Dick Buerkle, the sport remembers...


image0.jpeg1996 Philadelphia Legends Mile
L-R , Rod Dixon, Dick Buerkle, Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter

image6.jpegDick Buerkle, and The Iconic Sports Illustrated Cover!

image5.jpegA Who's Who At The Philly Postrace Party Hosted By Then-Mayor Ed Rendell (Center), photo by Jeff Benjamin

IMG_2589.jpgDick Buerkle sent this to Eugene register guard after Pre's death in 1975

Jeff Benjamin compiled this remembrance on Dick Buerkle, who passed away this past weekend.

Dick Buerkle

By Jeff Benjamin

The Track world was no doubt saddened to learn of the passing of Dick Buerkle.

The Villanova walk-on, who later on would set the world record for the indoor mile, was definitely NOT just a 1-dimensional runner, as seen by his personal best times below.

Mile 3:54.93(i)

3,000 meters 7:53.2

2 mile 8:21.76

5,000 meters 13:23.20

10,000 meters 28:25.0

Indeed, Buerkle competed against a virtual who's who of the Sport at a variety of distances.

And while no one who ever saw him questioned his ferocious competitiveness when the race went off, those same people have all said that they also never questioned his grace, humor, dignity and respect he had for others after the race had ended either.

BUERKLE_213212_261324.jpgDick Buerkle, photo by AJC

Olympic Champion Frank Shorter

"Dick Buerkle was a gritty, quietly determined Olympic distance runner whose international career spanned the entire decade from 1970 to 1980. Every time he raced he ran to win and, when he did, showed humility and respect for his competitors.

He was a gifted indoor tactician with a unique ability to accelerate off the banked turns onto the straightaway lap after lap. His world indoor record for the mile speaks for itself.

We will miss him and share in the sorrow being felt by his family."

2-Time World XC Champion Craig Virgin

"I first became aware of Dick Buerkle when he was a notable runner for Villanova. His stride seemed very well suited for the banked tracks that the Wildcats often competed on under famed Coach Jumbo Elliott.

In fact, I believe they even trained on a banked track outdoors at their campus.

Dick was just one of a long line of talented middle and long distance runners from Villanova. But, he quickly separated himself from their pack by winning the 5000 m event at both the 1976 and 1980 US Olympic Trials. That is much harder to do than it sounds!

Buerkle-Pre.jpgDick Buerkle vs Steve Prefontaine, photo villanovarunningblogspot.com

He was also famous to me as one of the very few American runners to ever beat Steve Prefontaine. He did that in an indoor 2-mile if my memory serves me correctly.

But, his most famous claim was in being the World Indoor 1-mile record holder for many years.

Dick Buerkle was always friendly and encouraging of his teammates and other runners. He was sincerely concerned about our welfare and wanted to know about our life story. Later that interest led him into print and electronic journalism. Then, to high school teaching and coaching.

Any of us that knew Dick Buerkle as a teammate, fellow runner, coach, or teacher... are blessed for the privilege. Godspeed, Dick Buerkle! See ya up on that big oval track (or banked indoor track) in heaven! Thanks for your contribution to my life."

Olympic Medalist/NYC Marathon Champion Rod Dixon

"Sad day to read of my friend and competitor Dick Buerkle passing.

Many European tours and races and he was especially tough indoors.

Our Shared event the Olympic 5000m at Montreal.

He was a good man and I respected his honesty and integrity, he said it up front, people liked or disliked, he wouldn't change his commitment.

I certainly agreed with his anger of the 1980 Olympic Boycott.

A talented and tough athlete.

Dick contributed to our sport tremendously.

A World Indoor Mile record and He won the Atlanta Marathon

I thought that was very cool."

tfn.jpgDick Buekle, on the cover of the bible of the sport, Track and Field News

4-Time Boston/NYC Marathon Champion Bill Rodgers

"That is truly sad..I knew Dick a bit and found him to be a sharp and an intense competitor.

I raced Dick in 73 at the US 20K in Gloucester Massachusetts and was able to finish just head of him.

However, the next time we raced was in April 19 76 at the Penn Relays 10K - I was seeking a qualifying time for the US Olympic Trials 10k in Eugene- We cruised along and with a lap to go or so, Dick disappeared like a flash!

Later on about 20 years ago Dick told me he got back into running when his son began running in HS and we met in a 10K Road Race outside Atlanta and we were both about 50 years old and he did beat me!"

Dick was a witty, friendly guy who had no fear no matter who he was racing or at whatever distance."

Top US Marathoner Olympian Benji Durden

"In 1979 Dick moved to Atlanta to work for Coke in their Olympic Development program. I don't remember how we got connected, but late in the year we began to train together with an eye towards the 1980 Olympic Trials, he was shooting for a 2nd spot in the 5,000 and I was hoping to have a breakthrough in the marathon.

We began to meet for long runs and track sessions in December. We ran a 5,000 time trial on the Georgia Tech track December 22nd and I ran a PR of 14:13.8 and Dick was around 14:25. A few weeks later we ran again and I was about the same, but Dick had improved to about 14:15. I remember we had one more time trial and Dick was sub 14 while I was again around the same as the 1st time trial.

That winter and spring, on Tuesdays we would go to the Georgia Tech track or drive over to the University of Georgia track and he would hammer me in killer speed sessions and then we would go to get a milk shake and he would always get a banana added to his. On Thursdays, we would run around Stone Mountain for 18-20 before he dropped off, then I continued on for another 4-6 miles. I learned to control the pace by staying a stride or 2 behind his shoulder. If I came up even, he would pick up the pace. If I feel back more than a couple strides, he would slow down till I got back in that 1-2 stride sweet spot. At one point we quit going to the track and started running "800's" on a hilly golf course. He would determine when we had run our 800 and when we needed to start again. These were probably the hardest speed sessions I have ever done. I suspect we were sub-2 pace for most of the 6-8 repeats we would do and the recoveries were almost non-existent. Looking back, he made me a faster runner and I helped his endurance. We made our respective Olympic Team spots by pushing each other.

The last time I ran with Dick was in 2008 when we got together for the reunion of the 1980 Olympic Track Team. We met up at a hotel near the airport in Portland and he said we should go for a run in the morning before we started our drive down towards Eugene the next day. Steve, my training buddy, and I met Dick in the lobby the next morning and we were running sub-7 out the door. Dick was 60 and I was almost 57 and that was pretty quick for me to start out on an easy run, but that was Dick, intense from the start of the run."

image0_1.jpegDick Buerkle with Gene McCarthy at the 2016 Olympic Trials, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Former President/CEO ASICS Gene McCarthy

"When I was 13 I saw a photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated that changed my life. Marty Liquori was battling Jim Ryun in "The Dream Mile". That's when I declared I was going to break the 4-minute Mile.

Fast forward 8 years- I graduated Fordham University, and my Mile time was down to 4:03. I wrote a letter to Marty Liquori who was on that SI cover and asked for advice on how to go sub-4.

He graciously invited me to move to Gainesville Florida to train with him and follow my dream.

In 1980 Marty thought I was ready to break 4. To set the pace he asked his former Villanova teammate Dick Buerkle to drive down from Atlanta to help me set the pace.

Then 2 nights before I broke a toe tripping over an ironing board. Race called off.

But Dick still came down and I'll never forget how embarrassed I was - he ran a 4:04 mile I think - but he was beyond encouraging and gracious to me when I went to meet him.

Dick Buerkle was the epitome of an athlete-equal measures ferocious competitor and sweet gracious good guy.

Each of you in my tight circle please google Dick Buerkle right now.

You would honor me and you would honor him.

RIP My Friend"

Track Star Vince Cartier

"I just learned that one of my truly dearest friends, Dick Buerkle has passed away. He was one of the greats of running in the 70's, setting an indoor mile world record as well as making the 1976 Olympic team at 5K. He was thoughtful, funny and such a fierce competitor.

We shared many a mile in Gainesville, Atlanta and Hilton Head as well as Montreal in 1976, where we did laps and 100 meter pick-ups on the practice track and grass infield just after the marathon. That was also the place I met Gordon Pirie whose book "Running Wild" was an early inspiration.

I first noticed Dick at Madison Square Garden, (when I was a freshman in HS) when he was competing for Villanova. Who could miss him with his bald head (He was carrier of alopecia, a skin disease that caused his hair to fall out at the age of 12) and his easy gliding running style. He could spin a yarn and was always entertaining during a run where some heavy as well as light conversations took place.

One time as we were running around some of Hilton Head's unlit streets at night, he said, "Have you ever noticed that you seem to be running faster at night when you're not? Another time we ran inside a multi tiered parking garage on a rainy day in Atlanta. Not being one who was afraid of the rain, I was surprised we went up and down and through the garage for about an hour. He said it was better to be inside. There must have been some magic in his thinking as the ramps became more like mountains we we finished the run. A nice was to do hills indoors.

That was Dick, always thinking and always finding unique ways to see the world and see it he did. I send my prayers and condolences to Jean and his children. We lost one of the good ones....

Rest in Peace Dick and know you will forever live in our hearts."

Olympian Byron Dyce

"I'm saddened by the news. Although we were both running around the same time and therefore knew one another, I did not really know Dick personally. I certainly know he was a hard working and talented runner, and from my perspective very humble in spite of all his accomplishments. I certainly want to extend my condolences to his family and those who knew him well."

Mile Legend World Champion Eamonn Coghlan

"When I arrived at Villanova Dick had already graduated - he was a kid who came from Rochester and he worked so god-damn hard and earned a scholarship as a walk-on which at Villanova was very difficult to do.

"Later on Dick returned to hard serious training and excelled- we all just regarded him as so tough- and I remember screaming "wow!" when he broke the world record in the mile.

He had an enigmatic and almost mystique-like about him, yet he was a gentle, soft, compassionate human being."

2-Time Olympian Mike Durkin

"I was fortunate to be a teammate of Dick's twice, and potentially a third time- once when we competed in the Montreal Games, and the other when we both made the 1980 team, but boycotted the Moscow Games.

As I write this ,without having checked any meet results, I believe that Dick ran in the US- Soviet Union dual meet in 1976 shortly after the Montreal Games that would have made the third time, as I competed for the U. S. in that meet.

Of course, Dick was highly competitive and intense. However, I also remember Dick being a true gentleman, extremely polite and friendly. There was a bit of an age gap between us, and I'm sure that I tweaked him some about that gap, when I told him that that I had been reading in TAFNEWS about his exploits at Villanova, when I was a fresh-faced high school sophomore!

I think that it was a point of pride for Dick that not only was he still in the game, but that he was setting records and winning titles in his late-twenties and early thirties, in the hard-scrabble days of "amateurism," before "professional" track and field made it easier to extend a career in the sport.

The sport has lost an icon; one who always brought honor and esteem to it.

RIP, brother-in-arms.


Olympian Doug Padilla

"I'm afraid that I never really had a chance to get to know Dick. Our paths only crossed once, at the 1980 Olympic Trials in Eugene. We were both competing in the 5000m.

Dick had a great meet, finishing 2nd in the meet and qualifying for his 2nd Olympic team. I qualified for the final, but finished back in 8th place. I finished only ahead of Liquori, who was ending his career. Dick also looked good in the qualifying round, where he won his heat in a strong time of 13:40. He had the reputation of a strong finisher. I had heard that he held the world record in the Indoor Mile. Going into the final, in my mind he was definitely one to watch out for.

I remember that each time that I saw him he seemed to have a rather stern look about him. But, when we shared greetings, I found him kind and friendly.

In retrospect, I now realize that he must have been feeling the immense pressure of hoping that his preparations were sufficient to make the team, but wondering if events would unfold with the realization of that glorious ending.

I understand that he had a impressive career working with our youth as both a teacher and a track coach. Is there a greater impact on humanity that to empower our youth for the future? A salute to a great athlete and a great man."

Top Miler- Global Sports Marketing NIKE Craig Masback

"I never had the privilege to race Dick Buerkle, but I learned volumes from his career. He was the ultimate example of someone who listened to his body and pursued his goals, not someone else's.

Like everyone else, I was shocked by his World Record in the indoor mile, but it proved how focused dedication to a goal could put you in a position to achieve things no one else would give you a chance to achieve.

He was a joy to be around and I was part of a group that celebrated his retirement race at the 1980 Zurich Weltklasse, where he stepped to the podium in the 5000 meters one last time. They gave him a prize that recognized his race that night and his contribution to the sport -- a hair dryer! Dick laughed right along with us."

2-Time Olympian Tony Staynings

"I recall being part of the North American indoor track circuit in the 70s and early 80s.

Dick came on the scene with a bang.

His world record for the indoor mile will always be remembered for contributing to the sport he loved.

He was one of the first people I met who was so congenial and down to earth. So nice to learn of his continued love for the sport of running.

God Bless his family and thanks for sharing him with us - RIP."

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