At Runblogrun, we try to give you a sense of history as well as a sense of the contemporary world. After Jon Gugala’s column on the 1,500 meters, we thought that this piece on Abel Kiviat, the 1912 silver medalist at 1,500 meters, and his influence on Andrew Valmon, the US Olympic T&F head coach, would add to the culture around our sport.
Fred Lebow, Abel Kiviat, smiling and telling stories
Abel Kiviat Sparkling to the End
by ELLIOTT DENMAN
August 8, 2012
LONDON – Abel Kiviat was a wonderful gentleman, sparkling to the end.
And that was at age 99.
He should have lived longer, should have gone on to centenary-hood, and more.
But they insisted on some surgery that was not really needed and that spelled the end.
He said his goodbyes in 1991, yet he had so much more to do, so many more good stories to tell all of us.
He had his whole heart set on running with the Olympic torch en route to Barcelona in 1992 or maybe in Barcelona itself if only the top brass of the IOC would care to respect its own history and honor the man who’d won a silver medal in 1912 and was surely one of the few still then around to liven all our days with tales of Jim Thorpe, Mel Sheppard, Arnold Strode Jackson, Philip Noel-Baker, and more and more.
He was the roommate of Jim Thorpe, the undisputed greatest of all athletes in the first half of the 20th century.
He was good buddies with Mel Sheppard, his Irish-American AC clubmate who had won both the 800 and 1500 in the first (of the three) London Olympic Games in 1908.
He’d set world records at 1500 meters and one-mile (at age 19) in the run-up to the Stockholm Olympic Games of 1912. That, of course, put the burden of favoritehood on his slender shoulders and he seemed to be carrying it well.. until the 1490th meter.
From out of seemingly nowhere, Jackson appeared and had the sprint finish to which Kiviat and the other Americans had no response.
Kiviat never cried spilt milk and would forever tell us “that Englishman beat us Fair and square. We (Kiviat and fellow Americans Norman Taber and Jonn Paul Jones) were so busy trying to beat each other that we let that Englishman beat all of us.”
Noel-Baker, the second Briton over the line, would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959 for his work in international disarmament.
Abel Kiviat, a Staten Island guy, spent his retirement years at a community named Cedar Glen West in Manchester Township, N.J.
As unrelated events often do, they lead into collisions.
Abel Kiviat’s world collided with Andrew Valmon’s world one memorable day over lunch. Andrew Valmon, a graduate of Manchester Township High School and Seton Hall University, was by then one of the brightest young 400-meter runners on the planet. He’d already won one Olympic gold medal as a member of the USA 4×400 squad at Seoul in 1988. And he’d be destined to win another 4×400 gold at Barcelona.
What a lunch – actually arranged by famed swimming coach Dick Steadman – this was.
Abel told Andrew about the steamship voyage to Sweden (the Wright Brothers had only recently come up with this newfangled flying machine thing) and his adventures rooming with Jim Thorpe.
Andrew told Abel about jetting across oceans, hopscotching over huge land masses, to run a single lap around a track and compete before the masses as well as the TV audiences of the universe.
Abel marveled at the pace of modern life.
Andrew marveled at the achievements of those whose lives were so bereft of modern conveniences.
They were intensely curious, about each other’s era, and more. They could have chatted on for hours and hours.
Fast forward now to the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
Their lives and times have collided – sort of – at the third London Olympic Games.
Andrew Valmon is here as Team USA men’s head coach. His team put two of its three 1500-meter runners into the Tuesday night final.
Taoufik Makhloufi, a very-very fortunate young man from Algeria (fortunate to be reinstated to run it, after being shown to the exit after the 800 earlier, in apparent violation of the “honest effort” rule) won it in 3:34.08, coming from out of the wild blue longshot yonder, playing a latter-day Arnold Strode Jackson.
Leo Manzano, a very-very determined young fella from Texas, came charging down the homestretch to claim the silver medal in 3:34.79, playing a latter-day Abel Kiviat.
So now there have four total Abel Kiviat impersonators – Glenn Cunningham (1936), Bob McMillen (1952), Jim Ryun (1968) and Leo Manzano (2012.)
Don’t ever tell them they lost the gold – Cunningham to New Zealand’s Jack Lovelock, McMillen to Luxembourg’s Josy Barthel, Ryun to Kenya’s Kip Keino, and now Manzano to Algeriain Taoufik Makhloufi.
Get your terminology on straight. They won the silver.
Who knows, after 104 years of trying to find the new Mel Sheppard, maybe it’s simple fate, luck of the draw, breaks of the game, manifest destiny – whatever/whoever/whenever – that we may be destined to never again see a USA runner win the men’s Olympic 1,500-meter gold.
Andrew Valmon, along with 80,000 others – saw this script played out Tuesday night.
It wasn’t a new scenario to him.
Not at all.
Now for full disclosure.
Two decades-plus ago, as a fourth-party guest at that generations-spanning lunch in
Manchester Township, N.J, I did indeed hear Abel Kiviat tell Andrew Valmon this story, this whole story.
That’s the truth, the whole truth.