“Each day is a different opportunity.”
So said Bentonville, Arkansas Police Lieutenant Joe Falcon the other day. Retired from competitive running since 1994, the many time former Arkansas NCAA Champion and family man has thrived and succeeded in his life over the past 20 years with the same passion and attitude he possessed when he was one of the world’s greatest milers. “I’m in a position now where I groom the young officers,” he said. “I oversee an entire division and it’s a great team atmosphere just like the University of Arkansas. I can’t thank Coach John McDonnell and Arkansas for all they did for me. I learned all about teamwork and Coach McDonnell showed me what passion looked like, and I still carry it with me today.”
That drive and passion culminated with Falcon’s great victory at the Oslo Bislett games Dream Mile 25 years ago in 1990 (July 27, 1990), where he defeated a field of some of the world’s best milers and was the champion on that day. He is also the last American to win the mile on the fabled track. “I was really blessed,” said Falcon. “I remember as a kid watching the Dream Mile on television and, to me, outside of the Olympic Games and World championships, the Dream Mile was the Super Bowl of all mile races.”
Falcon’s dedication turned into stardom as he starred at Belton high school in Missouri and then excelled Arkansas before making the leap to the world class stage. During this time, Falcon met, befriended, and trained with some of the world’s best. “I owe so much to Coach McDonnell. His qualities of humbleness and encouragement made so many friends in the track world. It was through him I was able to meet and train from time to time with Sebastian Coe. I also met his father Peter and trained with Seb under Dr. David Martin’s programs between 1989-1990.” Falcon also had guidance from another Razorback alum turned world champion, Irishman Frank O’Mara,. “Frank O’Mara and I had the same agent, Kim McDonald, and they introduced me to everyone in Europe. Frank showed me the ropes.” It was through these connections that Falcon experienced one of his greatest thrills. “In 1989, through Frank and Kim, I spent the whole summer training in London with John Walker. Walker taught me a lot as well, especially in the way he approached training. I was running with the world’s best and I followed them all around like a little puppy dog!”
Totally inspired, Falcon proceeded to have breakout performances in 1990. “I was really into it,” he said. Falcon gave American fans a lot to watch that year, as he ran a 13:20.49 with a last lap under 53 seconds at the Prefontaine meet. The “Flying Falcon” then went back to Europe for the racing season. To test his speed, he competed against 1987 World 1500 Champion Abdi Bile in a 1000 meter race, finishing behind the Somalian.”What was great about the race was that I set PR’s for myself over the 600 and 800 meters on my way to the 1000. I knew I was ready for a fast mile.”
He sure was. In the Dream Mile field were Bile, East German Jens-Peter Herold, who along with pacesetters Ray Brown and Frenchman Herve Phelippeau and six other competitors would guarantee a fast time before a loud boisterous crowd. Also adding to the drama was the fact that Englishman Peter Elliott, coming off a superlative 1:42.97 800 meter performance a month earlier, was going to try to break Steve Cram’s world Record of 3:46.32. “Golly, who else can you have in one race?” said Falcon. ” I knew Abdi had the best kick, but I also knew Elliot would try and push with 600 meters to go. I just tried to stay close and in front of Abdi.” As far as split times, “I did not hear a thing. Bislett’s crowds were so loud, so close and intimate to the track that it was like running in a large drum festival ,” he said. There were timing clocks along the way but Falcon was focused. “I just tried to look and see where my competitors were, so I did not even look at the clock.”
Going with Brown and Phelippeau through the 400 (56.13) and 800 (1:56.23) Falcon then slipped back a bit, but was feeling real strong. “I needed to run even pace to have some zip in me for the end,” said Falcon. Elliot was then in the lead after Phelippeau passed the 3/4 mile mark in 2:50.94, and Falcon, in 6th, sensed changes. “I got on Herald on the backstrectch with 300 to go,” he said. “I then took a glimpse to see where Abdi was because he had great speed. Peter had really pushed it and was staating to come back. Abdi then went by everyone with 150 meters to go but I went with him. Herold was with me too, and we were able to momentarily work together.”
In front of the electrified screaming fans, Falcon then surged past Herald and Bile, and, “I caught Peter with 10 meters to go, and I just tried to hold muy form to the end. Falcon passed Elliot to win in 3:49.31, his arms joyously and agononizingly outstretched. “I was truly blessed that day,” he said. “Peter Elliot was a real nice guy and a tough strength runner who went for the world record with 600 to go, and I was very fortunate to win on that day.” Falcon celebrated his victory immediately by hugging his wife Stacy while bringing her the honorary flowers he had just earned.
” Winning the race was the greatest thrill of my life but I also wanted to race well to give hope to the young American distance runners watching me, like I used to when I was a kid.I owed it to them.”
On that fabled night in July, Joe Falcon paid off his obligation in full.