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6th Sep, 2019, Anonymous

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 four 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 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 110m hurdles for GB.


Volodymyr Petrovych Kuts was born on 7 February 1927 at Oleksyne, Ukrain SSR, Soviet Union and, died 16 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 who is the best in the world?

His answer to that:

“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 and 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 Championships 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 and 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." (Results: 1 Vladimir Kuts (SU) 13:56.6; 2 Christopher Chataway (GB) 14:08.8; 3 Emil Zatopek (CSR) 14:10.2).

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 13 October 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 just 10 days later.

Kuts, the blond-haired, red-vested Russian, went on to achieve a couple of outstanding victories in 1956 in 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 23 November 1956.

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. (Results: 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 29:05).

In the fifth day of the Melbourne Games was the 5,000m final. Vladimir, then known as ‘the marine iron man’ was out in front after 150m and followed by Pirie. Ibbotson, timed 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 of 14 starters were: 1 Vladimir Kuts (U.S.S.R) in an Olympic record of 13:39.6; 2 Gordon Pirie (GB) 13:50.6; 3 Derek Ibbotson (GB) 13:54.4; Miklos Szabo (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