When Run­ning Made His­tory

Canadian Running - - REVIEWS - Roger Robin­son Syra­cuse Univer­sity Press

In his prose and po­etry style, Roger Robin­son writes a keen-eyed first­per­son ac­count of 21 ath­let­ics events that inf lu­enced the world by reach­ing back 60 years into his own ath­let­ics his­tory.

The emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of English at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in Welling­ton, NZ is a highly-re­spected jour­nal­ist and life-long run­ner, who once chased world beat­ers. He has pub­lished a num­ber of books and con­trib­uted many hun­dreds of ar­ti­cles to var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Run­ning Times, Run­ner’s World Mag­a­zine and Cana­dian Run­ning mag­a­zine.

Af­ter rec­og­niz­ing a who’s who of the ath­let­ics com­mu­nity, Robin­son be­gins by tak­ing us through the 1948 Lon­don Olympic Games. He was a child in a war-torn na­tion that faced ra­tions and bleak­ness. “There was lit­tle money, sparse en­ter­tain­ments, few cars, not even much food,” he writes. His en­ter­tain­ment came from crawl­ing through a hedge at the nearby cin­der track called Mot­spur Park “to watch the ath­letes of Lon­don Univer­sity train and race.”

So, it was an inf lu­en­tial time for a young Robin­son, to have the op­por­tu­nity to watch the men’s 10,000m race at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium dur­ing the 1948 Olympics. He nat­u­rally cheered for Eng­land’s Jim Peters, how­ever, Robin­son wit­nessed the iconic Cze­choslo­vakian, Emil Zatopek win that race – “a strangely awk­ward run­ner,” he wrote. “That was the first time I heard a name that be­came an im­por­tant part of my con­scious­ness for the rest of my life.” And what a run­ning life it is. From the side­lines, he wit­nessed New Zealand’s finest hour when Arthur Ly­di­ard-trained ath­letes Barry Magee, Peter Snell and Mur­ray Hal­berg each won medals dur­ing the 1960 Rome Olympics. He was the voice of the Christchurch Com­mon­wealth Games in 1974. It was Robin­son, who said into the mi­cro­phone as a tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor, “who will be the hero and who will be the vil­lain,” in ref­er­ence to eight of the world’s top sprint­ers crouched in the blocks at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Seoul was and still is track ’s in­deli­ble dop­ing turn­ing point.

As Char­lie Fran­cis said dur­ing the Du­bin In­quiry – the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cana­dian Ben John­son’s cheat­ing – “It was an even play­ing field, it just wasn’t the play­ing field you thought it was.”

Robin­son also walks us through marathon re­demp­tions, such as the 2001 New York City Marathon af­ter 9/11, as well as the post-bomb­ing edi­tion of the Bos­ton Marathon in 2014, a demon­stra­tion of free­dom ex­pressed by tens of thou­sands.

The vic­to­ries, fail­ures, dev­as­ta­tions and cel­e­bra­tions are in­deli­ble mo­ments that mark some of the 21 events that Robin­son shares in this book. It is a well-writ­ten his­tory les­son that pro­vides us with a highly per­son­al­ized view as seen by one who ex­pe­ri­enced much of it first hand.— CR

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