You are known for wearing a golf cap while running, can you tell us about the symbolism of why? I started to wear the golf cap about a year before the Olympic Games. I had a series of injuries that began about a year and a half prior to the Olympics…two stress fractures and bursitis…that kept me from competing in the indoor and outdoor track seasons of 1971. When I started my comeback in the summer of 1971, I started to wear a golf cap I had received while officiating track meets during the outdoor track season of 1971 and simply got use to wearing the hat while I ran. I was not superstitious about wearing the hat. I just liked wearing it because it kept the hair out of my eyes and acted as a sun visor and sweat band.
Your charge from last place to win an improbable gold medal in the 1972 800m Olympics is a true gem, what made you come up with this strategy? The strategy was not planned ahead of time, it simply came about naturally based on my conditioning. Six weeks prior to the Olympic 800 meter final, I came down with another injury…tendinitis in my left knee. As a result, my mileage was reduced drastically from about 75 to 80 miles a week to just over 20 miles a week shortly before the Games. So I was not at the top of my game during the Olympics. Also, the other runners started out quite fast in the 800 final and I was simply not able to stay with them. Fortunately, they backed off the fast pace during the last half of the first lap so I was able to regain contact with the pack and relax prior to starting my kick. In the final 100 meters, the leaders began to tire due to their early fast pace while I still had enough energy (due to my slower start) to pick up the pace coming down the home stretch.
What was going through your mind as you crossed the finish line? Not much. I was trying so hard at the end of the race, the only thoughts going through my mind was to keep charging for the finish line. After each step I took, I would recalculate how far I was behind the leader, how much distance there was to the finish line, and if I was going to catch him before the race was over. At that time, I was extremely focused on winning the race.
Of all your running achievements, which are you most proud of? I have three races that are all of equal importance in my mind…the first time I broke the 4 minute mile in 1970, tying the world record in the 800 meter at the US Olympic Trials in 1972 and, of course, the Olympic 800 meter race.
What was the hardest thing you overcame in all of you running training? The major injuries I had in the 1971 track seasons and the injury I sustained prior to the Olympic Games. I was very depressed during 1971 because every time I would recover from an injury, within weeks I developed another injury and I was unsure if I was ever going to be whole again. And then to have the fastest time in the world in the 800 meters going into the Olympic Games and to come down with yet another injury was quite depressing. In both instances I was extremely down-hearted and had to fight through the depression I was feeling by having confidence in myself.
It’s well known that Boston is a great city for running, why do you think that is? The Boston Marathon and Bill Rodgers. Being the site of the most famous marathon in the world, known to all runners around the world, is the obvious answer. But I also think having one of the greatest US marathoners ever being a four time winner at Boston has also enhanced the stature of the race. Bill’s times in the marathon back in the late 1970’s would still be quite competitive now. He brought a great deal of notoriety to the race and, as a result, to Boston.