Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 27 Aug 2002 12:05:20 -0400

Class of '72


Thirty years ago today, the Olympic Games opened in Munich. More years had to pass before we could see that the U.S. distance runners who competed there had distinguished themselves as the most successful team ever.

I have special feelings for this group. Not because I too was in Munich, to watch and write, but because these runners are my age-mates. I ran against (usually far behind, actually) most of them.

Many already were or later became friends of mine. Jon Anderson (10,000), Mike Manley (steeple) and Steve Savage (steeple) now share a hometown with me, and Eugene native Kenny Moore (marathon) lives here part-time.

The marathoners supplied the greatest showing ever by Americans: Frank Shorter first, Moore fourth, Jack Bacheler ninth. Steve Prefontaine added another fourth in the 5000.

It's little remembered now that Shorter warmed up for his marathon by placing fifth in the 10,000. It's even less known that 800 winner Dave Wottle doubled in the 1500 and missed the final by a single place.

The American distance runners as a group did well in Munich. They've done even better since, which may be a truer mark of greatness.

The Munich team was the first from what would become known as the "running boom." These runners would be the first to make a living openly from the sport. (Hard as it is to believe now, earlier generations lost their eligibility if they coached for pay or opened a sports store.)

This group of Olympians was the first not to quit early. Nearly all of them stayed active, one way or another, through their 30s and 40s, and most of them on into their 50s and even 60s.

An earlier Olympian, old Johnny Kelley, has said, "It's not what you once did that counts the most, but what you keep doing." By this standard, the Class of '72 has enjoyed great success.

Of the 17 runners in events 1500 meters and longer at Munich, 10 have joined a Hall of Fame -- USATF, RRCA or National Distance Running. They've qualified there as much for how they kept contributing as for how they competed a generation ago.

Only Frank Shorter, Jim Ryun (1500) and Steve Prefontaine remain best known for what they once did. Shorter is the last American man to medal in an Olympic Marathon, Ryun is the last from this country to hold the world mile record, and Prefontaine is the last to place as high as fourth in an Olympic 5000.

Yet all remain active in their own ways. Shorter is a TV commentator, race speaker and anti-drug activist. Ryun, now a U.S. Congressman, operates running camps. Prefontaine still fires the imaginations of runners who weren't yet born when he died.

(The only other deceased runner from that team, Len Hilton, also ran the 5000 in Munich.)

Kenny Moore won a continuing role for himself at Sports Illustrated in 1972 when he reported on the terrorist act from inside the Olympic Village. The writer all running writers look up to is now finishing a book about his own (and '72 Olympic team) coach Bill Bowerman.

That year, Jeff Galloway (10,000) was one of the lesser-known Olympians. Now he might be more widely recognized than any of them because of his writings and teachings.

Jeff coaches by spreading knowledge widely. At least eight other runners from the Munich team have passed along all they know by coaching in the formal, team sense.

Four-time Olympian George Young (5000) spent most of his career as a coach at Central Arizona College. Doug Brown (steeple) coached NCAA champions at Tennessee and Florida.

Jack Bacheler once led the North Carolina State women to a national title. Mike Manley -- a coach at high school, community college and club levels -- made a distance runner of Marla Runyan before they parted ways in 2000. Bob Wheeler (1500) now dispenses advice along with equipment at his San Diego running stores.

The women could run no farther than 1500 meters at Munich, and this distance for the first time. Befitting their pioneer status, all three would keep guiding other women into the sport.

Doris Brown Heritage still coaches at her alma mater, Seattle Pacific. Francie Kraker Goodridge has coached at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Michigan and Wake Forest. Francie Larrieu Smith, who ran the Olympic 1500 at age 19 and the marathon at 39, now coaches at Southwestern University in Texas.

Hail to the Class of '72 for all you did. And more so for all you do.

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