momentarily and did push me out because, let’s face it, he must have been scared as I would in his position, that he might lose then and there. He had one of three choices 1. He could have stopped and come round. 2 He could have speeded up and pushed through. I would not let him get ahead because I had got him on the inside but, I was not doing anything illegal; or 3 He panicked momentarily and did push me out. Gammoudi must have been in a similar position as Clarke but seized the opportunity more readily. Clarke bumped me wide but, just as I was about to move in on Clarke again, Gammoudi with his momentum unimpaired did the only thing he could, other than stopping dead, and flashed ahead between us.”
That ‘Great’ gentleman Ron Clarke comes in “ I think the move that won the race was when Billy Mills got knocked back behind in what proved the most advantageous position as he was behind and hit the trail on us

In 1970 after his races in the Commowealth Games he told me “I think I ran that race as well as my fitness allowed and that is really the aim of any athlete. For my state of fitness then I ran more than 40 seconds faster than I had done three weeks earlier, and I had broken everybody. In the Tokyo 10,000 I got more absorbed in the real tactical battle than in any other race, before or since...  My fittest period, ‘My peak’was between 1965 and 1968 inclusive.”

For Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia, who was running in his first Olympics in Tokyo and, went on to gain medals at the Olympic in 1968 & 1972 “ I thought I would finish 5th or 6th in Tokyo (As he looked back in 1968) but I did not sleep for three days before the event. I was so very nervous in Tokyo but in Mexico in the 5000 I knew I was going to win, although, it was a tough race. I felt stronger and more confident I would win (He also came 3rd in 10,000 and 2nd in the 1972 Munich Olympic 5k).
A little of Mohammed’s career:- He started his running at 20. In the Tunisian Army they used to make everyone get up at 6’ am and run. He got his first international vest at cross-country and he later became a Mediterranean Champion on the track prior to Tokyo.

Billy Mills’s thoughts on the build up and the race and what went before
“I had high hopes of making the team in the first place and when training was going well in February last year, I thought then I could possibly win the Olympic 10,000 but if I made the team. Nevertheless a lot happened in the nine months (with injuries plaguing him) Nevertheless, I got to Tokyo.’
‘After the 10,000 had actually started I felt anyone of ten athletes in the field could win and, of course I was one of them. Then, after dropping the ‘pack’ and realising that Halberg and several other’ Great’ runners were not with us, with only five laps to go I was fairly sure of getting a medal, and perhaps the gold. Before the race started I had made up my mind to go with the leaders. I knew almost certainly Clarke would be one of these and counted on Halberg being up there too. Once Clarke moved I was prepared to go with him. Even so, I was not prepared for such a fast run 5000 but, once everybody else dropped and, I was still there, it was merely a matter of hanging on. I hung on for a couple of laps by the skin of my teeth then it started to come ‘easy’ and I actually felt I was as much in control of the race as Clarke, even though he led for most  of the way The first 4 runners were inside the Olympic record, which of course was  on cinders.
1 William Mills (U.S.A.) 28:24.4; 2 Mohamed Gammoudi (Tunisia) 28:24.8; 3 Ronald Clarke (Australia) 28:25.8; 4 Mamo Wolde (Ethiopia) 28:31.8; 5 Leonid Ivanov (U.S.S.R.) 28:53.2; 6 Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan) 28:59.4 (29 finished).

A little of Billy Mill’s Background
At the time of the Olympics Billy Mills was an Officer in the US Marine Corps.
Billy was born on a reservation in South Dakota. His Father was a Sioux Indian and a keen amateur boxer. Billy was born 26 years before his Olympic win but, both his parents died when he was young. He used to box at school in Pine Ridge Public school and did road running to keep fit for that but it was at Haskell High school he ran and, in his second year of doing that he ran a 4:30 mile. He graduated to Kansas University and remembers his heroes were Ron Delaney & Wes Santee. He married Patsy in 1962 and he felt she was a tremendous help, enabling him to train and go to the Olympics.
where he became the first ever American to win the Olympic 10,000 metres!

Alastair Aitken

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