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14th Nov, 2021, Alastair Aitken

The Olympian and GB distance runner Timothy Frederick Kemball Johnston died in October 2021, aged 80. 

Tim went to Bedales public school, where he wrote some new records on the books, and then won two Southern Junior cross countries. As a student he felt that the most beneficial time was when he was studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, and he followed that up by being a linguist for a time with the ‘European Common Market’. 

Like Cambridge University, that had good international cross-country runners like Tim Briault and Mike Turner, his club, Portsmouth AC, was very strong and he told me that “when I made contact with Bruce Tulloh and Martin Hyman at my Portsmouth club, they were helpful and very encouraging.”

Tim met Martin Heath, who was amongst the best till he got glandular fever, and he wanted to be as good as Tim Briault and that ‘Guru’ of athletics knowledge Mike Turner, who was at Cambridge for very many years. For a short while, Herb Elliot, the 1960 Olympic 1500m Champion, was at the University, and he taught Tim to run up hills quickly to demoralize the opposition. 

At that time, the ‘press’ loved to coin a phrase about people and the athletics press in the 1950s and 60s were full of athletic reports that called Tim ‘The Abominable Snowman’.  He a won the British University cross country from John Farrington Mike Turner, Ron Hill and John Whitton in the snow. He won the Southern also in 1963 from Don Taylor of Herne Hill Harriers. He also won the Inter-Counties with Gerry North second in the snow again. He also won a race in the snow in Hannut in Belgium —all in 1963. In 1963 he was also the third ranked UK 3000m steeplechase man behind Maurice Herriot and Ernie Pomfret, the two British finalists in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics steeplechase.

It was 1967 that he came second in the ‘old style’ World Cross Country Championships in Barry, Wales, where England easily won the team contest from New Zealand and France. The first four over the senior 12k course were: 1 Gaston Roelants (Belgium) 36:03; 2 Tim Johnston (England) 36:20; 3 Barry Rose (NZ)a 36:27; and 4 Lachie Stewart (Scotland) 36:30. Prior to that in October 1965 he ran a World Best for 30000m on the track of 1:32:34.6,

In 1968 Tim was AAA’s 6 miles Champion in 27:22.2; and the AAA’s marathon Champion in 2:15.26. The next finishers in the marathon were Bill Adcocks, who went on to come fifth in the Mexico Olympics marathon, and Jim Alder, who also ran the race but do not finish.

Tim finished eighth in the Mexico Olympics marathon but after the race and about the altitude he told me. “It was a ’B’ waste of time racing the marathon at these Games. I think Ron Clarke would have won his race (the 10000m) had it been at sea level.” Clarke told me he was fitter than he had ever been before Mexico, which in a way backs up Tim’s theory. However, Tim did do some months running at altitude before coming back to qualify for the Games.

Typical of Tim Johnston was that he did not wait to prove himself again and in 1969 on 10th of May he beat many of the top Europeans to win the Karl Marx Stadt marathon in 2:15:3.2.

Tim had both his achilles operated on but never lost his enthusiasm for running and won World Veteran road races and other races, including two in one weekend that included a marathon, and the Bruges 25k a couple of times. Tim ran the Maidenhead 10 in 1975, which I also did it, and he won in a time of 49:51 with a tough hill in it. It was a course record.