This is the 4th in a series by Jeff Benjamin on the 50th Anniversary of the Munich Olympics. In this piece, Bill Rodgers talks about seeing Frank on TV and. how he was inspired.
The Munich Olympics at 50! Fourth & Final In A Series – September 10th, 1972 – Bill Rodgers Smoking Cigarettes & Watching Frank Shorter Make History Across The Pond!
By Jeff Benjamin
In September of 1972, millions of Americans were glued to their televisions watching the Munich Olympic Games.
And while the majority of viewers pretty much never ran nor exercised, one of these viewers had run but at that time probably thought that phase of his life was over.
“I had no training log in 1972,” Bill Rodgers recalled. “Because I wasn’t really running.”
In 1972 Rodgers, who was 3 years out of Wesleyan College, was pretty much not doing anything! “I had written in a log that my last competitive race was an 8:58 2-Mile in my Senior year at College in December of 1969.”
That 1969 running scene seemed to be the last hurrah for Rodgers, who had run for almost 7 years going back to high school. With no financial support or recognition, Rodgers, concerned more about the Vietnam War and other tumultuous issues in the country, applied and was approved for conscientious objector status. Running seemed to be a non-continuing “phase” in his life.
By 1972, Rodgers seemed not to be going anywhere. Having difficulty keeping jobs, he lived an almost destitute life along with his childhood friend Jason Kehoe.
And Rodgers was smoking daily!
“ I cut my running and smoked until November 1972, and I moved to Boston.”
“I did start to run a bit during this time while I was smoking – sometimes 5 to 8 miles a day but nothing consistent.”
Worrying more about his life, Rodgers and Kehoe were just trying to stay afloat. Aside from trying odd jobs, there are stories during this period of Rodgers going through garbage pails outside of restaurants for food after closing hours.
“It wasn’t easy.”
But, on September 10th, Rodgers, sharing an apartment with Kehoe, saw something that also awed the millions of American TV viewers.
“We watched Frank Shorter win the Marathon,” recalled Rodgers.
“It was a mesmerizing moment!”
At that time, Rodgers kept it all in proper perspective.
“I didn’t have a sense of myself of course, at that time,” said Rodgers, who was still “wandering”.
“I wasn’t even a marathoner at that time, but I was a distance runner, and I understood what Frank had accomplished.”
“Americans were not thought of as serious contenders in the marathon except occasionally like when Johnny Kelly ”The Younger” won Boston in 1957 or when Buddy Edelen was running so well and set the Marathon world record in 1963 or when my college roommate Amby Burfoot won Boston in 1968,” said Rodgers.
“So we had some bright spots here and there, but for Frank to take the Olympic Gold was a different deal, and it was so visible!”
“Years later, I would discover in college that Amby, Jeff Galloway, and I had raced an XC dual meet at Yale University with Frank, and I think the freshman and varsity ran together,” recalled Rodgers.
“Amby was ahead of me by 2 years, and he was a senior when I was a sophomore…I think Amby won that race, and he was ahead of Frank at that time, but I don’t remember where I finished, but it was back there!”
Shorter’s win set off a seismic wave in America, as many got off their couches and began to participate in what was known as the first “Running Boom.”
For Rodgers, Shorter’s win was another spark in his desire to train and race again, a journey that took 3 years before earning international marathon Fame.
“I think Frank’s win and all these other things came together for me,” said Rodgers, who would go on to become a 4- time Boston and 4- time NYC Marathon champ during it out in his career against Shorter in one of running’s greatest rivalries which also included world-class runners from around the world!
“ I was going back to my running, and that meant a lot for me, and when I moved to Boston and had been a smoker for a few years and realized I had to give it up…the other factor that affected me greatly was seeing the finish line of the Boston Marathon and feeling that I could try doing this!”
“I then restarted my training log in 1973, and it has gone on ever since!”
“Like others, I had seen what Frank Shorter had done in the Olympic Marathon,” said Rodgers. “Of course, I never thought in 1972 I would be running an Olympic Marathon myself in 1976!”
“But Frank led the way for all of us!”