The moment is frozen in time on the cover of Bob Schul's book, In the Long Run, written by Schul with the help of Laura Rentz Krause. It is the instant Schul broke the tape in the Olympic 5000 meter final in Tokyo in 1964. It is a dramatic shot, made more so by the dark rainy backdrop of the day. Schul is finishing his final stride of the race, head thrown back, a smile on his face, showing us both joy and relief. His body is covered with rain and wet clay that became almost mud like. He had a leanness that only those in peak physical condition have, a tall rawboned lad with a smooth powerful stride and a devastating kick. Behind him are three of the six men who were challenging for the three medals. On Schul's outside, a step behind, is Harold Norpoth, the pale Young German star , who seems to be on the cusp of a smile, as he knows the silver is his. One step behind Norpoth and directly behind Schul, is the raging, agonized face of Frenchman Michael Jazy.
His body is straining forward in his fruitless attempt at a medal. He finished fourth, losing the bonze medal to American Bill Dellinger in the final step. Behind Jazy is perhaps the most significant runner in the race. Kip Keino was the first of what now has become a deluge of great Kenyan runners to enter the international arena. Keino finished fifth in this race, but this was just the start of what was to be a brilliant career.
This was the beginning of what was to become a wave of Kenyan dominance in distance running. The book has a folksy tone, except for the race descriptions which are full of intensity and insight. These were all done by Schul himself, and I found them very compelling. For me though, the truly compelling thing about this book is the character of the man. Bobs Schul grew up as a mid western farm boy in Ohio. His values seem to be all American almost to the point of naivetИ, but his fourth right character and sometimes brutal honesty portrayed, for me a very appealing personality. Schul's honest, hardworking style and his wide eyed enthusiasm for his racing combined to propel him to the pinnacle of distance running, the Olympic gold.
The things that I found most appealing in the man are the endless sense of possibility coupled with the capacity to do huge workouts and a certain naive confidence that followed Schul throughout his career. He had a confidence that he could win big races, based on the training techniques of Mihaly Igloi. In the words of Charlie Vigil, "some train to train, others train to compete. And then there are the all -too-few who train to win." Bob Schul trained to win.
Schul's path to greatness was not without adversity though. He was severely asthmatic as a youth, often succumbing to brutal asthma attacks, where his heath was in severe jeopardy. This asthma dogged him throughout his career and limited his training locations during certain times of the year. In order for Schul to train for and win his races the had to avoid pollen producing environments. As his career grew and he got married he went though the usual starving track athlete lifestyle, which would lead to later run-ins with the AAU.
Every step of Schul's career is characterized by high goals, an ability to find the right people to train under and with and absolutely fearless capacity to engage huge workloads, culminated by his pre Olympic training under the great Hungarian coach Mihaly Igloi. He went to Igloi the suggestion of Max Truax, who was in the air force with Schul. The great coach was famous for his tough love approach toward his athletes. He was all about speed, and his athletes did huge amounts of track work. Two a day speed sessions were the theme and although Igloi's athletes seemed to do relatively little base training they put in many miles in high quality speed sessions. These sessions would go on for 2 or 3 hours. This was the type of training that prepared runners to race. The sessions had many subtle variations. Some intervals were short and designed to shakeout the legs, kind of a warm-up. Mostly thought they were 200, 400, and 600, meter reps. at high speed with a short rest . This type of training had the potential to be very successful providing the athletes could avoid the injuries that it could cause. Schul treaded this line between peak conditionings and injury constantly. In the words of Arnd Kruger, in the book, Igloi - Man and Method, "Igloi compares his athletes with violin players preparing for an important concert. They repeat the same piece thousands of times. One of the Igloi's ex-runners compares him to Attila, who requested obedience from the Mongols."
Now lets put this all into perspective. Many top distance runners have had great careers and not won an Olympic gold medal. Every thing had to come together perfectly for this to happen. Training and injury prevention are things that runner shave same control over. There is a fine line that is tread between peak conditioning and over training. There are also factors out of the athletes control such as boycott (1980 Olympics, - Bill Rodgers best chance at a medal) and tragedy (Pre's death). So the path to Olympic gold is a tricky one. It takes long term focus, smart and effective training and an awareness of ones body to know when to do what and how to avoid injury. There is a usually a long trip involved and with different food and with international viruses swirling around the Olympic village it almost seems a miracle that anyone makes it to the final.
On the day of the race your strategy has to be perfect. There is very little margin for error in achieving an Olympic medal, even less to get the gold. So winning the Olympic gold medal is a very special thing. Maybe even more special than we thought. While Billy Mills came out of the blue to win the 10K gold, Schul was one of the favorites in the 5k. Bob Schul came into the race with on thing in mind, - Victory! He had trained to win under Mihaly Igloi and now he was racing to win. It all seemed so logical really. He was superbly conditioned. His tactics were perfect and he won the race. It was a great achievement, as was that of Mills. It showed us what was possible and the future looked bright.
Well, here we are 37 years later and in that time we've had two gold medals in the distance events. They were both in the marathon, Frank Shorter in Munich in "1972" and Joan Benoit in Los Angeles in "84". With the envelope being expanded each year by African runners, it looks less and less likely to happen again.
Let's look back at Schul's gold medal race. First let's look at the competitors. Michael Jazy was the co-favorite with Schul. He was from France and he had the whole package. He had run fast times at 5K and there was a rumor going around that he had broken the world record for 5K in a workout just prior to coming to Tokyo. Jazy also had a deadly kick and Schul knew that he would be his main competition. Bill Bailey was New Zealand's top distance runner at the time. He was a seasoned veteran on the international circuit and was a major player in his races. Harold Norpoth was a rising star on the West German Team. He had run 13:48. He was one of the competitors Schul would watch closely. Teammate Bill Dellinger was also one of the finalists. Schul was very much aware of what Dellinger was capable of. He knew how he trained and knew how he raced. Bill Dellinger was also one of the competitors that Schul would watch closely. There was one more man in the field who would be a factor in a specific and in a general sense. Kip Keino was one of the first Africa runners to come out of Kenya and make an impact on the internal scene. He was a relative unknown a the time, but not only would he be a player in the 5K final, he would also represent the start of the running revolution in Kenya that would stretch the envelope of distance running. The great Australian runner Ron Clarke was also in the field. He is one of the all time great distance runners. A multiple world record holder, Clarke lacked the one thing that is necessary for most Olympic gold medallists, a finishing kick. In order for Clarke to win the race the pace would have to be blistering. This is not usually the case in Olympic finals races, which are usually tactical and where a kick is needed. Schul knew he could handle Clarke in the final lap. The field was a strong one, a setup for a great race. Schul felt that Jazy and Dellinger would be his biggest challengers. I am going to use excerpts from Schul's race description to present the race to you. " I watched the starter move to h is position and raise his pistol. He spoke in Japanese. I tensed and waited. Within a second the gun fired and I took that first step. Norpoth, who was on my inside was faster than me and he took the lead. Wiggs (English)coming from the outside, moved in behind Norpoth. Both the Soviets were running in lane two, side by side, next to Wiggs. I settled in back of Wiggs with Bailey on my right shoulder. I didn't want to be trapped on the inside but I couldn't get out, the way we were running. At this early stage it didn't matter...... We had started quickly enough but had slowed down. I felt my own body wasn't working well because of the cold and inactivity. My muscles would have to warm up again before I felt comfortable. How long that would take was uncertain but I was sure every one felt the same. ... The track was dead; the rain had thoroughly soaked the clay brick mixture and I knew we'd have to work extremely hard for everything.
At 300 meters Helland took the lead but stayed in the outside of the first lane as if he were hoping someone would pass him on the inside. But Nortpoth, who could have come up, was content to stay half a step back on the curb. ... Jazy was running easily in fifth with Bailey following close to Jazy. I was running, without strain, in back of Baily and could sense runners behind me." Schul sets up the race nicely and then gets into the fascinating tactical details... "In the middle of the turn, I glanced to my right as Ron Clarke moved strongly past me. Following him was Dellinger and I found myself in ninth. Then suddenly Wiggs fell in front of me! I jumped to the right and barely missed his leg as I landed. Wiggs spike must have caught Dellinger's shoe because Bill staggered slightly and then glanced over his shoulder. It happened in a split second and there hadn't been time to think. You just react to the situation. The runners in front of me had pulled away. I must close the gap , and quickly┘ ┘Clarke looked strong and smooth. Jazy looked so easy. I felt good and knew I'd run a good race┘ ┘With nine laps to go Norpoth passed me and moved up to fourth next to Bailey. My mind breaks away to the noise of the crowd and I hear a chant of "Ja-zy, Jazy, Jazy!" The stadium seems full of the French man's people. We go past the 1600 meter mark┘ my body is finally moving easier. It's taken this long for my muscles to become warm.
┘Suddenly, coming off the turn, Clarke picked up the tempo considerably. Jazy stayed a step back as Norpoth and Bailey fell three meters behind. I must make a quick decision.
The way I feel it won't be any trouble staying with them, but I'm concerned about my side. The extra effort to increase my speed could bring about a spasm. I picked up my tempo slightly so they don't get too far ahead.
Clarke must be running 60 second pace now. ... Keino goes by and I wonder if I'm doing the smart thing. I can't allow them to set too big a lead. I must watch Clarke very carefully┘ The way my body feels I know I can quickly make up the distance.
Clarke maintains the speed down the back straight and just as he passes the start he looks over his shoulder. I think he must feel demoralized as he sees how may runners are so close to him. ┘ I pass Biadock into seventh. Clarke is now just a few steps in front of me, ┘ I move past Keino into sixth with Dutov to my inside. We pass the finish line and have five laps to go.. We have four laps remaining as Clarke leads around the turn into the back straight. .. Clarke shifts into high gear. He continues around the turn and then slows. ┘ Just as Clarke passes the final turn with 3 laps to go, he slows again.
Jazy, with his momentum, moves to the front, but doesn't come to the inside. .. We go past the starting point once again with Jazy half a step in front. Clarke is second on the inside, and Norpoth is back of Jazy. Dutov is fourth with Bailey on his outside shoulder. I moved to the inside in sixth with Keino on my outside shoulder┘. We pass the finish line with 2 laps to go┘
...My thoughts are raring now. I can feel the adrenaline pumping into my system. It's time to move closer to the front. With each step I move Keino farther to the outside until I'm completely free. Then with a little more effort, I increase my tempo and begin to move up. I'm amazed at how easily my body responds.
I pass Bailey and Dutov. Norpoth is third with Clarke in Fourth. I move up on Clarke's outside shoulder and look at him as we go into the turn. At that moment Dellinger flies by me and takes the lead┘
┘We come off the turn and the faster tempo is holding, but far from what I'll be able to run. I've not switched over yet into my sprint style of running. I must be careful, very careful now. My thoughts are of my finish and when I'll start to kick. I'd like to wait until we have 300 metes to go. I have confidence I can maintain an all out effort from that point. I feel so strong!
I'm still in the outside of the first lane and think there's no one who can block me. But then Keino moves up very quickly on my outside shoulder, and Dutov moves up onto Keino's shoulder. Were running four abreast and I'm trapped. Dutov continues his surge and closed on Jazy. At the bell, with a lap to go Dutov is only a half step back. Jazy looks at him and then, as if that was a signal to start the sprint he begins to move.
My god! No one can stay with him! Dutov is falling back. So are Norpoth and Dellinger.
The pace has picked up but with each step Jazy is putting more yards between the rest of us. In the middle of the turn positions begin to change and finally there's a gap I can get through. I come higher on my toes and drive into the wet track. I move to the outside and I'm free. Now I can run!.
Out in front of me Jazy is still maintaining his lead while Norpoth has passed Dutov and has moved into second. I am in full sprint. I move past Dellinger and quickly close on Dutov. I pass Dutov and move into third. I'm in the middle of the back straight. The chase is on!
I can't run any faster and I'm not closing on Jazy. A thought goes through my mind that I have lost. But there can be no slackening now. As we go into the turn I move in on Norpoth and realized I have finally made up ground on Jazy. By the middle of the turn I'm by Norpoth and Jazy is only a few yards in front. It's evident he's trying up his shoulders no longer relaxed. Coming off the turn I'm only a step behind and I am confident.
Closer, I come to his shoulder as we fly down the final 100 meters. Several times he glances over his shoulder, his eyes wide. With 50 meters to go I pass him and pull away. The tape looms in front of me.
For the first time in the race my legs are becoming heavy but it doesn't matter now. All I can think about is what might be happening behind me. Is someone gaining? Drive harder, I think! Lift, .. Drive, .. Lift, .. Drive!
Suddenly the tape breaks across my chest. A grin spreads across my face. It's over! Thank God, its over!"
This is a great description to a fantastic race. Schul sums it up with this poem.
"I had climbed the highest mountain
and stood alone at the top...
My dreams of days gone by
Would now be exchanged for memories.
I had run with the wind and,
For one brief and shining moment
The world was mine!"
The thing about this book that I found the most interesting was that perfect bend of naivety and confidence and the drive to do the work that Schul had. Coming from a farming community in Ohio, Bob had that small town naivetИ and enthusiasm that helped isolate him from and propel him through the challenges of his path to Olympic gold. Bob Schul was a winner in his head. He raced to win and for the most part came to expect to win. Even when he did not win he always seemed to be aware of what kept him from victory and what could be done about it. He trained to win and his competitive instincts were superb. He learned from his tactical mistakes and seemed to thrive on competition. He also possessed, what most gold medallists at the distance events have, a blistering kick. His last 400 meters at Tokyo was 54 seconds. His last 300 meters were the same Peter Snell's at 1500 meters on a dry track. In the Olympic final he timed his kick perfectly, running Michael Jazy down in the final stretch. He had come from 10 meters back into the final turn. A superb finish by a great champion, a man whose accomplishments and work ethic should be an inspiration to all distance runners who want to go for the gold.