Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ron Clarke, One of the Greats

Australian distance runner Ron Clarke was one of the great distance runners of all time.  He rewrote the record book in the 5 and 10K, but was found wanting by many because he never won a Commonwealth or Olympic gold medal.

He had "old fashioned values" in that he helped his rivals.  He said that he wanted to run against others at their best, not when they were performing below that level.  What good is it to win like that? he said.  Clarke  was asked in a BBC documentary if it didn't bother him that he never won Olympic gold.  He said no because he never defined himself as just a runner.  It just happened to be what he was good at. Running wasn't even his first choice in sports.  He wanted to be an Australian football player, but an injury to his hand--one of his fingers was broken and permanently bent so he couldn't grip a football--ended that.

Clarke took up running and ended up setting 17 World Records(11 in one year-1965).  But perhaps the greatest tribute he received was from another distance runner, Emil Zatopek, the only runner to win the 5K, 10K, and marathon at the Olympics, who was a hero and an inspiration for Clarke.  Clarke visited Zatopek in Czechoslovakia after he had retired from the sport.  When he was leaving Zatopek shook Clarke's hand and placed in its palm a small box.

Clarke didn't open the box until he was on the plane heading home because he thought it was some trinket or memento Zatopek was giving him.  It was an Olympic gold medal. Clarke treasured the gift, not because it was a gold medal, but that it was one of Zatopek's gold medals. Clarke died Wednesday morning in Australia.  He was 78.  RIP Ron Clarke.

Clarke's obit is HERE.

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