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Clarke world record fires up the Zatopek

Len Johnson

Fifty years ago this year, in winning the third edition of the Emil Zatopek 10,000 metres, Ron Clarke set world records for six miles and 10,000 metres.

There are a million stories about the 1963 Zatopek race. If you have been around long enough, you’ve heard most. Some are even true.

Briefly, the facts are these. Clarke won his third straight Zatopek. His target, officially, was the six miles Victoria record held by Dave Stephens at 27 minutes 54.0 seconds. That had been a world record when Stephens set it in sensational fashion at Olympic Park early in 1956.

Achieving that goal would almost certainly see Clarke also break the Australian record held by Melbourne 1956 Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist Dave Power at 27:52.8.

Unofficially, Clarke was aiming even higher, at the world record 27:43.8 set by Sandor Iharos of Hungary.

Finally, given the 376 yards extra distance between six miles and 10,000 metres, Clarke would have to break Iharos’s record by a considerable margin to have a chance at the 10,000 world record of 28:18.2 held by Rome Olympic champion Pyotr Bolotnikov of the former Soviet Union.

Melbourne’s Olympic Park then had a 440-yard track. This meant that the starting line for the 10,000 metres race was 376 yards from the finish line, making the 10,000 race 24 laps plus 376 yards.

This may explain some of the subsequent confusion about times. One thing for sure, no-one seems to have kept their head in the hectic final few minutes of the race.

We’ll get to that. First, some of the other stories. One that has been revised many times over the journey is the number of spectators present. Well, the figure of 23 came from Clarke himself, who is quoted by Age journalist Graeme Kelly that there was that number present – “mostly relations of mine.”

At least one was. The back-page photo in The Age the day after the race showed Ron shaking hands with his brother, Jack Clarke, captain of Essendon Football Club at the time. Whether there was another 22, or 222, who knows. Point is, there wasn’t many.

Clarke had been on a record run coming into the Zatopek, breaking Victorian records for 2000 and 3000 metres, two miles and three miles already that season (state records had to be set in the state and national records set in Australia, back then). At Olympic Park the Sunday before the Zatopek race he had lost narrowly to the late Albie Thomas over 5000 metres, with Thomas setting a national record 13:51.4.

Whatever his private thoughts, Clarke’s ambitions were obvious from the start. He tore through the first four laps (one mile) in 4:24, with his great mate and training partner, Tony Cook, already struggling to hang on two seconds back.

At two miles – 8:58 – Clarke was eight seconds ahead, leading Trevor Vincent to reassure Cook that “Clarkie’s gone mad.” According to Vincent, he may have said this, but only to encourage Cook that he was also well on the way to achieving his own target of an Olympic Games qualifying time (28:30 for 6 miles or 29:25 for 10,000).

The third and fourth miles flew by at record pace. Only in the fifth mile – covered in 4:40 – did Clarke slacken, but a 4:28 took him to six miles in a world record 27:17.8.

Then the confusion set in. Clarke slowed to a jog to complete the final 376 yards, apparently thinking he had no chance of breaking Bolotnikov’s world record. Quickly told by friends  – one advantage of a small crowd being that he could hear them clearly – to “get going, you can get the other one” – he launched a belated effort to reach 10,000 in 28:15.6.

What a race. Not one, but two world records. The Victorian marathon Club had set the Zatopek up to foster Australian distance running, but this was surely beyond their wildest expectations.

“I didn’t thrash myself in the 5000 against Albie Thomas last Sunday because I felt I could run really well tonight,” Clarke told Graeme Kelly in something of an understatement.

Robert Ward was second in 31:28 and the late Tom Kelly third in 31:56, both of them lapped twice by Clarke.

But the hard-luck story was Tony Cook’s. He pulled out after five miles thinking he was not going to reach his target. In fact, he was right on it.

“There was a mess-up in the time calling and I thought I was a minute over my schedule,” Cook told Graeme Kelly.

It was the third of Ron Clarke’s record five Zatopek wins and the first and second of his 18 or 19 (depending how you count them) world records as he set about re-defining distance running in the next few years.

Tony Cook did qualify for the 1964 Olympics. He went on to finish eighth in the Olympic final as Clarke took the bronze medal after a terrific last-lap struggle with Billy Mills of the USA and Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia, the gold and silver medallists. He also got his Zatopek win, the next year.

20 Years Ago: ‘Mona’ chases Clarke, Staines chases Mona, neither catches Patrick

By LEN JOHNSON

Steve Moneghetti lined up for the 1993 Zatopek race having won the previous four Zatopeks. He hoped to equal Ron Clarke’s record of five wins in the big race and surpass Clarke by doing it in consecutive races.

Gary Staines, an English runner then based in Australia, wanted to stick with ‘Mona’ and get the qualifying times for the following years Commonwealth Games and European championships.

Ultimately, both were upstaged by Paul Patrick, an emerging young runner who all-but clinched Australian Commonwealth selection with a sensational win, breaking 28 minutes in his first 10,000 as a senior athlete.

There were no such upsets in the women’s race, Carolyn Schuwalow racing to her second victory in three years, and third overall, ahead of young Sydney runner Michelle Dillon and New Zealand’s Barbara Moore.

Moneghetti was already a Zatopek legend. Having run his first Zatopek in the lower grades in 1979, he was now lining up for his 12th. He had worked hard, as they say, to become an overnight sensation.

“It’s funny, at one stage I had run eight Zatopeks in a row without winning,” Moneghetti said pre-race. “Now, I’ve won four in a row.” Against his chances in 1993, he had run a marathoin in Beijing just eight weeks earlier.

Staines had been a silver medallist in the 5000 metres at the 1990 European championships and a finalist in the 5000 in both the Seoul 1988 Olympics and Tokyo 1991 world championships.

Patrick, however, was no mug. Just turned 22, he had finished fifth in the 5000 at the 1990 world junior championships. He had also run a 10,000 back then, but this would be his first as a senior. His form was good, having soundly defeated Staines and Moneghetti over 5000 metres just a couple of weeks before the Zatopek.

There was also a host of other contenders – Pat Carroll, four-time winner Andrew Lloyd and New Zealand trio Robbie Johnston, Kerry Rodger and Phil Clode.

Carroll, indeed, led for the first six laps before Moneghetti took up the pace. “I didn’t want to take the lead that early, but it was unfair to let Pat do it all,” he said post-race.

A series of surges broke up the field but could not dislodge either Patrick or Staines. Inevitably, it seemed, one of the two would finish quicker than Moneghetti. Surprisingly, it was not 3:53-miler Staines, but Patrick.

Taking the lead along the final back-straight, Patrick sprinted home to win in 27:59.64, with Staines (28:02.24) and Moneghetti (28:03.65) second and third, respectively.

Patrick became the sixth Australian to better 28 minutes (there are now 18) and the first to do it at their first senior attempt (he is still remains the only one).

“All credit to ‘Mona’,” said Patrick. “He did all the work. I sat on him and I knew I could outkick him. I was mentally strong. I felt fine, even through the surges.”

Schuwalow, too, ran with qualifying times on her mind, not an assault on her race record of 31:54.95 set two years earlier. She shared the pace with Michelle Dillon en route to winning, 32:28.50 to 32:35.40. Both women bettered the Commonwealth qualifying time.

“I’ve been doing 110 miles a week in training,” said Schuwalow, who was building towards a marathon debut.

The 20-year-old Dillon, running her first 10,000, was content to take up Schuwalow’s offer of pace-sharing. “She’s had a lot of experience, so I figured she knew what she was doing,” she said.

Patrick did not achieve his aim of selection in the 5000 metres for the Commonwealth Games the following August in Victoria (Canada). He finished eighth in the 10,000, one place ahead of a promising Kenyan named Daniel Komen who had run the first mile of the race in close to four minutes.

Steve Moneghetti won the marathon.

Injury kept Carolyn Schuwalow from running the Commonealth Games, but Michelle Dillon finished seventh in the women’s 10,000 in 33:19.01. She subsequently represented Great Britain in two Olympic triathlons, 2000 and 2004.

Gary Staines finished 15th in the 10,000 metres at the Helsinki 1994 European championships.

For Zatopek:10 2013 ticket and event information visit www.athsvic.org.au/zatopek.