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Charlie Capozzoli — January, 2013
Charlie Capozzoli was a member of the 1952 United States Olympic team in the 5,000 meters where he competed in Helsinki, Finland. Two weeks after the Olympics he won the 3-mile in the USA vs. British Empire meet in an American Record. Charlie finished third in the 1948 Olympic Trials 5,000 meters. He is a 1953 graduate of Georgetown University where he won the 1952 NCAA and IC4A Cross-Country championships. Charlie also won the AAU 3-mile in 1953 and the IC4A 2-mile in 1952 and 1953. He was runner-up at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in the 2-mile in 1951 and 5,000 meters in 1952. In early 1953 he beat 1952 Olympic steeplechase Gold Medalist Horace Ashenfelter in the indoor 2-mile in a Collegiate Record 8:55.2. At the 1953 Drake Relays he anchored Georgetown’s victorious distance medley and 4-mile relay squads. Charlie graduated from Bayside High School in New York where highlights included winning the mile at the Queens borough, New York City Public School and New York State Championships. His personal best times include: 1,500m – 3:51.6; Mile – 4:07.8; 2-mile – 8:55.3; 3-mile – 13:51.8 and 5,000 meters – 14:27.4. Charlie was inducted into the NYAC Hall of Fame in 2009. The retired salesman lives in Dana Point, CA and was married for 46 years to his wife, Donna, who passed away in 2001. They have four children and 18 grandchildren. Charlie has written three books including his autobiography, ‘Run to Win: Love and Sacrifice,’ which is available at He was kind enough to spend over one and a half hours on the telephone in January, 2013.
GCR:The title of your autobiography is, ‘Run to Win: Love and Sacrifice.’ How do these words sum up your approach to both running and life?
CCRunning, as far as I’m concerned, builds character and prepares you for the ups and downs in life which we all go through. But we don’t give up the ship. For instance if we lose a race one week we come back and try again. It’s that perseverance and dream to be good at what you do. Perseverance and persistence pay off in the long run, but it takes a champion to overcome all of the hurdles. No matter what you in life there are obstacles and if you want to be good at what you do you have to sacrifice and work hard at it.
GCR:How did your parents and family shape you as a person and how did running influence and change your life?
CCMy parents both were born in New York City, but my father’s mother took him back to Italy at the age of two until he was 17 years old. He learned to be a cobbler and when he came back on the boat to return to America without any parent that was the last time in his life that he saw his mother or father. Unlike what we see today, he respected America as the land of opportunity and thought of this as they came in past the Statue of Liberty. With his children my father liked to sit around the dinner table and discuss his youth and how he and his father loved America. My dad wanted me to pursue a career in something and to learn to play a musical instrument which many kids did back then when it was cold in winter and we didn’t go outside much to play except for snowball fights. My dad didn’t push me, but he encouraged me. He saw that I had a certain talent for running which I never even knew was a sport. Because of my dad’s encouragement my mom and aunts and uncles all were enthusiastic about my running. The camaraderie with my fellow athletes was outstanding and to this day I remember the great pole vaulter, Bob Richards, waving up to my relatives in the audience at Madison Square Garden. Running was a great experience and led to a scholarship to Georgetown and paid for trips to Europe where I competed. We didn’t make any money, but we sure had fun and enjoyed the competition. So, I had the support of my family and friends which made me realize that they believed in me and so I should pursue it and win or lose to do my best. It made no difference as long as I was a good sportsman and shook hands before the race and shook hands after the race, but once the gun went off I did my best to beat them fair and square. At Georgetown due to my running I earned a full scholarship which today would be about $60,000 per year. Also, because of my running career I met my wife here in California after the Coliseum Relays.
GCR:You represented the United States at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland in the 5,000 meters. With only a half dozen years of running under your belt as Georgetown University junior, was it a bit daunting to be competing on such a big stage, had this been a dream for many years and how was your training leading up to the Olympics?
CCWhat happened is that my high school coach, George Wright, saw something in me that probably I didn’t see in myself. When I was at Georgetown in my first year in 1949 he wrote me a letter and said that he wanted me to start training specifically for the Olympic Games. I didn’t even know what the heck he was talking about. But I believed in him and, more than anything, he believed in me. So I started working my butt off and when it was time for the Olympic Trials at the Coliseum my 5,000 race was on a Friday and Curt Stone, Wes Santee and I qualified for the Olympics. I called New York right away and talked to me mother and I was just getting ready to tell her that I made the team. She said, ‘Charlie, I’m here praying that you make the team when you run tomorrow.’ I told her, ‘Your prayer has been answered as I made the team today.’ Once I made the team I probably over trained as I ran too hard. Also, a few days before my competition I was running barefoot on a track and grassy area and got into some kind of a friendly sort of race or competition with a little guy and I thought that he couldn’t beat me. So we really went at it and I had no idea who he was. We went at it for about 45 minutes. I would take the lead, and then he’d take the lead. Then I’d stop and start again. After that episode I found out it was Alain Mimoun from France who finished second to Emil Zatopek. There were some Olympic coaches sitting on a fence watching us and they said that was better than watching the Olympic Games. From running on that half grass and half dirt area with my shoes off I developed an infection in my foot, but I don’t talk about that in my book as it is an excuse. I had to have it lanced and it took a bit out of me. But then after the Games almost no one could beat me. I beat Horace Ashenfelter after the Games and ran well until I got the flu which knocked me out for about five months.
GCR:You led for much of your 5,000 meter heat, before finishing seventh and failing to qualify for the final. What are some of your memories as to how the race developed, your tactics and that final lap when you saw the finals slip away?
CCThe pus infection on my foot did take something out of me and my glands were swollen under my arms and in other places. But I took the lead by mistake and all the other runners did was to ‘just follow Charlie’ and let me do all of the work. On the last lap it was like they said, ‘We’ll see you Charlie, thanks a lot!’
GCR:What else of the Olympic experience stands out including the Opening Ceremonies, other track and field competition or other events you may have attended?
CCIt was very thrilling to be in the Opening Ceremonies in my USA uniform with my teammates. I was always down on the center of the track except for one race when Johnny Barnes and a few others and I went up into the stands to watch the 1,500 meters. We wanted a full view of Bob McMillen and he almost beat Josy Barthel. We were up there praying for Bob. Johnny wanted to be a minister and Bob and I were deeply religious so we hung out together. Other than that race I was down on the field. When they did the shot put I was down there and I did stay out of their way. In those days the officials didn’t get us out of there. I got to know all of the guys like pole vaulter Bob Richards, decathlete Bob Matthias and shot putter Perry O’Brien. Perry was a serious guy in competition, but once you got to know him he was a funny guy.
GCR:Two weeks after the Olympics you defeated some outstanding runners in the U.S. versus British Empire meet and set an American Record in the 3-mile. What was the difference that helped to race so well and do you wish you had been in that form in Helsinki?
CCI learned from my Olympic race where I led as in the following weeks at the British Empire meet in London two of my dear buddies, Bob McMillen and Johnny Barnes, told me to not take the lead, but to stay behind Gordon Pirie. They said, ‘On the last lap we will yell, ‘Go Charlie, go, go,’ and don’t turn around to see where he is after you pass him.’ So I learned to let other runners take the lead and it worked. But when I ran against people I knew I could beat I would take the lead and just run my heart out. The Olympic Games inspired me and assured me that I should try to be a great runner and after the games I blossomed. Very few people could beat me after that.
GCR:At the 1952 Olympic Trials you finished third in the 5,000 meter final to make the U.S. Olympic team. How did you feel your chances were before the race and how exciting was it to make the team and to realize that you were an Olympian?
CCIt was a dream come true. I didn’t go up to the starting line thinking that I had to run well to make the team. I just knew that I had to do my best. It was easier to make the team at that time at 5,000 meters because Horace Ashenfelter was running heats and the final for the steeplechase and Fred Wilt was running the 1,500 meters. Of course, Curtis Stone was in there, and he made three straight teams. Curt, Wes Santee and I made the team, though Wes should have been in the 1,500 meters as he didn’t really like the 5,000 meters. When we got to the Olympics Curt and Wes didn’t advance to the finals. I didn’t either, but I was determined to do my best and did run the fastest of the three Americans.
GCR:During the 1952 cross country season after the Olympics you won both the IC4A and NCAA individual cross country titles. What do you recall of these races and did you enjoy cross country racing?
CCAfter coming back from the Olympics in great shape I won that IC4A meet which was a five-mile race. A week later was when I flew to Michigan alone to run the NCAA race which was four miles. There was some snow on the ground. The main competition was Rich Ferguson who was a Canadian student. So I won that race and beat Bob Black’s record and that night when the plane was landing there was an announcement, ‘Charlie Capozzoli please be the last one to disembark.’ I had no idea what in the world was going on as it was 12:30 at night. As soon as I hit the door the Georgetown band was playing and about 500 students were there. In those days the terminals weren’t that big and they took over the terminal and had a caravan back to Georgetown. That was a lot to excite a young man. It was one of my greatest experiences for having won a race.
GCR:Some have said that cross country titles are the most difficult because you must beat all distance runners who in the spring compete in races from 1,500 to 10,000 meters. For this reason is that NCAA Cross Country Championship extra special?
CCMy coach never said that I’d be running against ‘so-and-so’ and I didn’t really focus on that as I didn’t usually even know who I was running against. I don’t know if that was good or bad because maybe if I had read about them and people were writing that they were too tough for me to beat that might have spoiled my confidence. I agree with your statement though that cross country is the toughest test since all of the top runners are in one race.
GCR:In early 1953 you faced off with Horace Ashenfelter, the Olympic Steeplechase Gold Medalist, at two miles indoors. How exciting was it to beat Horace in a Collegiate Record 8:55.2?
CCThat 2-mile race was at the Boston Garden and nobody knew that I had beat him previously after the Games though I think he was just relaxing after having won at the Olympics in the steeplechase. But anyway the week before that 2-mile I wasn’t really mentioned as a possible winner as the talk was about Cosgul, from Turkey, and Ashenfelter. That week at Georgetown I was feeling so great that I not only did my workout during the day but I’d go out around 8:00 in the evening on the board track and just jog and jog some more. I didn’t have my indoor spikes ready for the race as I was filing done spikes on a great pair of track shoes that I’d bought in Finland. But since they weren’t ready I just wore rubber soled shoes that in those days were a brand called Hood. I said to myself, ‘Don’t make a mistake and try to take the lead.’ So I stayed behind and kept an eye on them and stayed within striking distance. It was 22 laps for the two miles so with about six laps to go I figured that if I wanted to win I had to start then. I picked up my speed and was feeling terrific and Cosgul the Turk had to make way as I lapped him. I knew that when I passed Ashenfelter I had to do it so that he couldn’t regain any energy and to let him know that this was for real. So when I passed him I kept going and hit the finish about 60 yards ahead which is almost half a lap at the Garden and of course the fans went crazy. They dimmed the lights and had a spotlight follow me around the track. I was asked to come to the back office and thought they were going to offer me some under-the-table money for my performance. I said to them that I thought I knew what they were talking about and that I couldn’t accept it, but they could go to the nearest Catholic Church and put it in the poor box and I’d appreciate if that is what they would do. It was a great night and it all boiled down to run to win – love and sacrifice.
GCR:You anchored Drake Relays victories for Georgetown in the 4-mile relay and distance medley relay in 1953 over Kansas which was anchored by Wes Santee. How much did you enjoy relay racing and beating such a strong team?
CCI was really a runner who was a loner and I always wanted to claim success or admit failure in an individual race. I did run relays, but it wasn’t my cup of tea as I liked being an individual runner. I enjoyed watching relays and especially enjoyed watching Wes Santee, may he rest in peace. He was like someone who had a Rolls Royce engine. What happened was that Kansas had beaten us in 1952 so we had a game plane that we had for 1953 to be so far out in front by the last leg that Wes wouldn’t even try to catch us which is what happened. He knew it was impossible to catch us. We were good friends and would kid around like I’d say after a race, ‘Hey Wes, you bum’ and it would get picked up even though we were just kidding around. It is like things that get picked up by the media today.
GCR:During your Georgetown days you had the opportunity to meet some famous entertainers when you travelled to meets. Could you relate some highlights of when you met Frank Sinatra?
CCWhen I was about 12 or 13 years old in New York it was the time of the ‘Battle of the Baritones.’ Those were Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Andy Williams and all of these great singers. I wanted to be like one of them until my dad said, ‘maybe we should listen to you in about another two years.’ What he meant was that I wasn’t ready yet. So when my Georgetown team was in Los Angeles and we were set to run in relays at the Coliseum, there in our hotel lobby was standing Frank Sinatra. We were wearing our Georgetown colors of blue and gray with white shirts and striped ties and were standing in the lobby. So Frank Sinatra came over to us and may have thought that we were bellboys. He said,’ What are you guys doing in town?’ We told him we were going to run some races. He said, ‘When are you running?’ After we told him it was the next day, he said, ‘I’m appearing for opening night at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel and I’d like to have you and your coach as my guests so someone will greet you at the front desk.’ The Ambassador Hotel was the place to be at that time. We went and I had a ball. When we walked in and the maître‘d sat us right down front at a table the others must have thought with our handsome coach that we were a group of singers. There were movie stars all over the place. Frank Sinatra was just a great guy. It’s like when I was honored at an event for Italian Americans who were being recognized and I met Perry Como. When you are twelve years old and you admire these men and then you meet them eight or nine years later and they are great it is really something.
GCR:I don’t know if that meeting with Frank Sinatra could be topped, but didn’t you and your teammates meet Miss Universe contestants in Los Angeles the next year when you were in town for the same meet?
CCYes we did and there are so many funny things that happened – some of which I didn’t put in my book to avoid embarrassment to my coach. He thought he had us in a nice quiet hotel and there I was working the elevator taking Miss Universe contestants to their room! The girls were taken around in Cadillac convertibles so one of my teammates rented one, joined the line of Cadillacs the next day and took one of the contestants to their next destination. It was like a reward for all of the hard work we did.
GCR:Did you meet any other entertainment stars due to your running performances?
CCMy senior year in college I received a phone call in my room and the caller wanted to take pictures of me with Bob Hope. Regretfully, these were possibly the most important pictures and I never got them. The picture has a senator as the starter and Bob Hope and I on the starting line. It’s sad to say, but in the past I offered $1,000 for those pictures but I haven’t got them. Usually they sent them to the University, but I didn’t see them. I still pray to this day that some way they pop up. For a young kid, meeting Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Bob Hope was special.
GCR:With your success in cross country, indoor track racing and outdoor track, which was your favorite and why?
CCTo our coach and for runners who were from New York City the indoor track meets were very big in popularity when compared to the outdoor meets. Many of the fans came to all of the events and they looked forward to the time when the Boston Knights of Columbus meet and others were held. Unfortunately, many of the fans smoked cigars and we had to breathe that in. But indoors was exciting especially on the banked tracks. When we came off of the banked turn we just kind of flew. So it was marvelous compared to outdoors. I hated certain outdoor track like Randall’s Island as it was a horrible track. We had to run on cinders and other bad surfaces. The Olympic track was a nice track, not when compared to today, but they were on their way. I just loved indoor running in New York City. Unfortunately, I never ran in Florida where you live though I probably would have loved that.
GCR:You raced well at 1,500 meters, the mile, 2-mile and up to 5,000 meters. What was your favorite distance?
CCActually it was the mile. In high school that’s what I ran though of course I did win the local cross country race, the Queens Borough Championship. But the mile was my thing. Unfortunately my college coach had someone in mind for that event even to the point of asking me not to win my final race at Georgetown. I approached a priest who was there about it and he told me to run to win. Of course my mind was confused and I decided on the last lap to run to win. I ran a 4:07 after coming through the half mile in 2:07 or 2:08, which is slow. But I wasn’t sure what to do as my coach was sort of a strange guy who wasn’t afraid to show his emotions if you contradicted what he said. I then came back and won the 2-mile which added more fury to my coach’s demeanor. That day I ran the fastest back-to-back mile and 2-mile in collegiate history. But I loved the mile and my goal was to run a fast mile, not necessarily a four-minute mile, but a fast one.
GCR:When you graduated from Georgetown in 1953, you went to grad school for a while, then enlisted in the army and got more serious with the young lady who would soon become your wife. How was it transitioning from college and running to being a husband while still doing your best with your God-given talents?
CCTo me my wife was the biggest and best trophy of all. When I met her she was young and I don’t think she realized the prestige of running. One of the important things to me is that I always offered up my races to God for his greater glory. I figured if God was on my team I couldn’t lose. Even if I didn’t win a certain race, how could I lose as God was still on my team?
GCR:You ran well for another year, but retired from competitive racing at a young age as most runners did in the amateur era. Would you have liked to take a shot at the four-minute mile and to make another Olympic team?
CCOh yes, I would have liked to run a faster mile as I believe the mile was my best race, but others felt that as I ran longer races that I got better and better and I did like the 2-mile. The race that I really wish they had at the time was three-fourths of a mile as it is a race that when you are at your peak and the gun goes off you can run all out – it is a perfect distance. I most likely would have run a faster mile but I think that my coach made a big mistake in 1953. I was already the fastest miler in the U.S. with a 4:07.8 and was ready for a faster time. But my coach put me on the 2-mile relay team about a half hour before the mile at one meet. I ran my fastest half mile with a 1:53 and only had about 20 minutes rest and it just wasn’t enough recovery. I was ready for a 4:04 or something close to that.
GCR:Your senior year in high school you won mile at the Queens borough, New York City Public School and New York State Championships What do recall that stands out from any of those three races?
CCWhen I won the state mile championship it was in Schenectady, New York and the weather that day really appealed to me as it was slightly overcast. That is when I did my best because I could breathe better. In Schenectady I ran a 4:25 to win and it was easy with nothing to it. I don’t want you to think I’m bigheaded, but I’m just telling it the way it was. I didn’t lose a race all year around.
GCR:You and Fred Dwyer, the top prep miler from New Jersey had a battle for the ages with you narrowly winning. How big was the hype for that race and how tough was it to beat Dwyer?
CCI was the New York champ and Fred was the New Jersey champ, but I didn’t know a thing about him. I was 18 years old and we ran in New Jersey on a track that had puddles in the first and second lane where we would normally run. So, we ran no closer to the inside of the track than the third lane and outside of the second lane. It was really muddy as well. I took the lead and didn’t know where he was, but when the gun went off for the last lap he went by and was beating the pants off of me on the back stretch. But I thought, ‘You can’t give up until you cross that finish line.’ He was so far out in front and I knew his father was there watching, so suddenly I had thoughts of what I was going to tell my dad since I hadn’t lost a race all year. With my father there were no excuses – you either win or you lose. Then I was thinking, ‘Where are these angels that always help me?’ Then all of a sudden – bingo – with 220 yards to go I just started pounding away. When we came down the straightaway it was so close. We both had the same time and, if you look at the picture, which is on the cover of my book, you can’t tell who won, though I was declared the winner. Fred, who is a good friend of mine, told me later that his dad didn’t sleep for a week. If you were there watching you would have bet your home that poor Charlie wasn’t going to catch Fred. We did run close to the national high school mile record held by Louis Zamperini at the time which was a 4:21.2, though I didn’t know who Zamperini was. I just ran to win. That was the whole purpose – run to win, enjoy the sport and meet a lot of beautiful people who to this day are friends and buddies.
GCR:You mentioned that you didn’t know about Louis Zamperini. Were you familiar with Don Gehrmann or some of the other top milers from just before your collegiate running days?
CCWhen I was in high school I watched Don Gehrmann win races at Madison Square Garden. My inspiration was ’The Flying Parson,’ Gil Dodds, whom I saw win many races at the Garden when I was in high school. I took pictures of him though I don’t know where they are. At the Garden you had great runners like Gehrmann, Ashenfelter, Wilt and Stone. That is why I wrote my book, so that young kids who are 14 or so years old who aspire to be great can do so. All you have to do is follow the rules and regulations and be a champion so that win or lose you do your best. That is what counts and the rewards are great. I give most of my books away as it is hard to get people to spend money on someone they don’t even know. But anyone who reads it can’t put it down as it is a different story. I put in lots of clippings and pictures as I do believe that a picture is worth a thousand words. There was nothing like a Sunday morning opening a sports page and seeing an article or a caricature drawing of me and having my aunts and uncles get excited.
GCR:There is a grassroots movement in the U.S. to bring back the mile as a featured event at track and field meets as many within the sport feel that this will increase interest amongst the public and runners. What do you think about this?
CCI don’t see that much excitement about running these days unless I am failing to pay attention. I think that bringing back the mile would go over big. In the time before I ran and then when I raced there were runners who were phenomenal and that we almost thought were immortal like Gil Dodds and Don Gehrmann. They would compete in the college division at indoor meets while us high school kids watched them. We never realized that one day someone would be watching us. I think they should bring back the mile without a doubt. If the mile was to be brought back you would see a bunch of fast runners from the U.S. pop up.
GCR:What were some of your favorite training sessions either in high school or college that helped you to round into top form?
CCAs a distance runner I would run a 100 yard dash, turn around and run another 100 yard dash and keep doing more of them until my legs couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I would run a 220 yard dash and follow it up with several more 220s. Then we would do pace work and running up hills and down hills. My college coach made sure that his workouts were tougher than running a race. I would describe it as punishment in a way – that we had to learn to punish ourselves. I was criticized for that by fellow runners who said I was running too hard, killing myself and that I would never make the Olympic team. But I persevered for three years up hills, down hills and doing 100s and 220s.
GCR:These days it seems that nearly everyone is preoccupied with training mileage. Did you keep track of weekly training mileage in high school and in college and did you run on weekends or year around?
CCI worked out a minimum of two hours per day. After an early dinner at Georgetown I would take a brisk walk for about 40 minutes. In total I never wrote down the mileage. On the weekend after a race when we returned to Georgetown we relaxed which meant going up to the track and doing a very light run for about 45 minutes. Every time I got the urge to get faster I would remind myself this was to recover and to get my muscles back in tune.
GCR:What was your training week like in college and were you focused mainly on improving your speed as it seems it paid off with some great sprint finish victories?
CCMonday was a hard day and Tuesday was a hard day. Wednesday we started tapering down. Thursday was a day to do whatever we liked – some 100s but not many. Friday we just went out and took a walk. I don’t know how many miles I did, but I do know that it was hard running. The quality of what we did helped. I knew that my weakness was speed so I concentrated on speed. How that helped me was near the end of a race when my opponent was ahead of me as that is when I did my fastest speed work to try to outkick them to the finish. This is what I did when I beat Fred Dwyer in high school and another time when I beat my dear late friend Joe La Pierre by two tenths of a second. It was that finish when they were starting to fold that I wouldn’t let them know that psychologically I was as tired as they were. In Norway when I was about 20 years old I ran against Karl Vefling, the Norwegian champion, at Bislett Stadium in Oslo. Again I didn’t know who he was. I was struggling and my form was pathetic. Then when we got to the last 300 yards he started turning his head to look back and to see where I was. I knew he was getting tired and when he turned his head to the left I went by him on the right and gave it all I had so that he couldn’t have a chance to get me. So some of the finishes were exciting and it was because the extra speed work paid off.
GCR:Did you ever race beyond 5,000 meters or think about moving up in distance?
CCAs far as endurance I could run and run and run, but it was the speed work that was important. A lot of distance runners, including marathon runners, don’t realize that a workout with a lot of speed work can make a difference in the last two miles of a marathon. I never ran a marathon as my longest race was a 10-mile race in Toronto. The funniest thing there was one of my buddies, Wes Santee, yelled at me to sprint and I still had three miles to go. I was thinking he had to be kidding. I had no idea about times though I ran 55 minutes on a horrible track that was half cinder and half cement.
GCR:With hindsight is there anything you would change regarding your training or anything else associated with your running?
CCWhen I think back I wonder if I should have just stayed in New York City and gone to NYU or Columbia because my mother knew my diet. In college unfortunately we would get to New York City around noon before running at night at Madison Square Garden around 7:00 and our coach would take us out for steak and potatoes whereas my mother would make me a poached egg, piece of toast and cup of tea. The night before I ran that high school mile against Fred Dwyer I had pasta. I think if I had stuck with my mother’s diet I would have had better nutrition. I believe if I had had pasta the night before races and ate lightly the day of races with no steak or potatoes I may have raced faster. But, to a young man steak and potatoes tasted pretty good.
GCR:You were named to Halls of Fame including those at Georgetown and the New York Athletic Club. How special is this recognition for your athletic exploits?
CCI was recognized at Georgetown a long time ago which was nice. If you visit Levy Hall they have my name with the all-time remembered athletes and my track shoes are on display. But they recently had a publication with Georgetown Olympians and they accidently left me out. The New York Athletic Club induction evening was phenomenal as Fred Dwyer was there and Horace Ashenfelter came along with Curtis Stone and some of my high school buddies. I had to make a speech and, of course, I had to have a little scotch to relax. My buddies were telling me too not drink too much. Each inductee was only supposed to speak for two minutes, but I spoke for about ten and afterward some said that my speech was the best they had heard in 26 years. I replied, ‘If everyone was drinking, no one would know the difference!’
GCR:What is your current fitness regimen and what are your future health and fitness goals?
CCRight now I am a type-2 diabetic and I had congestive heart failure back in 2005. My problem is that when I feel good I overdo it. I have to learn not to overdo. I love walking – not casual, but brisk walking. I love cleaning house. At 81 I need to be careful. I do enjoy cooking and having company. (Aside – at this time one of Charlie’s daughters called for about the third time. He said, ‘They are always calling to check up on dad, but right now you and this phone call is more important’)
GCR:When I read your book, ‘Run to Win: Love and Sacrifice,’ the theme of love flows freely throughout the book. Is there anything that comes to mind which summarizes the love ingrained in you from your upbringing, your Catholic faith and your eight decades of life?
CCWhen I was interviewed by a young lady for Georgetown’s oral history project she was pregnant. During the course of the interview I mentioned that I was pro-choice. But what I meant by pro-choice is that you have a choice over what affects you, but if it affects someone else whether it is an unborn person or genocide then I don’t believe that you have that choice. The two things which trouble me are abortion and genocide. Hitler was such an evil man though there have been others throughout history. There are so many bad things that go on in the world and I just want to know why we can’t all love one another.
GCR:Based on what you have learned during your life is there any advice you would give to children and adults who wish to succeed in running, other sports or in life?
CCWhether you want to be a great attorney or politician or athlete or whatever it may be, you have to work at it and you have to work hard. That is the sign of a true champion.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsGardening. I love to watch the hummingbirds – when I look at them I just think,’Wow! God’s creation is really something.’ I tend roses in my rose garden and will clip roses and place two or three in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary which is in my garden. When I was a kid back in New York City I would take care of the gardening and my parents would comment on how wonderful it looked and give me a dollar which I would use to go out and buy a bow tie
Favorite moviesI enjoy watching good, solid movies so that when I go to bed I think, ‘how great that was.’ I like historical movies, true stories about people who achieved much in their life and romances
Favorite TV showsTurner Classic movies. I avoid explicit violence, crime, murder and sex that I think is destroying America. Women are half-naked on television. I’m not opposed to the beauty of humans, but I believe in modesty. I’ve always said that if there was a beach where everybody was naked and I showed up I would clear the beach!
Favorite songs and singersPerry Como was my favorite singer and he was a great man. My favorite song of his is ‘I Dream of You’ which I used to sing to me wife. Of course I like Frank Sinatra. Another favorite was Patti Page who just passed away. I liked ballads. Singers back then inspired us
Favorite books 'Run to Win' (laughing). I’m not much of a reader, but I’ve always been interested in and read The Bible
First carWhen I was young and was a senior at Georgetown I didn’t even know how to drive. My wife taught me how to drive. My dad loved Chevys. We were a one-car family when I was a child as in those days Italian women didn’t drive. But all we had to have was a pocket full of nickels and we would walk up the street and get on the bus and relax, then get on the train or subway and relax and we didn’t need a car to get anywhere
Current carThe best car I’ve ever had is my Lexus
First JobShining shoes at my dad’s store. That was during World War II and all of the military soldiers who lived in our town of College Point when they were on furlough the first stop they would make was at my father’s store and I would shine their shoes and try not to get their white socks dirty. If I did I just pulled the cuff down low so they couldn’t see it. They would give us a half dollar which in those days was a lot of money for an eight year old kid. It was a pleasure working for my dad as there was an ice cream parlor across the street, a bakery down the street and a pizza place nearby. My dad used to say that it cost him money to have us work for him. But he loved it
FamilyMy wife, Donna, and I were married for 46 years until she passed away in 2001. Our four children are John, Donna Marie, Janine and Joseph. John passed on in 2005. The children have blessed us with 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren
PetsI’m in love with Labradors. I don’t have a dog, but my children do. I recently received an e-mail picture from a friend who has a Labrador that watches over an autistic child like you wouldn’t believe. If half the people in the world were like that dog we would have a happier world. I think that for children whose parents don’t give them enough love that a dog can give them love. Two of my children have Pit Bulls and when they ask me to move in with them I don’t want to as I like my neck the way it is
Favorite breakfastCereal with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and milk
Favorite mealBeing Italian, a nice dish of spaghetti with a sauce that takes about a half hour to make that I put over angel hair pasta with grated cheese while I watch a good television program. What a life!
Favorite beveragesI like merlot wine and diet root beer to make a root beer float which I enjoy at night before bedtime. I was a scotch drinker, but it is too powerful for me now
First running memoryRunning the mile as part of our class curriculum on a cold winter day when I was a high school sophomore. I didn’t have a sweat suit so I ran in a swimsuit with no top. We ran around a park at Bayside High on a cement surface. A lot of the kids hid behind trees because there were so many that it was hard to tell what each was doing. On the last lap when I came around they joined in the race. That was my first mile race and I ran five minutes and forty-five seconds
Running heroesGil Dodds, Don Gehrmann, Curt Stone and Wes Santee. Wes was a different type of runner with a short stride. When I watched him and also Emil Zatopek at the Olympic Games I learned that I could run faster with a shorter stride. So when I came back I changed my stride as a long stride takes away your energy. So I used a short stride until the last 100 yards of a race when I let go and sprinted. At the end I didn’t worry about whether my stride was long or short, I just kicked
Greatest running momentsWhen I beat Horace Ashenfelter in the 2-mile at the Boston Knights of Columbus meet and when I beat Gordon Pirie in London in the 3-mile run. It’s such a shame that there aren’t any videos of those races. Talk about excitement that you just don’t see anymore!
Worst running momentWhen we competed against another university in cross country we would be driven to the start and then to the finish, but we wouldn’t see the entire course. We had to follow signs in the forest and my coach told our team to ‘just follow Charlie.’ I hadn’t lost any cross country races and I got lost and climbed over a fence so the entire Georgetown team got lost. Afterward our coach told us that when we got back to the university to not say a word
Childhood dreamsI wanted to be a singer like Perry Como or Frank Sinatra. When we listened to music in those days it inspired us to do well
Funny memoryI was a nervous type and always wanted to do my best. When I was national sales manager at Fender we had a meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago and my wife and I booked a flight from Long Beach figuring the president, VP and Controller would fly from a different airport, but they were all in line with us along with their wives. I had a carry-on for suits and hung it up. I was sure they would be in First Class but they were sitting right behind my wife and me. The president asked how much we paid for my wife’s flight. When Donna told him $166 for the round trip, he asked his wife why they paid several hundred dollars more. Then the VP couldn’t find his carry-on bag and told the president that some jerk took his bag. Well, I looked at what I thought was my bag and I, ‘Charlie the jerk,’ had his bag. When we checked in at the hotel I was going up to my room on the same elevator as the president and he asked me how much additional they charged for my wife in my room. I told him I just got a room with a king sized bed for $99. He said he had to pay a couple hundred dollars a night because he told them there were two of them. It was pretty hectic because I wanted things to work out and I was nervous about the differences in prices for everything
Funny running memory: I will never forget one time before a race in the locker room when one tall, black runner that may have been from Kenya or one of the islands was in there and we were strapping on our shoes. He said, ‘We’ve got to get this guy Capozzoli.’ So I just agreed with him. He didn’t know I was Capozzoli as I was just this small runner
Funny jokeI don’t think I’m a holy man and even at the age of 81 temptations come my way. There is an old joke about a young priest who is assigned to a parish and there is an elderly priest who is 75 years old. The young priest feels that he can talk to the older priest for advice and says, ‘Father, this is embarrassing but these feelings of sexual attractiveness to women come and go. You’re 75 - is that when you no longer have these desires? Just when the older priest is ready to say, ‘Yes,’ a beautiful lady walks by and he says, ‘I’ll tell you what – it must not go away until you are 80.’
Favorite places to travelI love Switzerland. At one time I was promoted to Fender’s Director of Marketing and Sales and I was to set up a European distribution network for Fender guitars and amplifiers so my wife and I lived in Switzerland for three months. But they needed me back in America so I came back to be National Sales Manager
Final comments from interviewerIt was an honor to spend over 90 minutes chatting with one of America's greatest distance runners from the early 1950s. Charlie Capozzoli ran to win and did so at the high school and collegiate level while making the U.S. Olympic team as a young man. His great character shone through during the entire telephone conversation. Who knows what might have been if runners were able to make a living back then as they do now? This fine man is nearly unknown to track fans though he was the top U.S. miler in the early 1950s. His book is a ‘must read!’