Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

The Russian Iron Man (September 2019)

*** I remember being at the White City Stadium and, seeing the cinders being torn up by Vladimir Kuts of USSR in the 10,000m.
After 4 laps he had an 80 yard lead in the race. It was a duel match between GB v USSR (Two from each country).
It was when I did my first ever report. It was on the 23/24 August 1957. I suppose there was some consolation, as Gordon Pirie won from Derek Ibbotson of GB in the 5000m, but no Kuts present in that!
For me it was a bit special,, as my very ‘Great’ late friend Peter Hildreth won the 110,hurdles for GB***
Vladimir Kuts the amazing Russian Olympian

Volodymyr Petrovych Kuts was born 7th of February 1927 at Oleksyne, Ukrain SSR, Soviet Union and, died 16th of August 1975 at the age of 48 in an apparent suicide and weighing 50kg more than his usual weight, according to Wikipedia. His Father died of alcoholism when Vladimir was five years old.
Vladimir was married twice and divorced both times. (He had one son by his first marriage). After the end of his second marriage in 1973 he lived alone.
That is all regarding the sadder part of his life begins and ends; so the accolades he got as a runner were his successful strong points over the years.

I asked the late Dick Quax, who gained silver in the 1976 Montreal Olympic 5000, a relevant question and that was “Do you think an Olympic Final shows that who is the best in the World?‘
His Answer to that was “It shows the best man at that event on that particular day against that particular opposition. That’s all. It is unfortunate that is what, at the end of the day, you hang your spikes up, this is what they say - “That’s how good he was. Very few individuals get judged on anything else.”
Four brilliant athletes, who broke World records but never got any medals in the Olympic 5/10ks, were Hungarian, Sandor Iharos; Chris Chataway’Dave Moorcroft and Dave Bedford from the UK.
Ron Clarke was a multi-distance record holder and, Gordon Pirie, who smashed all the best Hungarians in a World record 3000 and, beat Kuts in a World record 5000, outside of the Olympics but, never achieved gold in the Olympics of 1952;1956; or 1960.

Vladimir Kuts who started athletics seriously at 22 was coached by Grigory Nikiforov and,  won National Championships before he became the surprising ‘Big’ Championship race winner.
That was at Bern, in the European Championship’s in 1954. It was over 5000m....
Emil Zatopek, three times gold medallist of the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, was still running well and the clear favourite. Chris Chataway of GB was coming into reasonable shape reflected on the race in London, when we talked about Vladimir bursting clear early on. “Emil and I were looking at each other at the start. I remember then going into the race and I did not think there was anybody to beat but Emil. I made up my mind I would follow him. We had never heard of the Russian so, it was an awful shock when he did not come back. (1 Vladimir Kuts (SU) 13:56.6; 2 Christopher Chataway (GB) 14:08.8; 3 Emil Zatopek (CSR) 14:10.2).On cinders of course.
However Chataway got his own back temporally, in a World record at the White City Stadium, when he beat Kuts in the final few strides of the 5000m. It was in the Moscow v London match on October the 13th 1954. In front of a capacity crowd. They had to close the gates to not let anyone more in, having to turn people away. Kuts Improved on Chataway’s world record with 13:51.2 ten days later.

Kuts the blond haired, red vested Russian, went on to achieve a couple of outstanding victories in 1956 at Melbourne (His weight then was 159lbs and he was 5ft 71/2 in height. As opposed to Gordon Pirie who was 6’26ft 2in & 144lbs in weight. Those were the two favourites for the Melbourne Olympic 10,000 Final on the 23/11/56. Despite Kuts punishing surges. Pirie manfully stuck to him, lap after lap. It took 20 laps to burn off Pirie and then, Kuts pushed on at his relentless pace. (1 Kuts 28:45.8 (OR); 2 Jozsef Kovacs (Hungary) 28:52.43 Allen Lawrence (Australia) 28:53.6); 4th was the ‘great’ steeplechaser Kzyszyszkowiak from Poland (29:00) and fifth out of the 25 man field was popular Thames Valley Harrier and GB man Ken Norris 2:05)

In the fifth day of the Melbourne Games was the 5000 Final. Vladimir then known as ‘The marine iron man’ was out in front after 150m and followed by Pirie, Ibbotson, who, to a extent, timing his run on Pirie, who he thought would give Kuts a hard fight. However Pirie, for the first time, uncharacteristically, in major championships, played a safer game to get a medal. At 4000m Chataway was falling back from the leaders with excruciating stomach cramps. At the finish the first six were of 14 starters was 1Vladiir Kuts (U.S.S.R) in an Olympic record of 13:39.6; 2 Gordon Pirie G.B); 13:50.6; 3 Derek Ibbotson (GB) 13:54.4; Miklos Szabo of Hungary (14:03.4); 5 Albert Thomas (Australia) 14:4.8; 6 Laszlo Tabori (Hungary) 14:09.8

In conclusion one would have to say, there goes a ‘Hell of a Runner’- Vladimir Pyotrovich Kuts, who’ in life had to contend with some unpleasant set backs with health problems but got his page well established in athletics history books.

Alastair Aitken

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