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17th Dec, 2023, Alastair Aitken

TONY SIMMONS By Alastair Aitken

Tony Simmons, perhaps the most underrated ‘Middle to long distance’ runner the UK has produced in the last seventy odd years. His longevity as a ’Star’ performer is unquestioned.

At 14 he did a mile World Age record of 4:29.8.

At the age of 18, at Motspur Park, on the cinders, he ran a European Age record of 4:03.1 for the mile.

Fast forward to his second year as an M40 Veteran/Master. It was on November 5th 1989.

at Ampthill, with the stiff Heartbreak Hill to negotiate, in each of the 4 laps of the cross-country course. Tony, wearing his red Welsh vest, was back in 16th on the first lap, 8th on the 2nd and 4th on the 3rd. Coming out of the wood for the final turn into the finish, he was seen with his typical but, effective short stride and, longish black hair, ahead, well clear of the rest to finish first. Something I will always remember! There were good runners behind him like Tony Ross Andy Holden, Brian O’Neill, Stan Curran, Alun Roper and Taff Davies.

Anthony Derrick Simmons was born at Maesteg, Glamorgan on 6th of October, 1948 and, then at 11, lived at Luton, as he still does. He is married to Marian and has two daughters Nicola & Gail. He was a senior lecturer in Painting and Decorating at Luton College for Higher Education. These days, there are no less than 19 athletes he gives coaching advice to.

There are so many ‘Class’ performances he has achieved over many years, which ones were the most memorable for him?

“The first was a Junior 2 miles at the White City Stadium in 1966, my first race before a really large crowd looking on. The second was winning the 5000m in 13:21.2 in a match against the USSR in Kiev in 1976, falling behind the leaders at one stage before regaining contact.” (On 23rd of May with Nick Rose (GB) 2nd in 13:22.4 ) “ The third was the Montreal Olympic 10,000m final when I placed fourth behind Lasse Viren; Carlos Lopez and Brendan Foster in 27:56.26.” As a pure matter of interest his fastest 10,000m was 27:43.59, coming 4th in the World Games in Helsinki on 30th of June 1977. The winner of that was Samson Kimobwa of Kenya in a World record of 27:30.47.

Tony ran a 1500 in 3:41.1. He even ran a 3000 steeplelchase in 8:53.6 back in 1972 and a 2:12.33 marathon in 1978. He did the latter when winning the AAA’s Marathon at Sandbach and was followed home by Jeff Norman (2:12.50) and Trevor Wright (2:13.0). I felt I must add a couple more of his great’ runs , besides coming 2nd in the World cross of 1976 behind Carlos Lopez of Portugal, with England’s Bernie Ford 3rd.

My two choices are the National of 1975 near Luton & the European of 1974 in Rome.

The National Cross-country of 1975, when his Luton clubmate, Mike Beevor, who ran in several BMC races, came sixth. (One must not forget Ian Thompson that ‘Great’ marathon runner belonged to the same club at the time).

Tony Simmons said about his ‘National’ win “That was the race I dearly wanted to win to emulate such great runners as Mel Batty; Dick Taylor; Mike Tagg and Dave Bedford. As it turned out Bernie Ford (who won in 1978) gave me a very hard race for 7 miles, and then on the last lap I found it very easy and I waited again for the last 800 to go before I put in the final effort. Winning that race has been one of my lifelong ambitions “,

The other race I felt was so important was, on the very hot day in Rome in 1974. However the race was well into the evening. It was the European Games 10,000m Final in Rome, September 2nd 1974.

Simmons, Bernie Ford and another quality runner David Black were, running for the UK.

Two World Class men in the field included Lasse Viren of Finland & Bronislaw Malinowski of Poland. There were names like Paiverinta, Hermans and Fava in the line up as well.’

Simmons and Ford were early leaders but it, was Lasse Viren and the Spaniard Mariano Haro together in the lead at the 7k mark.

700 to go Viren moved ahead but Manfreed Kushmann went to the front at the bell and, was then 6m clear of Tony Simmons in second place. The end result of the first 4 of the 31 starters was

Manfred Kuschmann (EG) 28:25.8; 2 Tony Simmons (UK) 28:25.8; 3 Giuseppe Cindolo (Italy) 28:27.2; 4 Bronisolaw Malinowski (Poland) 28:28.0.

Tony Simmons “ I went into that race scared stiff thinking that if I didn’t do well it was just because I was not good enough. I was prepared and, I was very nervous because I knew that everything should be going right if I ran a steady, normal race.

The first mile was very easy enough but when the pain really begins at 3 or4 miles you start thinking back to all the dedication and amount of work that you have been putting in six months prior to the race you psychologically think back to some of your harder training sessions and, think that training session was much harder than the pain you are going through at this present stage’, so you just keep going through the motions of running’

‘I was prepared, in my training in the race, to try to run very fast for the last five laps but it did not come off so, I just sat in waiting for everybody, I had run a few races with very fast last quarters and so I did not think there was anyone in that race I should be scared of over the last lap. With 200 to go I was pleased to have a silver medal, then I realized with 150 that I could get a gold.”

Rather than going into the latter part of his career, before becoming a veteran and when he turned more to road racing (and ,of course,he always loved cross-country), he concentrated a larger part of his life to being a good track runner. That was after his coach Harry Wilson came in. It was after Tony came seventh in the Commonwealth Games 10,000 in Christchurch, New Zealand (The Games were from 24/1 to 2/2/1974) He remarked “ When I came back from New Zealand after the Commonwealth I decided that I needed somebody to make me train. Before I went to New Zealand I was training five times a week and not knowing which way to go, I talked to Harry Wilson prior to the National Championships in 1974 and we discussed my methods of training and he told me if I could buckle down to it an did the training required I could make a Champion, so we decided to do this and it has paid off so far. I used to run 40 or 50 miles a week but now, I have gone up to nearly 80 miles a week with quality training---repetition miles, repetition half miles; things I never used to dream of and was even frightened to do years ago. Now I am doing them without any worry at all, I have also this year, started weight training. I am only 121 lb anyway and very weak in the arms, so working in the gymnasium has given me this extra help that I need in my arms and shoulders.”

What did Tony Simmons think of Dave Bedford as a runner, when I asked him in 1974?

“ Me and Dave have been racing together since we were youths and we have been really good rivals. He has become World class and the gap has widened between us but he has encouraged me a lot in my running, even before big competitions. When I beat him in the Nos Galan races it gave me the urge to train even harder than I did then, the AAA’s 10,000 in 1973. There have been a few races where he has dragged me out and I have done good times. I think both of us have done really well since we were 14 or 15. We have had a good life out of athletics together.”