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Dyrol Burleson — May, 2012
Dyrol Burleson was a member of the 1960 and 1964 United States Olympic teams in the 1,500 meters where he finished in sixth and fifth place, respectively. He won the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Trials 1,500 meters which were two of his five U.S. Championships at 1,500 meters or the mile. Dyrol was undefeated in his three years of collegiate competition including NCAA titles at 1,500 meters in 1960 and the mile in 1961 and 1962. The Oregon Duck was the first to receive a full track and field scholarship from Coach Bill Bowerman and the first to run a sub-4:00 mile at Oregon’s historic Hayward Field. He broke American Records at 1,500 meters and the mile two times each and once in the 2-mile. Dyrol was a member of the World Record 4-mile relay and 1959 Pan Am Games 1,500 meter Gold medalist. He graduated from Cottage Grove (Oregon) High School where highlights included winning the Oregon State Cross Country Championship in 1957, the State Mile title in 1958 and breaking the National High School Mile Record by nearly three seconds in 4:13.2. His personal best times include: 880y – 1:48.2 (1962); 1,500m – 3:38.8 (1964); Mile – 3:55.6 (1963) and 2 miles – 8:39.6 (1966). Dyrol has been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame, the University of Oregon HOF, the State of Oregon HOF and Cottage Grove High School HOF. He earned both his undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the University of Oregon and retired after 31 years with the Linn County, Oregon Parks system. Dyrol resides in Turner, Oregon with his wife, Deberra, and has two daughters. He was kind enough to spend over two hours on the telephone in April, 2012.
GCR:In track and field we evaluate competitors’ careers by championships, records and Olympic performances. When you look back at your three NCAA championships in the mile/1,500 meters, five American Records and two top-six finishes in the Olympic 1,500 meters, what does this say about your competitive career?
DBI don’t now really how to answer that except to say that I was real fortunate to have Bill Bowerman as a coach. I was raised about 15 miles south of Eugene so I had his direct influence on me the whole time. My high school coach who started me was Wallace Ciocehetti nnd then my junior and senior year my head coach was Sam Bell, though Coach Ciocehetti set me on the pattern. Our colors were blue and yellow at Cottage Grove High School and our workout sheets were green and yellow so you know where those colors came from. I was incredibly fortunate and wouldn’t have done anything if not for circumstances putting me there and the influence of Bill Bowerman on Coach Ciocehetti and my running.
GCR:Your performances at the University of Oregon were highlighted not only by the three NCAA championships, but by being undefeated for those three years. How tough of a task was it to be undefeated for those three years and what does it mean to you?
DBThis is going to sound egotistical, but I never had a close call. When I went to Oregon, Bill Bowerman gave me the first full ride. He had always given partial scholarships and then the athletes would have jobs or their families to make up the difference. I’m goal oriented so when I went to Oregon I decided that I was not going to lose a race for Bill because I got that full ride and that worked out. Most of the goals that I’ve had throughout my life in my professional career and in my competitive running phase have all worked out so if you want to tie it all back that undefeated running career at Oregon was something that I did for Bill. I’m sitting in my den right now and I have a lot of items from my professional career. From running I have a picture of Bill and me and the two covers of Sports Illustrated I was on as my kids like those and it was one of my goals to be on the cover. Then I have the University of Oregon Hall of Fame plaque as that is the one Hall of Fame I’m in that recognizes right on the plaque that I didn’t lose a race. That meant the most to me.
GCR:What do you recall as highlights of your NCAA wins such as the feeling the first time, defending your title and setting an American Record at the 1961 edition? Was it at all similar to Peter Snell telling me that he felt exhilaration when he won his first Olympic 800 meter Gold in 1960 and relief when he defending his title four years later?
DBFirst I am very flattered you would even mention me in any comparisons or context with Peter Snell as what he did was truly amazing. As a freshman we couldn’t run in the NCAAs so I had to wait until the AAUs to get my position as number one. It was good to win the next year, but was expected me most people. In the second NCAA race I won the further along the race went I was increasingly concerned that something would happen like maybe I’d get spiked. I guess that no matter what happens in a race a runner gets concerned. But most of my collegiate races were not against the difficult runners to beat at that time as my toughest competitors were out of college. I never ran for records as what I liked to do was winning so I never really ran for time. That is why I remember my losses fairly well. So the American Record wasn’t a goal - it just came.
GCR:What was your feeling and that of Coach Bowerman when you ran not only the first sub-4:00 mile at Hayward Field, but set an American Record in the process?
DBHe was very pleased. I would do anything for Bill. If he told me to go jump off of a cliff I would have. So it was great. It was very exciting as it was at my home track.
GCR:How much did it help to have Stanford’s Ernie Cunliffe setting the pace?
DBYou hit the nail right on the head. It was Ernie that did everything and I ended up getting the credit. I guess those were the circumstances. If he hadn’t been there and done that it could have been a 4:10 or 4:12. That first sub-4:00 at Hayward Field should have Ernie’s name alongside mine with an assist, a major, incredible assist. He was really a fine fellow as I got to know him on the Olympic team and he was a nice gentleman though we haven’t been in contact for many years.
GCR:Let’s take a look back at your freshman year in college when at that time freshman were ineligible for NCAA competition. You won three major meets, the AAU, Pan Am Games and US-USSR dual meet? What are some remembrances of these races and did you start getting confident of your ability to compete with anyone in the U.S. and on the World Stage?
DBThere were many runners for me to admire when I arrived at Oregon. Jim Grelle was there and so was a runner who often gets overlooked and that is our first sub-4:00 miler, Jim Bailey. He was incredibly good. I was confident as a freshman. I just knew that I could be the AAU champion. I was young and kind of cocky. Bill Bowerman never let me race with Jim Grelle until the AAU meet and I had wanted to race with Jim. In all three of those races I used my same racing pattern as I was never the person who would go out front and lead. I just moved enough to win. I didn’t run away with any of them and I wasn’t dominant. Jim and I were close competitors but I had the feeling I would win each time, really wanted to win and ran to win.
GCR:Let’s take a look at the 1960 Olympic Trials and Olympics. First, with your string of excellent racing in 1959 and 1960, what were your thoughts on making the team and your strategy coming into the Olympic Trials?
DBI was confident that I could make the team. I was the number one American the previous year and wanted to be number one on the team.
GCR:How exciting was it to make the Olympic team at age 20 and to realize that you were now an Olympian?
DBIt was great. It was my dream and one of my goals came through. I broke the 4:00 minute mile thanks to Ernie, made the Olympic team and got on the cover of Sports Illustrated, so bang, bang, bang I made many goals. That completed everything except my goal of an Olympic Gold Medal which I never achieved. Of all the things I went for that was the one I didn’t get.
GCR:How much energy did you expend getting through the heats and semifinal in Rome and did you feel you had a shot at a medal in the final?
DBThis is something that I don’t recall a lot. I was kind of awestruck as the Olympics was my first big race. I’d had the competition against the Russians, but I’d never raced in a venue like that. I wanted a medal and that was a goal.
GCR:There was a 15 to 20 minute delay before the 1,500 meter final as officials determined who had won the photo finish in the 400 meters. Did this affect your pre-race warm up and readiness?
DBThe excitement was there and the delay didn’t make a difference. Everyone faced the same delay and it was a level playing field.
GCR:When France’s Michel Bernard led through two laps in 58.2 and 1:57.8 were you feeling strong and trying to gauge what you would do when the surges began so you could possible finish in the top three?
DBI don’t recall much of the early part of the race – I really don’t.
GCR:Herb Elliott went effortlessly into the lead on the third lap and held a 25 yard lead with a lap to go. Was it just too early to go with him or was this just outside of your tactical range?
DBI was really awed by what Herb Elliott did as it was the most significant dominance I have ever seen in the 1,500 meters. He was the best in the world – undisputed and beyond belief. Herb Elliott was so superior to everyone. There was Herb Elliott and then us all. I’ve never been dominated by anyone like he dominated us. I was so impressed with Herb that I traded my American sweat suit and received an Australian set in return. I had also read somewhere that Herb Elliott and his coach, Percy Cerutty, would eat raisins and raw oats, so I tried that for a little while.
GCR:Were you pleased with your sixth place in an American Record of 3:40.9?
DBI never enjoyed losing but with my young age I didn’t arrive at the Olympics with the higher expectations which I had four years later.
GCR:Did you go to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and do they bring back special memories?
DBThey were great and I learned one thing that really helped me in 1964 – when they let the pigeons loose, don’t look up! That was something useful.
GCR:Did you watch many other track and field events, attend other Olympic sporting competitions or hang out with any athletes from the U.S or foreign nations?
DBThe U.S. athletes all ate at the same dining hall so we were in the presence of some fine athletes. We had incredible basketball players and boxers. This was before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali. Before the Games we had a track competition in Switzerland and when we were travelling to Rome on the train we got into some bad food and we had dysentery really bad for quite a while. Our steeplechaser, Deacon Jones, had a real good personality. From Deacon I learned how to fly flies. What you do is you get a fine piece of long hair from a lady and tie it around a fly’s neck and the fly the flies around. We would compete to see how long we could fly a fly and keep it alive. If ours died then we would get a replacement fly and pretend it was the same one and try to compete for who’s fly had the most endurance.
GCR:Let’s jump ahead to 1964, the next Olympic year. The Compton meet was a real gem as eight runners broke 4:00 as you won in 3:57.4, Archie San Romani ran his first sub-4:00 just behind you in 3:57.6 and Jim Ryun was the first high school runner to go sub-4:00 with a 3:59.0. What do you recall from this historic race?
DBIt was a great day and the biggest story was not my winning but what Jim Ryun did that day. Of course, it was also great that Archie ran under four minutes as he was a great guy.
GCR:The 1964 AAU meet was to that time the greatest day in history for U.S. 1,500 meter racing as Tom O’Hara won in 3:38.1 and led you, Jim Grelle and Jim Ryun all under the American Record. How did this foreshadow the tough competition that would unfold at the Olympic Trials later in the year and what are your thoughts on Tom O’Hara and his racing?
DBIt did tell us all that there would be tough races ahead that summer. It was a hot, humid day at that AAU meet, Tom was a really good runner and he ran very strong. As an aside, I don’t know why he didn’t continue running as he was relatively young. I remember that he was a Chicago boy. Here in Oregon we have drizzle all throughout the winter but our summers are nice. I have trouble running in a big city and with summer humidity so I think it is more difficult to train in that environment. I admired Tom for his ability to do that.
GCR:There was a preliminary Olympic Trials meet held in New York City in very hot 94 degree weather with the top eight advancing to the ‘real’ Olympic Trials. How did you evaluate your competition after winning off of a slow pace with O’Hara, Grelle and Ryun following behind you?
DBI was feeling confident and my fitness was improving. Bill Bowerman’s training plan was carrying me along very well. After I graduated I had stayed in Eugene so it was all part of steady improvement. Bill was so good about allowing me to do that.
GCR:In the Olympic Trials final Archie San Romani put in a ferocious move on the back stretch and gained about five yards. What were your thoughts as you were in third place behind Archie and Jim Grelle?
DBThis is my prejudice - I really wanted Archie to be on our Olympic team. When he took the lead it was exciting and, since I always relied on my final sprint, I was running pretty comfortably and felt I would make the team.
GCR:Down the home stretch after San Romani faded and Grelle led, how tough of a fight was it to pass Grelle and to hold off Tom O’Hara?
DBIt’s easy when you come from behind – it really is and I just timed it and went past. It’s much harder when a runner is out front.
GCR:Were you surprised that Jim Ryun passed Grelle for the third spot on the team?
DBI was but I had already recognized Jim’s ability. I also liked him personally as he was a nice kid. If you fast-forward to recent years I was really sad when he lost his Congressional seat primarily because of California’s Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to help defeat him.
GCR:At the 1964 Olympics was it generally easier for you in terms of the entire experience and knowing what to do to get to the final while conserving energy since it was your second Olympic Games?
DBIt definitely was and I was very fit. In 1964 the heats were very easy. I was feeling really good.
GCR:The final started out the same as four years earlier with Michel Bernard leading, though he slowed from a 58 second first lap to a 62 second next lap while you were in second place. Did you give any thought to changing your usual wait-and-kick strategy and taking the lead?
DBI never did as that wasn’t part of my tactics or strategy. I always relied on my sprint at the end.
GCR:When Peter Snell took off with 200 meters to go it seemed that you didn’t react and that your home stretch kick was too late as you finished fifth and less than half a second behind second place. What went through your mind when Snell pushed it and could you have done anything different to get into the medal hunt?
DBMy fault was that I let the runners get so far ahead of me as I was too cocky about my finishing sprint. If you look at the tape of the race the runners who got the Silver and Bronze medals were right in front of me. It wouldn’t have been easy to get through to win. When Snell went to the lead I should have went with him. At the end of the race I wasn’t even tired at all. I could have gone for 200 meters more. But I can’t do anything about it now – that’s life. I don’t know what happened there but it was my entire fault. It bothered me for several months. I just really screwed up there. But there are things in life that you can’t redo.
GCR:How much shared excitement was there amongst the U.S. distance squad with your roommate, Bill Dellinger, getting Bronze in the 5,000 meters behind Bob Schul’s Gold and Billy Mills winning the 10,000 meters?
DBThat is what I remember from the 1964 Games - Billy in the 10,000 and Bill and Bob Schul in the 5,000 meters. At both Olympic Games I roomed with Bill Dellinger and when I was a boy back in Cottage Grove he was a significant runner to me. I had great excitement for those three runners and at the same time great disappointment in my own performance because I didn’t get a medal. So my race overshadowed the great performances of my teammates for me.
GCR:Were there any other highlights which stand out from your second Olympic experience?
DBOne interesting experience that had nothing to do with the actual races deals with Buddy Edelen who was our marathon runner and had gone off to England to train. I’m not sure why but he seemed to like it there. In a sport magazine he had mentioned that he liked drinking Guinness Stout after training runs. The Guinness truck showed up at the Olympic Village and dropped off some cases of Guinness Stout for Buddy. I didn’t try any then, but the last time I was in Dublin a few years ago I thought about Buddy Edelen and the Guinness truck in 1964 and just had to visit the Guinness brewery. When we went into the national art museum there was a big picture of 1956 Olympic 1,500 meter champ Ron Delany at various stages of his career and I yelled, ‘There’s Ron Delany.’ It was a quiet place and my wife was trying to quiet me down.
GCR:Let’s look back at some of your other racing highlights starting in 1962 where part of the excitement of college competition is competing as a team. Can you describe what it was like at the 1962 Oregon-USC dual meet for the Ducks to end the Trojan’s string of 129 straight dual meet victories dating back to 1945 and for the part you played in winning both the mile and half mile to lead Oregon sweeps in those two events?
DBThat was an amazing day for our team. There were so many great athletes that Bill had recruited and developed and it was very satisfying. It is funny but the team victories mean more because you can share them with the other team members later on in life. At the time it’s a collective thing because our sport is an individual sport and we tally the performances to decide what team wins. We aren’t passing the ball back and forth or blocking or anything like that.
GCR:That same year was the first time the NCAA Championships were held at Hayward Field and Oregon won its first NCAA team title with more points than the next three teams combined. How special was it to win your final NCAA individual title on your home track and how did the team title compare to your individual victories?
DBI really enjoyed being a part of that championship team. We had a reputation as a middle distance and longer distance running school but we also had Harry Jerome, Gerry Tarr and the great Mel Renfro. Mel became a great professional football player and was named All-Pro many times, but I think he could have been an Olympic decathlon champion as he was such a complete athlete. There was extreme pleasure in being part of that team and helping Bill Bowerman coach the first of his four NCAA champion teams. None of the individual NCAA championships stick in my mind that much as I just was like a spectator watching the race each year and then I would use my kick. It was my last race and there were the thoughts of finishing undefeated, but I was confident I would be able to win. I’m an Oregonian through and through so it was exciting to win here. I’m such a big U of O fan that I told my two daughters when it was time to go to college that they could go anywhere they wanted, but if they wanted me to pay for their education it had to be Oregon. They only knew green and yellow their entire life anyway.
GCR:Also in 1962 you anchored the World Record setting 4 x mile relay with Archie San Romani, Vic Reeve and Keith Forman running the first three legs. What do you recall as you were watching your teammates, how tough was it to run your solo 3:57.7 anchor leg and where does this stand on your list of running achievements?
DBThat was one of those different kinds of races for me and was one of the few I ran where I wasn’t trying to sprint and win at the end. I was there for the time and for the team. Bill wanted us each to run an even pace. The tracks were mostly cinder back then except for California clay tracks which were known to be the fastest at the time. They had cleaned up the track and rolled it but as each leg was run there was more turbulence so I did move out a bit on the straightaways to get out of the churned up areas, but it was still a fast track. There was a lot of adrenaline going and was one of those rare occurrences where I wanted to run my fastest time. What I wanted was Bill to get the credit for having the 4 by one mile World Record to give even more validation to what a great coach he was. That was important to me and so were my teammates. Archie has a great personality and the dentist I just switched to, Dr. Adams, is on the ski patrol at Mt. Hood with Archie so we have been able to swap tales and it seems that Archie has the same personality he had in college.
GCR:Your relay team faced New Zealand’s team twice on a tour ‘down under’ in early 1963 with Vic Reeve getting knocked down in the first race and Peter Snell barely outkicking Keith Forman in the second race. In between you lost two close races at a mile and 880 yards to Peter Snell. What is in the forefront of your mind about that tour as far as the racing and sight-seeing?
DBThat was my second trip to New Zealand as I had gone down there in 1961 and run races with Peter Snell and Murray Halberg. I ran eight or ten races in 1961 and won all of them but one. I had taken my winter term off from school. I was always in very good shape when I competed, especially for the big races, but I got married my senior year in 1961 and we had our first daughter, Ramey Lynn, on January 30, 1963 so when my wife was pregnant there were many challenges. I was running, but not in as good of shape as I should have been. I’m sorry for that as I should have been in better shape and more of a help for our team down there. I never said anything about it at the time, but just kept it quiet. I didn’t carry my load and Keith Forman really stood up for us.
GCR:After the 1964 Olympics, you worked in Sweden for about a year, then returned to Oregon, worked for the Upward Bound Program and in 1965 he earned your Master's Degree in Parks Administration. Were you mentally preparing to change from concentrating on racing to your professional career?
DBYes, I definitely knew it was time for me to start doing that. I was very fortunate with the way my professional career was starting and most of my life I have been fortunate. As far as the time in Sweden, I like the Scandinavians and my wife and I have travelled there since I retired at age 56.
GCR:In 1965 you raced in a benefit meet for Oregon long jumper Bob Woodell who was in an accident and became a paraplegic. What were your mixed emotions of racing well in 3:57.7 and leading both Roscoe Divine and Wade Bell under four minutes, helping to raise money for Bob, but also being aware of the sadness of his situation?
DBThat darn float had fallen on Bob and it was sad though it was great that Bill Bowerman had organized the meet to help with Bob’s medical expenses which meant an awful lot. Wade Bell is another great runner who doesn’t get a lot of recognition though he still is listed in Oregon’s fastest 880s. He is a CPA and has worked track meets year in and year out. He was one of our best athletes and has contributed to the Oregon track program in a major way as a volunteer. There is a big bronze statue of Bill Bowerman by the track and I’ve often felt there should be another of Wade for what he’s done over the years for the Oregon track program.
GCR:Was it both a turning point and a changing of the guard at the 1966 AAU meet when you and Jim Grelle followed Jim Ryun’s leading the whole way and then Ryun ran a 52 last lap to pull away for the win?
DBIn 1966 I wasn’t in as good of shape as I had gone very fast through my studies and earned my Master’s degree after only three terms. Also I was a parent and I had a full-time job after I got my Master’s. But that was a changing of the guard. That was just the start and we never really saw the end. He was great his whole career and I think he would have been even greater if he had kept running for several more years.
GCR:What do you think about Jim Ryun’s 3:51.1 World Record mile at the 1967 AAU meet on a crumbling dirt track in Bakersfield?
DBHe would have run 3:48 or faster on a modern track. Those clay tracks get chewed up on each lap and we didn’t have shoes that were even close in comparison to the shoes today – I can’t believe how neat the shoes are now. You can’t compare his times with the times of today. It’s the same as not adjusting times of Elliott and Snell for the new tracks of today.
GCR:You were attempting to make a try for the 1968 Olympics but strained a calf muscle. What happened in your training and racing and what was your final race?
DBMy opportunity to redeem myself for my 1964 Olympic race would have been in 1968 but I had a calf injury. I went down to L.A. in the winter of 1967 which I did so that I could wear a shirt that had SHGPBYRA on it for the Sweet Home Green Pier Boat, Yacht and Regatta Association. That was a Chamber of Commerce organization that was promoting building facilities on the two significant bodies of water in the county where I worked. People at home got a great laugh out of my wearing that shirt. I was training hard especially in 1968, but I was busy with my position building parks and that is what I wanted to do. I ran one race with my pulled calf muscle for my brother at Chico State. I don’t even know the time, maybe 4:10, and then I hobbled off the track. But I still thought I had a chance due to my buildup of speed and strength. My original goal was to just come out – boom – in the spring and to start racing. I would have needed the time off from work, which I could have worked out, so that I could train at high elevation. But maybe it’s good it didn’t work out.
GCR:Speaking of running at high elevation, what are your thoughts on Jim Ryun’s performance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics where he earned the Silver medal in the 1,500 meters behind Kenya’s Kip Keino?
DBI was really sad how it ended up for Jim Ryun having to face a man who grew up at altitude. At times I lived vicariously through Jim Ryun. He was incredible. He trained so hard which is why he may not have stayed around. I had enough flexibility in my job that I could still train for the 1968 Olympics and I noticed at that later age that I could do things I couldn’t do at a younger age. A runner doesn’t reach a peak until a later age. I had kept a low profile and was going to pounce on the scene. I was training with Chuck Bowles, who was an Oregon assistant coach who had moved on to Willamette College. I had pulled a calf muscle several times and lost my conditioning and realized I couldn’t make my third Olympic team. I regretted it as I would have been at my very best. The reason I mention this is that Ryun had much better years ahead of him as did Steve Prefontaine. I was living vicariously through them and Pre had an accident and Ryun retired.
GCR:Let’s take a look at when you started running as a teenager. What was the influence of the mid-1950s excitement of John Landy, Roger Bannister and Wes Santee’s aim to break the four-minute mile and how exciting was it to be a distance runner back then?
DBThis is why I was a miler. All three of these guys were incredible. It was so unreal that the AAU took away Wes Santee’s amateur status for a mere pittance. This goes way back in my childhood to the two major things that affected my entire life. First, when I was little I went with some relatives and my brother and sister under the redwoods. I saw a man on a horse that had a really neat uniform. He was a Park Ranger and to me at about 10 years old I was thinking how this guy got to make a living doing this in a beautiful park and at that moment I decided that one day my career would be in parks. Second, when I was 14 I sat at the library at Cottage Grove High School and saw the Sportsman of the Year was Roger Banister and that he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I decided that I wanted to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and that I wanted to run the mile. So I set that as my goal. I really admired Roger Bannister and I still do. What he accomplished was so much since he was only running an hour a day while he was in medical school on a crappy track. The race that is really memorable is the Commonwealth Championships in Vancouver, Canada where Bannister and Landy faced each other. We saw it on television and back then it was just incredible to be watching.
GCR:At Cottage Grove High School you were developed by Coach Wally Ciocehetti exclusively for your first two years and by ‘Chick’ and Sam Bell your final two years. What was their training philosophy, how many days per week did you run, what were some favorite track sessions and what was your progression in the mile?
DBI started out running my freshman year and ran a 4:45 mile and I earned a letter. I was the best at Cottage Grove, but we were a small school that was just big enough to be in classification with the big schools that dominated us. My sophomore year I ran around 4:32, my junior year got down to 4:24 and then my senior year ran 4:13. I can’t emphasize enough the influence of Bill Bowerman on our program even down to the same color of workout sheets used at Oregon. One thing which helped me to be successful is that I ran three times a week in the winter. Remember this was way back when twice-a-days weren’t done. In fact I didn’t do them until the middle of my college years. Basically I was doing the same things that the very good runners were doing – like Dellinger, Bailey and Grelle – all the guys I admired as a young man. I ran sets of 4 x 330 or sets of a 660,440,330 and 220. I just did less than they were doing, but it was a Bowerman-dominated training program. I give credit for my being a good runner to Coach Wallace Ciocehetti. He was an outstanding man who worked at the Oregon track meets for many years until he finally passed away from Alzheimer’s disease at the end.
GCR:Did you try any of the other events when you started out on your high school track and field team?
DBI did a little high jumping; in fact I jumped six feet with the old western roll at a meet and then went off to run another race. It was up in Eugene. I ran the race to get our team some points and then they told me they had remeasured my jump at 5 feet, 11 and a half inches, so I never did jump six feet. My hand-eye coordination isn’t that good so running served me well. I thought about taking up golf in later years but it would take me about two days to finish 18 holes.
GCR:In high school you were the Oregon State Cross Country champ, State Mile champ and lowered the national prep mile record by three seconds with your 4:13.2. Was there anyone running close to you in those races or were they solo time trials where you tested yourself?
DBI guess I did okay in cross country, but I considered myself primarily a track man. The track races were genuine races though the one where I set the national high school record was set up and I had someone to follow. I didn’t just go off on my own and get the record – I had a pacer. He paced me for the first part and another runner jogged slowly, got a lap behind me and then pulled me along.
GCR:How tough was making your collegiate choice between Oregon with Coach Bill Bowerman, Oregon State which had just hired Coach Sam Bell and any other colleges?
DBIt was Oregon all the way, all the way. Cottage Grove was close to Oregon and there was never a thought of going elsewhere. Sam Bell got his master’s degree at Oregon and he was influenced by Bowerman.
GCR:What were some of the major differences in training when you went to Oregon?
DBWe started jogging some in the morning which was a major change. Even on Sundays after Bill went to church he would come out and work with us at the track for part of the year. He was there for us all of the time. Bill was always refining things but basically he started adding more work in the future especially when he found out when Jim Ryun trained out here that Jim was doing what we did, only a lot more of it. Things are more sophisticated now, the tracks are better and diet and sports medicine are better, but I don’t think there is a tremendous difference in what we were doing and what they do today.
GCR:Did you sustain many injuries during your collegiate career?
DBNo, I was very fortunate. Except for 1968 and that calf injury I had a charmed life.
GCR:What was Coach Bill Bowerman’s influence on you in terms of your running progress and transitioning from a teenager to a responsible young man?
DBBill had a big influence on everybody. My father and Bill were the two key men in my life. Since Cottage Grove was a short distance from Eugene I could go home any time I wanted and I did. The first year they required us to live in a dorm and the noise from people in the dorms and cars outside was a big adjustment to me. By the spring I had adjusted pretty well and didn’t go home as much. But when I wanted a good meal and not a dorm meal I went home. I still didn’t do my own laundry. My adjustment was gradual. When I was home for a time in the summer I noticed I wasn’t used to the sound of crickets through the open windows and silence. I was now used to the noise of that dorm. But back to Bill - he was always there for me and his wife, Barbara, would cook so I got a lot of good steak meals out at their place.
GCR:Could you share any Bill Bowerman stories including one of his trying to talk you out of getting married?
DBThat is a true story. I had a girlfriend in high school and she went to college in South Dakota so we had a natural split. I was an 18 year old and Bill tried to keep me focused on running rather than my possible thoughts of getting married. He was right and if I had gotten married I wouldn’t have had much of a running career – I would have had one, but not as successful. There were also lots of nice coeds at Oregon and Bill was smart to keep us focused on running.
GCR:When you were done competing in college what changed as far as your intense training sessions, long runs, total mileage and balancing running and work?
DBThere was a constant evolution. There was no stagnation. The volume was increasing. I worked for a general insurance company, Smith and Crakes’, which gave me plenty of time to train. I knew I wanted to go into park management, but that was in the future. I had ideal conditions with plenty of time to train and all the time off I needed to compete in track meets. When I went with the US team to Russia in 1963, Jay Don Smith from the insurance company, was an official who went with our team.
GCR:It often takes a tough opponent to help us reach our potential. Did you have any favorite competitors or adversaries that really helped to push yourself to the limit?
DBIt’s the best of the best. In 1961 when Peter Snell and I raced eight races down under it was a lot of fun.
GCR:With the luxury of hindsight, is there anything you could have done differently in training and racing focus that may have resulted in better performances?
DBWe talked about the Olympic final in Tokyo and what I should have done when Peter Snell made his move which I have relived a lot. If we were training today it would be much better but also much more difficult because we have to compete against top Kenyans and Moroccans and others. Current runners like Galen Rupp have it much harder than I did because it is a profession and so many runners are training hard. Even diet is much more sophisticated today. Back when I was running Bill would take us to a place called The Faculty Club and we would have steak and eggs – where in the world were the carbohydrates! (Laughing heartily). Everything continues to evolve and to get better.
GCR:If you were racing at the level you were in the early to mid-1960s and there were the sponsorship opportunities to make a living that there are today, would you have continued to focus on your running career?
DBI wanted to go into my second career with the parks. If there had been a choice in 1968 between pro running and my professional career, my profession with the parks would have won out. It would be fun to have the chance to do that, but then I wouldn’t have been able to build parks.
GCR:The early 1960s was a time when track and field was very prominent in the American media and you appeared on CBS's Ed Sullivan Show an amazing six times. What are highlights of these appearances and why is it that track and field is not on the radar of most Americans except during the Olympics?
DBThat was always fun to be invited to be on the Ed Sullivan Show – I would always say, ‘Hi mom and dad!’ Ed would give us tickets to Broadway plays. I thought he was a really neat guy. He would say, ‘hello’ or ‘good to see you again,’ but I never got to spend time with him at dinner or something like that. These days we have so many opportunities in so many different sports that kids can compete in so that is part of the decline of interest in track and field. And let’s face it – football, basketball and baseball are sports where most kids compete.
GCR:One of your college teammates at Oregon was Phil Knight who went on to fame and fortune as the head of Nike – could you have foreseen this occurrence?
DBI was a freshman when Phil Knight was a senior and then in the 1960s and 1970s I watched as he was working with Bill Bowerman and their shoe designs and sales. It has been something to watch him evolve with Nike even to the present day. He is the 40th richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine with an estimated worth of $14.4 billion dollars. It is amazing the people in your life that you know when you were both young, like Phil, and you have no idea they would have these great successes.
GCR:You had wanted to be a Park Ranger as a child and ended up as the director of Linn County Parks and Museums for 31 years, designing buildings and parks. How rewarding was your professional career?
DBAfter I graduated I got job where I was in a regional park system which was just beginning to materialize and I worked there for 31 years. I enjoyed my time running and I enjoyed travelling but what probably gives me the most satisfaction is to go into all of the parks and museums that I’ve been able to have a part in creating, some with hands-on architecture. The people I worked with for 31 years include many great friends. I reported directly to the Board of Commissioners who gave me a long leash so to speak. I had lots of contact with the people in the county and they were all good so sometimes I think I had a charmed life. My life was planned out and worked out nicely. I planned to build a home in the country so that my wife could have the home she wanted and we would be able to travel and I’m glad I did that as now it is getting hard to do that. I rarely got sick as in 31 years I only used three-and-a half days of sick leave. I attribute my good health to exercise – running and weight lifting.
GCR:Have you followed the sport of track and field closely over the years since your retirement and who are some of your favorite competitors?
DBMy wife keeps up on our television and records every track meet. I am also fortunate where I live as the Oregon track program is fantastic. If I lived somewhere else I’d have to go to Europe more often to see great track meets. There is such a list that it seems unfair to only mention a few. I talked earlier about living vicariously through Jim Ryun and Steve Prefontaine. Some others that come to mind are Sebastian Coe and Oregon runners such as Galen Rupp, Matt Centrowitz and Alberto Salazar with his near total exhaustion in some of his marathons.
GCR:You were inducted into several Halls of Fame including the USATF HOF in 2010, the University of Oregon HOF in 1993 and were included in the inaugural class of the Cottage Grove High School HOF in 2008. Is it both rewarding and humbling to be so recognized?
DBIt is both of those emotions. The first Hall of Fame I was inducted into was for the state of Oregon as there was one created for our entire state. It was quite an experience because I had heard stories of football great, Norm van Brocklin, forever and got to meet him. He was one of the original inductees and I saw him having a drink in a bar before the ceremonies. I was so excited, went in and introduced myself and he was three sheets to the wind. He was quite a character and it was legendary that he had been in a few barroom fights. I just wanted to meet a guy like that. He didn’t know who I was which was fine.
GCR:After you retired from competitive running what did you do for fitness and what is your current exercise regimen?
DBI continued running until about a year ago. After I stopped competing I would still go to the track and run sets of faster short repeats as I liked that. I was having lunch with Dave Wilborn and Kim Taylor a couple of weeks ago and we were remembering how we would do sets of 220s without looking at our watch until we stopped it and we’d see who could get the closest each time to 30 seconds and that guy would win. I always had a good mind for that and won my share of them. I stayed on the track even when I moved out here and we finished out home 13 years ago when I was almost sixty years old. There is a high school here and I was still doing intervals until I started having knee problems. There are some places in Oregon that are awesomely beautiful. We have a great place called Silver Creek Falls so I ended up running there often. I also ran in a wildlife refuge which is seven miles away. Where I live the terrain isn’t flat – you go up or down. When running downhill started bothering my knees I had to go to flatlands to run. I was still running, but a lot slower. Also from about age forty onward I lifted heavy weights for about 25 years. I have a loop I ran for years that is 5.1 miles according to my pickup truck. I kept getting slower as I was running 42 minutes, then 43 minutes and then 45 minutes. About a year ago I did that loop and my knee really hurt – the last two miles were very slow and I was right at 50 minutes. Then the knee kept bothering me and when I had my annual physical they told me I have cartilage toward the outside of my knees but none in the center so I had to give up running. What I’m doing for exercise – today is a good example. I’ll go to this little club where I’ve been going for years and do some light weights. I do the basic upper body seven lifts. Then I do the Stairmaster since there is no pounding and then about 40 minutes to an hour on the elliptical machine. I also visit and socialize with people, which is what I really enjoy. The muscle I exercise the most is my jaw! But I did have over 50 years of running. I sometimes find that when I have dreams just before I wake up that I can remember I am always running in my dreams. I’m running in Europe or I’m running at Silver Creek Falls. I can’t physically run anymore, but I can in my dreams.
GCR:What goals do you have for yourself in fitness, philanthropy and other aspects of your life for the upcoming years?
DBI have wife who is 12 years younger than me, two daughters and the University of Oregon and I care deeply about providing for all of them. My daily routine is simple. I get up at 5:30 and read for an hour and then follow the stock market which is an interest of mine. I probably spend 20 hours a week following financial information mainly on television. I had an aspiration of going to every country in the western hemisphere which is harder with my knee. I want to take my wife to some areas in Europe and I want to go to Chile and Paraguay. I’d like to go up the Amazon River. But maybe my major travel days are over. I’m going to pretty much continue doing what I do now. In 1962 we had a terrific storm, ‘The Columbus Day Storm,’ which caused much damage and devastation to structures and forested areas. Prices dropped and I bought a timber farm in 1963 that I have owned for almost 50 years. I’m a basic person, a simple person and live below my means and that isn’t going to change.
GCR:What are the major lessons you have learned during your life from growing up in a small town, the discipline of running, your career with Linn County and any adversity you have faced that you would like to share with my readers?
DBI gave you the one major lesson already – don’t look up when pigeons fly overhead! But seriously, in life consistency, discipline and regimentation are important. That is the way I was raised and that’s the way I am.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsThey have evolved. In my younger years I really loved to ski and did a little cross country ski racing but I was always last or next to last. My competitors would ‘purchase and kick glide’ while I would ‘purchase and slide.’ I also like downhill skiing. But after I hurt a knee playing racquetball in my 40s I quit skiing and racquetball because I didn’t want to give up running. I dreaded that day which has now finally come. I have a sail boat and like to sail. Long ago I did get my scuba certification, got my air card in 1972 and am certified, but I don’t keep a tank. We went to Belize a few years ago and I dove from a boat, got to pet a sting ray and a nurse shark, but that was my last time scuba diving
NicknamesBurly – many people only know me as ‘Burly.’ When I was a kid I was stocky so it fit me well. When my running career was over and I was lifting a lot of weights, Bill Bowerman hadn’t seen me in a few years. The first thing he said when he saw me was, ‘You ought to be a weight man,’ as I fit my nickname
Favorite movies‘Chariots of Fire’ is incredible and is definitely my favorite
Favorite TV showsI never watched much television until my retirement when I was getting further along in years. There is a program I enjoy called, ‘Justified,’ about a federal agent who is in Appalachia. The characters are like those in James Dickey’s ‘Deliverance’ and are unique people from that area. It is so funny and the characters are from an entirely different world. I watch Fox Business and CNBC. I am a sports nut- especially for every track meet
Favorite musicOldies from the 1960s and 1970s, but just for listening as I’m not a good singer. My hearing, voice and rhythm just aren’t very good
Favorite booksI like many of Hemingway’s works and I have all of them
First carIt was a 1952 Ford that I got in 1956
Current vehiclesA Lexus and a 1997 Ford pickup which needed a second motor put in it as it was a lemon. I kid around that I want to be buried in that pickup when I die out on my timber farm. Because we live in the country I drive a car for 100,000 miles before we get a new one. We had a Volvo before the Lexus as we like cars rated as very safe
First JobsI was very fortunate as Cottage Grove was a mill town and there were jobs in timber and logging. For many years the industry was the backbone of the state’s economy on the west side. I had relatives that had mills and an uncle who was a carpenter. When I was twelve years old I had a long metal case that I still have which held my hammer, framing square and other tools and I was a gopher on a job when my uncle built two houses.. I always thought of them as nice, big houses but when I took my daughters out a few years ago to show them the homes they were tiny little houses. Then I worked in the mills and worked summer jobs all throughout high school. I was a ‘wannabe’ carpenter – if you went into my shop now you’d think I was a carpenter. My wife is always buying me new tools and many haven’t even been used
FamilyMy wife is Deberra and we've been together for 25 years. My brother, Larry, is 18 months older than me. He got his Bachelor’s degree at Linfield, a small Oregon college. He was a football player and has faded telegrams on his wall from Vince Lombardi and from the 49ers giving him an opportunity to try out to play pro football. He is about six feet four inches – a big guy. He is a professor at Chico State and is ‘retired,’ but is one of those who became a professor emeritus. My oldest daughter, Raemi, is 49 and my baby, Darby Jane, is 44 or 45 – I’ll have to ask my wife. Since I didn’t have a son she sometimes had the nickname of D.J.
PetsI’ve always had dogs and I love my dogs. In my younger days I used to bird hunt but I’ve changed and would never shoot a bird now. I’ve always had Black Labs and German Shepherds. But when we started travelling more we didn’t have a dog as it just isn’t fair to the animal to leave it all of the time. What I have now since the homes in this subdivision are each on two to five acre lots that used to be a cattle ranch are animals for grazing. On my five acre lot there is a half-acre set for the yard and the rest is to be mowed so I have herbivores. I started with three sheep and two llamas. The sheep were Larryina, Curlina and Moelina whose names come from ‘The Three Stooges’ and the llamas were Sebastian, for Sebastian Coe, and Reginald. But they have all grown old and passed on. Now I have two goats, two alpacas and one llama. The llama is older and its name was Knight when we got him. The two goats are Jethro and Nanette and they are a brother and sister. The goats are young and they have everything they need in the pasture. The two alpacas are Rufus and Buford. They are both males
Favorite breakfastEvery Sunday we watch CBS Sunday Morning and have hot cakes or biscuits, bacon and eggs. These are my old Cottage Grove favorites on which I was raised. I also really like omelets and my favorite in shrimp and cheese
Favorite mealI really like crustaceans and mollusks. My favorite is lobster and then crab, clams and oysters
Favorite beveragesCoffee – I have to have my morning coffee fix. About 20 years ago I went to Costa Rico with a friend of mine and we got some coffee that was really good. We have a place here where we can get the Costa Rican coffee and I make it for when I’m reading my paper and watching the markets. It is very strong and there is a panic around my house if I don’t have my coffee. We have a lot of nice microbreweries in Oregon but I don’t have a sophisticated palette for them, they have a lot of calories and I have a challenge keeping my weight down. My weakness is milkshakes – when I’m going past a Baskin-Robbins my pickup truck pulls in and I have to get some. I really love ice cream but I’ve had to cut down
First running memoryThe Coburg Relays which were held in the little town of Coburg, just outside of Eugene. I think Bill Bowerman’s boys went to school there. When I was in seventh or eighth grade we went there and I got my first blue ribbon for a sprint. I had that ribbon up on the wall for a while
Running heroesRoger Bannister was the primo one; also Herb Elliott and John Landy when I was younger. Jim Ryun and Steve Prefontaine were heroes when I was older whom I lived vicariously through; when Pre died it sent a shock through Oregon that may have been felt more than when President Kennedy was shot. He did a great job of bringing the fans into the race with him. He started the tradition of doing the victory laps regularly; Currently Andrew Wheating
Greatest running momentsThat first sub-four mile on Hayward Field thanks to Ernie Cunliffe – that would be it. As a memory that isn’t only for me it would be those two teams when we won the NCAA and when the relay set the World Record
Worst running momentThe 1964 Olympic final. It was my entire fault. It would have been nice to have someone to blame, but I don’t
Childhood dreamsWhen I was eight or ten my dream was to be a Park Ranger and when I was 14 to be like Roger Bannister and be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The dreams stayed with me and are still a significant part of my life. I have been incredibly fortunate
Funny memoriesI have a friend who lives in the Russian River Valley near Santa Rosa and he took us out to some wine tastings. He was trying to get me to take in the aromas and subtleties but I thought everything tasted the same. I was enjoying cleaning my palette with walnuts. Pretty soon he got frustrated and said, ‘Burly, all you ever need is Ripple!’
Favorite places to travelI really like the Mayans and the Incas so I’ve been fortunate to visit Montipichu about 20 years ago. The real reason we went to Belize wasn’t for scuba diving, but because it was close to Guatemala and we were able to travel to many of the Mayan areas. I don’t like going over and over again to the same places – I like seeing new places. However, I did go back to some places I had been to when I was running because when I ran I didn’t take advantage of sightseeing opportunities. After the race there was a short period of fun but then I was just thinking about my next race. I had a goal to go to Australia and New Zealand again and I wanted to see the Tasmanian Devils as there is a concern they could go extinct due to a disease which is affecting them. We saw them at a park and the park staff threw in a piece of kangaroo meat and the Tasmanian Devils fought for it. I have good memories of New Zealand and Australia and especially of seeing the old 1956 Olympic Stadium in Melbourne and the wonderful new Olympic venues from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. We saw New Zealand before the earthquake hit Christchurch. It was a great time as I hadn’t been back since the early 1960s. Long travel is bothering me more though whether it is to the Pacific countries, South America or Europe due to the time it takes and the time zone differences
Final comments from interviewerIt was both an honor and fun to spend over two hours on the phone with a man who was an oustanding miler and 1,500 meter runner for the University of Oregon and who helped set the standard for the great tradition of the Ducks' outstanding track and field program. This humble man didn't realize his dream of an Olympic medal, but through both his running exploits and work to build and enhance parks in Oregon has been inspring to many.