Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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Three of Histories Greatest milers - Part 2 - JOHN WALKER

JOHN WALKER (1974-82)

JOHN WALKER THE FIRST PERSON IN THE WORLD TO BREAK 3:50 FOR A MILE

John Walker, was born in New Zealand on 12/1/52. His racing weight was 74kg and his height 1.83.
The reason, I think, he has not been rated as one of the World's Greatest ever middle distance runners was because he went on so long. However, he must be, like Don Quarrie in the sprints, as the 'Greatest' durable 'miler of all time for longevity. He ran a mile in 3:58.8 in 1973 and in 1985 in his 104th sub-four minute mile he ran 3:54.57 which is incredible to say the least, for someone at such a high level to keep running, racing against the best that well, that long.In fact he went on to get to 135 sub-4 minute miles and, at the age of 38 years old he was still able to run a 1500m which, when converted, would indicate a time well inside four minutes for the mile..
When he retired he was very unlucky in one particular way. The forthright Sir John George Walker,
KNZM, CBE announced he had Parkinson's Disease in 1996. A bitter blow for such a wonderful, thoughtful person.
He achieved several world records. He also ran 1:44.92 for 800 but here we are looking at three great milers so that World record he set over the mile distance was 3:49.4 at Goteborg on  the 12/ 8/1975. The surprising thing was, long after in 1982 in Oslo he ran 3:49.08 which was his all-time personal best.Perhaps if he had done less he could have got down to 3:47 for the mile. Besides one international race in 1973 in New Zealand his breakthrough really came in 1974 when he was second in the Commonwealth Games 1500 in 3:32.5.
John pointed out later on in 1985  " A race no one remembers was when I broke the World Indoor record at the 1977 at the TAC Championships (3:37.3).'
   He added ' My first clash against Bayi (after the 74 Commonwealth) after the so-called Bayi-Walker thing had been building up for thee years, also happened indoors and I beat the guy by 70 meters. It was just like the Ovett-Coe thing"
   In 1975 Walker was fourth in the World cross country Championships in Rabat when Ian Stewart won but said "
I was with the leading group for about 21/2 miles but then got a bad stitch. I fought back again but as I had strained my stomach it took me 7 or 8 weeks to get rid of it."
       When one thinks back, how can any athletics enthusiast forget seeing John Walker, with that flowing long hair, black vest and shorts of New Zealand and the impressive long stride, as he raced round the Crystal Palace track on so many occasions.
NEW ZEALAND IS A WONDERFUL COUNTRY TO TRAIN IN
New Zealander Dick Quax , Rod Dixon, and John Walker all thought that

John Walker used to like running on the Great South Road. He felt it better than running unevenly on grass where there can be pot holes however, one of his rivals Rod Dixon, who was a bronze medallist in the Munich Olympic 1500 and won the New York Marathon in 1983 explained:-  " As a kiddie on the farm which my grandparents had, I  used to love running barefoot along the river banks and through the farm and in the grass and the lovely fresh clover,and it was fantastic. I think really from those early days I developed a love for the sport and it carried right through. A good thing that has come out of it all is that I have still retained my love for the countryside and my basic love for running, even though obviously, I have had hard days training. Even when I got so frustrated with the whole thing something is still within me to get out the next day and express myself. There is the hills and along  the forest trails, the river beside you and the birds and the sun coming down. Sometimes I would be running along the lonely road and I would raise my arms in the air and say' Isn't this absolutely fantastic,' and I  look down at my feet pounding along the road and I become so excited by the whole atmosphere: this is real enjoyment."
   Arch Jelley, a school principal, had coached John Walker directly he became serious about running and Jelley thought back in 1972 that, John Walker would be a great runner.

Olympic Final Montreal 31st of July, 1976

First 8:- 1 John Walker (NZ) 3:39.17; 2 Ivo Van Damme (Belgium) 3:39.27; 3 Paul-Heinz Wellmann (FRG) 3:39.33; 4 Eamonn Coghlan (Eire) 3:39.51; 5 Frank Clement (GBR) 3:39.64; 6 Rick Wohlhuter (USA) 3:40.64; 7 Dave Moorcroft (GB) 3:40.94; 8 Graham Crouch (Australia) 3:41.80.

   
John Walker " Wessinghage was one that surprised me by not making it. Coghlan I had never run against before the Olympics; I had heard a lot about him but the best time he had done for 800 was only 1:48 and I thought if it was going to be a fast Race then he would not win and I thought maybe he would be third or fourth. Rick Wohlhuter was very fast and had very good leg speed but I thought if he went through and ran three rounds of the 800 and three heats of the 1500 then he would be very tired.(Wohlhuter came 3rd in the 800 Final)
It was a relief for John Walker to win of that there was little doubt
" I think when you have been sitting in the Olympic Village for 21/2 weeks, facing four walls and criticism from reporters and finally you go out there you run, then you win, naturally it is four years of really hard work. It is everything that a person has dreamed about, winning the Olympic gold meal, and that's it, it's all finished."
  Walker had great regard for Coe and Ovett when they came on the scene later but back in 1976 he talked about his greatest races he had done himself up to 1976
   "I think breaking the World record last year for the mile and running under 3:50 would have to be the greatest thing  that ever happened. The World record was virtually a time trial and probably another great satisfaction was running 3:32.4 and missing the world record for the 1500 metres by two-tenths--but that was also a great disappointment of course. Those were time trials, virtually running against he clock. If I would have to l think back to my greatest race, the Olympics would be one of them, because to beat the whole lot of them all together  would have to stand out."

Alastair Aitken

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