John Walker is the 1976 Olympic gold medalist at the 1,500m. John was also the silver medalist at the 1974 Commonwealth Games 1,500m in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The piece below is by Jeff Benjamin and his questions with Sir John Walker. As an aside, my favorite quote by John Walker, was in TFN, the bible of the sport. The late Jon Hendershott once queried Sir John on who he would prefer in the Montreal 1976 Olympic 1,500m final? Walker’s reply was classic: “senior citizens”.
August 12th, 1975 – The 40th Anniversary Of John Walker’s 3:49.4 World Record Mile Race!!
By Jeff Benjamin
Still active with the laser-like focus that drove him to be the first man on earth to run a mile under 3 minutes, 50 seconds, New Zealander John Walker also has had to face the challenge of Parkinson’s Disease since the 1990’s.
But, the drive is still there.
The 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist at 1500 Meters and the first man to run 100 (!) sub-4 minute miles has never left his Kiwi roots either having also left an enduring legacy outside of Athletics as a noted public servant and the leader of his “Field of Dreams” organization.
This writer is extremely grateful to John and his wife Helen for the help and interest in reminiscing about that magical and historic night in Goteberg, Sweden!!
1. Prior to the World Record you were on an undefeated streak – 19 straight victories – any memorable races?
“No memorial races. Because I came from NZ, I had no choice but to keep on running. The meet promoters paid for my accommodations and food and I had no base to return to in between races. That was just the way it was that season.”
2. For 3 weeks prior to the attempt you didn’t race at all – you must have felt like a “caged lion” – correct?
“The 3 weeks prior to the race I was running distance and so no, not a caged lion. More likely eating, training, sleeping. I had one 800m race in Helsinki just before the world record attempt, which was my idea just to give me some confidence in my speed. After all that endurance I needed to top it off with some speed work.. I finished 3rd and was happy with that.”
3. I have read that all in all Gothenburg wasn’t really to your liking – both the environment and the meet promoter- Do you think you could’ve gone faster in a mile race at Rieti, Oslo, Zurich, or some other venue (I’d think so!)?
4. Did Coach Arch Jelly change any type of training in your program from 1974-1975 or was it a progressive buildup?
“Arch Jelley worked with me on a progressive buildup.”
5. Rod Dixon said that if he were in the race with you – he would’ve run 3:49 that night but you would’ve run 3:48- do you agree?
“If I had had some help definitely I would have run faster. Rod chose the 5,000m that night.”
6. Can you describe what, if any, strength training you did?
“Do you mean weights? No, just running.”
7. When one watches the race it sure seems like you did a lot of the work on your own which is all the more remarkable- do you agree?
” You are correct. I was on my own after 600m.”
8. During the run, did you know at any point the record was yours and how shocked (if at all) were you breaking 3:50?
“With 200m to go I knew I was on world record pace because Dwight Stones was yelling at me with a stopwatch in his hand. When I crossed the line, Ivan Agnew, a friend from NZ waved a stopwatch under my nose and the crowd was wild. I was sure I had broken the record at that moment.
The night before the world record race I went to the track in Gothenburg and I measured off 150m and ran it in 15.1, 4 consecutive times. I said to my training partners, that is what I am going to run for the last 150m ( difference between mile and 1500m distance) ….and I did!
I was in very good shape and I knew I could run under the world record but the amount I broke it by was a pleasant surprise.”
9. My own humble opinion is that because the Mile is not run very much at World-Class meets – mostly 1500s- the Mile has lost a bit of its luster as well as the record staying stuck at 3:43 – your thoughts??
“It is a cherished distance. When I lined up for a mile race, I knew I was in for a hell of a race. It is a shame it is not run often more.”
10) Please tell us about The “John Walker Find Your Field Of Dreams” Foundation
“John Walker Find Your Field Of Dreams” is a charity to help underprivileged children learn to enjoy and participate in sport. Manurewa, where I was brought up is a poorer Auckland suburb and so too are some of the surrounding suburbs. The charity is based predominantly in South Auckland.”
If you want to learn more you can visit:
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