When Running Made History
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