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Tom Courtney — July, 2013
Tom Courtney won the Gold Medal in the 1956 Olympic 800 meter run in Melbourne, Australia in an Olympic Record of 1:47.7. He won a second Gold Medal at the same Olympics by anchoring the United States 4 x 400 meter relay in 45.7. Tom won the 1956 Olympic Trials 800 meters in a new American record of 1:46.4. In 1957 he set the World Record for 880 yards of 1:46.8 and tied Mal Whitfield's 600 yard indoor world record of 1:09.5. Tom’s three AAU titles were at 400 meters in 1956 and 800 meters in 1957 and 1958. At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships the Fordham star won the 800 meters in 1955. Along with Fordham teammates Terrence Foley, Frank Tarsney and Bill Persichetty, Tom anchored a World Record two-mile relay in 1954. At Caldwell (New Jersey) High School Tom was State 880 yard champion his senior year in 2:00.2. His personal best times include: 400 meters – 45.8; 800 meters– 1:45.8 and 880 yards – 1:46.8. Tom was inducted into the USATF, Fordham and Caldwell High School Athletic Hall of Fame. He worked for over fifty years as a businessman before retiring in 2011. Tom and his wife, ‘Posy,’ of over 50 years, reside in Sewickley, Pennsylvania and spend winters in Naples, Florida.
GCR:It has been over 55 years since you won the 1956 Olympic 800 meters in Melbourne, Australia. What has it meant to you to become on that day and to be forever more an Olympic Champion?
TCIt was the fulfillment at that time of a dream. In high school I never thought of the Olympics, but in college started thinking that way when I was on a World Record two-mile relay team my junior year. Then coming out of Fordham University I had times that qualified me to try out for the Olympics so I did that.
GCR:Didn’t you have some initial difficulties getting time to train properly when you were in the U.S. Army after finishing up at Fordham?
TCAt that time I was drafted into the army and my pursuit of training for competitive running was difficult. I had been given assurances that I would have time to train, but when I started basic training and I wanted to see the officer in charge of our group, the man I spoke with said I had to talk with him. When I was asked what I wanted I told him what I had been promised getting time to train and that I wasn’t getting any. He said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding buddy. You’re in the army – those days are over for you.’ A short time after that I was out running at night along one of the fences there at Fort Dix and the commanding officer of the base came along and inquired, ‘What are you doing out here?’ I told him, ‘I’m training for the Olympics.’ He then asked, ‘Do you get up at five in the morning?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I do.’ He said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to go to bed at ten?’ So then I said, ‘At ten at night I come out here and start running.’ He said, ‘Oh my gosh – that’s impossible.’ The next day I was out on bivouac and I heard an announcement, ‘Private Courtney report to the gymnasium for Olympic training.’ What a fortuitous moment to encounter that officer and for him to allow me to train. After that I worked out every day and became a clerk typist. I was given time in the afternoons to train, I ran the indoor season and went out to qualify for the Service Championships which I did in the 400 and 800 meters.
GCR:You came into the Olympic 800 meter final as one of the favorites to win the Gold medal. What was it like before the race as you were on the track in the Olympic stadium?
TCI never got nervous before a race, but in the Olympics when I walked out into the field for the final of the 800 meters I couldn’t stand up. I went down on the grass and couldn’t seem to recover. They were calling me over to get on the starting line. I was thinking, ‘Here I am, going to the Olympics, making the team and I won’t be able to run.’ Then I got up and thought of the humor of it with 100,000 people watching me lying in the grass.
GCR:The Olympic 800 meters had a strong field including your teammate Arnie Sowell, Norway’s Audun Boysen and Derek Johnson of Great Britain.. What was your pre-race strategy and what were you keying on due to the strengths of each of your primary foes?
TCI knew that Sowell had run an American Record at the Nationals in Colorado and he had gone out in front even in the high altitude. I had passed out after the qualifying heat, so I figured the next day that I was going to be more careful and save myself to catch him. But he got so far ahead that I didn’t catch him and I took second. He had run a good time and I knew that he thought the best way to beat me was to run out in front and to blast it all of the way. I figured that’s what he would do and I’d use him as a pacesetter. Boysen and Johnson were good, but I felt that Sowell was the main person I had to beat.
GCR:What was the track condition and how long were the spikes you wore?
TCFirst, they never should have had the Olympics when they held them as the weather was cold, windy and nasty. Second, they put a quarter inch of red brick dust on the track because it made it look beautiful, but that made it a slow track. We wore long spikes and relative to other tracks I raced on it was a very slow track. We wore those long babies – three quarter inch spikes.
GCR:The way the race played out, Sowell led a fast first lap in 52.8 seconds with you in second position and Boysen and Johnson right behind. During the race what were you thinking and how did you adjust your race strategy?
TCNot long after the start I took the lead, but Sowell took over shortly after that and he built a lead of four or five meters. I had made a mark on the track at 80 meters to go where I was going to start my kick. Well, at 120 meters to go Sowell started his kick. I didn’t want to go with him and I thought he would die. But then I was thinking, ‘What if he can kick the whole way?’ So I had to go with him. At the end of 760 meters I still had 40 meters to go and he was tying up and dying. But I was also tying up and that is when Johnson went by us both. I didn’t run a smart race according to my strategy, but that is what happened.
GCR:It is extremely rare that a runner who was just passed on the home stretch summons up the mental and physical strength to come back and win, but you did. How were you able to make this final push that saw you retake the lead in only the final 15 meters?
TCI knew it was my only chance. I had thought about how to recover. What happens when I tie up is my body would come up straight and I would almost start to lean backwards. I had thought about a way to change that and it was to start lunging forward and almost threw punches with my arms to bring my body back. I did that when Johnson went past me and for a brief time nothing happened. But then I started to gain on him. I did it right to the finish but I wasn’t sure when I crossed the tape if I had won or not. The race took a great deal of my strength. I managed at the tape to go across with Derek and then I asked him who won. ‘You did,’ he said. Arnie Sowell had kicked early and I shouldn’t have gone with him because I knew he kicked too early. But I was fearful that he would have some type of Olympic super performance so I said to myself, ‘I have to go with him.’ So I went with him and in a sense used up my kick. At the finish having to come back again to kick against Derek Johnson left me in such shape that I could hardly stand up. It was such a close race and such a difficult race. They put me on a table and thought I was unconscious. I was fully conscious but was in a state of complete agony. My entire body was hurting – even the tips of my fingers. It was killing me.
GCR:How excited were you to be Olympic champion, even though you were so exhausted that you couldn’t stand up?
TCMy reaction was, truthfully, what I was thinking, ‘If I live I will never run again.’
GCR:How long after the race was it before the awards ceremony? What were your feelings when you were on the podium being awarded your Gold Medal and hearing the National Anthem played?
TCAn hour or so later when I had recovered I went out to get my medal and that tiredness was in the past. My parents had said that I owed it to do my best in whatever I do. They told me that I owed that to God who had put me here and gave me natural talents. They instilled in me to do the very best I could in whichever way I could. So I was pleased and felt fortunate that I was able to accomplish that feat.
GCR:You also anchored the U.S. 4x400 meter relay team to victory. How did you get selected to the team despite not running the 400 meters at the Olympic Trials?
TCAfter I won the 800 meters at the Olympic Trials, the very next event was the trials in the 400 meters. Since I had run very hard to win the 800 meters I got to the starting blocks and realized that 15 minutes wasn’t enough time to recover so I told the official I was withdrawing from the 400 meters. So that was the end of my 400/800 dream. When they were putting the relay team together I asked Jim Kelley, who was the coach if I could run on the relay. He told me I couldn’t because they had four guys from the 400 meters. The fourth guy was J.W. Mashburn form Oklahoma A and M who had gone to the 1952 Olympics but was removed from the relay team in favor of Charlie Moore from Cornell who was a great 400 meter hurdler and open 400 meter man. So Coach Kelley said, ‘I’m not going to let Mashburn go to two Olympics and not run.’ He asked me what I thought so I told him, ‘I thought this was on the basis of performance, so let me run against Mashburn.’ But he didn’t want to do that. Before the Olympics we were in a town, Bendigo, Australia, and coach said if any of the foursome beat me I wouldn’t be on the relay. That included Luke Jones, who held the World Record in the 400 meters, Jimmy Lee, who held the 440 yard World Record, Charlie Jenkins who ended up winning the Gold medal in the Olympics and J.W. Mashburn. I ran against all four of them and beat them all handily. I was so happy that I was on the relay team but then the coach said, ‘I said if any of them beat you that you wouldn’t be on the relay, but I didn’t say that if you beat them you would be on it.’ After I won the Olympic 800 meters Coach Kelley said, ‘Be ready tomorrow in case I need you because we’re going to run the relay qualifying heats.’ I said, ‘Never mind I’m going out and celebrating.’ The he finally said, ‘Okay, you’re on the relay team.’
GCR:How close was the race when you got the baton and was it fun to share in earning a Gold medal with your three relay teammates?
TCI had a couple yard lead when I got the handoff and we won by ten to fifteen yards. Coach Kelley ran me on the third leg in the trials, but switched me to anchor for the finals. It was a thrilling experience and a wonderful opportunity. It was a great thrill because I never thought I would be on that team.
GCR:The Olympics were held later in the year than usual during November. What did you do differently in 1956 to be in peak form several months later than was typical for the spring and summer track season?
TCThat’s an interesting question because I remember that Jimmy Lee came back after a summer break, had put on weight and was out of shape. I trained like a demon all during that summer. When I went out to California to run some practice races I was I terrific condition. Dean Cromwell, the Southern California coach, was in charge of the All-Service team. We went to meets and I would run the 800 meters and then four half milers would run the relay against four quarter milers. It was a special performance for the spectators. I’d get the stick in second and we would beat the mile relay team every time.
GCR:In a book edited by Chris Brasher, ‘The Road to Rome,’ ahead of the 1960 Olympics, Derek Johnson commented on you and the 1956 Olympic 800 meter race as follows: ‘Tom Courtney is an Olympic champion in the finest sense of the word. He gathered his deepest resources at a time when many a man would have ceded the race, and hurled his massive frame past me in the final few strides. I had failed, and failed to achieve the ambition which had meant so much to me. It was a bitter disappointment, but it was a worthwhile disappointment, for I believe it is important to take whatever talent we have and to use it to the best of our ability. It is perhaps better to aim at the highest and fail by a fraction than never to aim at all.’ Have you read Derek Johnson’s comments before and how do you feel about him as possible the best and most worthy of opponents?
TCWe talked about it as I ran against him maybe ten times after the Olympics. I finally said to him, ‘Derek, you use the same strategy all of the time. You run from behind and try to come by me. You’re a super runner and a great quarter miler. Why don’t you change your strategy and break out early in the second lap?’ He told me he was convinced that it would be like the Olympics and I would find the way to beat him.
GCR:Last year I interviewed Bob Richards, who won pole vault Gold medals at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. In Bob’s book, ‘The Heart of a Champion,’ your Olympic teammate and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the pole vault says that ‘nothing describes desire more than your 800 meter victory.’ He also notes that ‘with a desire to win… a person will work hard the thousands of hours it takes to win. You’ve got to have a burning desire in your heart.’ What does it mean to you for Bob Richards to hold you in such high regard and what do you feel about the concept of ‘desire’ possibly making the difference between a champion and an athlete who comes close?
TCThat was very nice of Bob to say that and I consider myself very fortunate to come back and to win.
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?
TCI was so enthusiastic about the Australian people because they were so open and friendly in those days and they still are to a worldwide extent. Their enthusiasm impressed me tremendously. I didn’t even go to the Opening Ceremonies because I was there to try to win the 800 meters and I didn’t want to stay up and to march around the field. We were amateurs and I was hopeful that it would work out well for the Australians and their hosting of the Olympics, but I was very focused as everything I did for those two weeks were in preparation for my event. I didn’t go to the Closing Ceremonies as they sent a group of us up to Sydney where we ran a series of races of the United States versus the British Empire. In Sydney we broke the World Record in the mile relay and two-mile relay.
GCR:When you got home there were all sorts of festivities including a parade at Fordham, a big dinner and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Describe some of those special memories and sharing them with your coach, Artie O’Connor.
TCFrom the standpoint of the parade they had down Fordham Road, that was a lovely time and I was in a convertible with my coach, Artie O’Connor. I was very lucky to have him as my coach. He was very motivating for me. He took my losses as we went along much harder than I did. He was a dedicated, wonderful man. He loved Fordham and it helped me to love Fordham. He told me when I went out to California to run in the Olympic Trials, ‘Now Tom, three guys get to go to the Olympics in each event, so if Arnie beats you that’s okay. You can get second.’ This was my coach who was a great motivator. So when I went to nationals and beat all of my competitors by ten yards in the 400 meters, he called me and said, ‘I didn’t realize you were that fast. Go for it!’
GCR:You were training for both the 400 and 800 meters in 1956. Describe the highlights of your big competitions and the selection process for the Olympic Trials.
TCI won the 400 meters at the AAU Nationals and the 800 meters at the Service Championships to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Back then they took the top six from AAU Nationals, top three from the Service Championships and the top six from the NCAAs. I had hoped to run both the 400 and 800 meters in the Olympics but in those days the Olympic Trials were run in two days, not like today where they run on the Olympic schedule. As I mentioned earlier, the there was only 15 minutes after the 800 meter final until the 400 meters so it was impossible to recover. I ran the 800 meter trials one day and the final the next day. The final had a strong field as Arnie Sowell had been beating me for years and I had to race Mal Whitfield who had won the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and Lon Spurries who held the World Record. But I won that race and set an American Record.
GCR:To make the Olympic team you ran a controlled race at the Olympic Trials, holding fifth position after a lap and waiting until the final stretch to make your move which propelled you to victory. What are your memories of how the race played out, your thoughts as you geared up for your kick and were there any surprises as you won seemingly easily?
TCI was very confident, ran relaxed and decided to stay back, let Sowell take the lead and to come on at the finish. At that point I was confident that I could beat him.
GCR:Two-time defending Olympic Gold medalist Mal Whitfield missed making his third team with a fifth place finish. How was it racing against this legendary champion?’
TCMal Whitfield had run 1:49.2 in 1952 and had run 1:49.2 in 1948 and in 1956 he ran 1:49.2 so he was still running as fast as he always had. He took off on the back stretch and went by everyone, but then we were able to go by him later.
GCR:Did Coach O’Connor continue to coach you after you graduated and were there any changes or additions to your training that helped you to move to the level of competing for an Olympic title?
TCAfter I graduated I was on my own. But I knew what to do and each day I tried to improve, to work a little harder and to become a little faster. One of the things that helped me was when I was in Germany on a trip when I was out of college. There was a fellow named Rudolph Harbig who had held the World Record in the 800 meters, but he had been killed in World War II. I went to his house to visit and his family showed me his diary. My grandfather was from Germany and my mother came over from there so I spoke some German as a little kid. I could still read German but I couldn’t speak any at that point. I read his diary and saw where he had developed a workout to improve his speed where he ran downhill in a sprint. He said to find a 100 meter downhill and to run it very carefully for the first two months so you wouldn’t get injured. When you run downhill you can put your feet out faster because your body is leaning forward so when you get onto the flat you can go faster. Arnie Sowell had been beating me for a couple of years and had even run in the West Point meet and won the 100 yard dash in 9.6 or 9.7 and I couldn’t break 10.2. Eventually before the Olympics I was running a sprint race in Europe with Ira Murchison who was co-holder of the World Record at 9.3 and he only beat me by a hair. So my speed had improved tremendously.
GCR:There was a spirited rivalry between you and Arnie Sowell for a few years. What were some race highlights where you won and also where you didn’t and that possibly pushed you to train even harder and smarter? Was there anything besides that downhill training that helped in your racing against him?
TCHe was a terrific runner and was my ‘Chariots of Fire’ competitor. My senior year at the IC4A meet Arnie O’Connor moved me from the 1000 to the 600 indoors. When asked why he said, ‘Because Sowell beats him every time. I think Tom can win the 600.’ George Eastman, who was the coach at Manhattan, got up and asked how my coach could say that. But that’s how Arnie was – he was very honest with me and very motivated. When Coach Eastman said that Sowell could win the mile, the 1000, the 600 and was the greatest runner we had ever seen, my new objective was to change my workouts, to double up and figure out how to beat him.
GCR:At New York's IC4A track meet Sowell won in a collegiate record 1:49.1 with you a whisker behind in 1:49.2 as you both broke the record of 1:49.8. How strong was this rivalry?
TCHe was tough. That was basically it.
GCR:You did win the 1955 NCAA 880 yards. What were highlights of that race?
TCArnie Sowell was in the race but he got disqualified. I can’t exactly remember but something happened in his heat and he didn’t make the final. Without him in the final it was fortunate for me as there wasn’t anyone else who could compete with the two of us.
GCR:One race that must have been an exciting competition was the 1954 Coliseum Relays two-mile relay where you anchored Fordham to a win and World Record as you only beat California by 1.2 seconds. Was there a big buildup before the race?
TCIt was exciting just to be there. To me the big story started when we ran at the Penn Relays. The year before Villanova with Dwyer and Gaffney went to the Coliseum Relays and came close to breaking the World Record. We wanted to get out to that track which was considered to be one of the fastest tracks around. So we ran the Penn Relays and I was running against Freddy Dwyer who had about a ten yard lead. We caught him and won the Penn Relays. The Coliseum Relays officials had invited Villanova out to run again because they had done so well the year before. But Coach Jumbo Elliott of Villanova told them, ‘No, Fordham should go. They beat us fair and square and deserve to go.’ It was a great thing he had done as far as I was concerned.
GCR:On the first leg your teammate, Terrance Foley, ran 1:54.67 to lead Cal’s Al Baeta by less than a second and then Cal’s Ed Wilson sped a 1:51.5 to take the lead from Frank Tarsney by a second. On the third leg Bill Persichetty clocked a 1:51.1 to make up a second on Len Simpson and the race was very close as you and Lon Spurrier got the final batons. What did you know about Spurrier, who ended up as your Olympic teammate two years later?
TCLon was slightly ahead of me and the University of Michigan squad was in there with us too. I knew about Spurrier because when I was a freshman he came in to the IC4A meet at Randall’s Island and won the half mile. I knew he was darn good and we grew to become good friends as the Olympics approached the next year. He was one of my best friends at that point.
GCR:You blazed a 1:48.2 to beat a fast 1:49.5 clocked by Spurrier. How thrilling was it to win that hard-fought competition and to set a World Record?
TCWe won and that was exciting. We had no idea that we would break the World Record that had been set by the previous Olympic team.
GCR:You raced many individual races and relays while at Fordham and were on two-mile relay teams that won 13 straight times. Compare and contrast the joy of winning as a team versus in your solo events?
TCI think that we did have a good group there at Fordham and that relay was real important to Artie. They tried to get me to run individual events at some of the big meets but I told Coach I was enjoying the relays. That was where I wanted to be.
GCR:After you graduated from college you raced at several competitions in Europe including meets in Belgium, Finland and Czechoslovakia. How instrumental were these races in preparing you for the international competition you would face the next year in the Olympics?
TCIt was a great thing as it was my first time on a trip. Since I won the nationals I had my choice of trips with four or five other guys. I took the trip to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and a couple of other countries that first time. I ran 30 races in 45 days. You didn’t have to worry about training and basically didn’t have to practice because we raced so often. It helped me and I ran against a lot of great runners over there and it was an experience that was important.
GCR:In present days no runners would race so often, but back in the old days we didn’t know any better so we raced and succeeded. Now we are warned about bad outcomes and worry about them.
TCYes, that is right.
GCR:In the two years after the 1956 Olympics you had some great successes as you tied the indoor World Record at 600 yards in 1957 and won AAU Championships at 880 yards in 1957 and 1958. Were you contemplating racing through the 1960 Olympics or did the required amateur status force you to retire so you could pursue coaching and a career?
TCBack then it was an amateur sport and when someone asked me if I wanted to train for the next Olympics I told them I was going to graduate school as I’d been accepted to Harvard Business School. When they were talking about how I was just getting starting I would say how I had my objectives. I had hoped to win the Olympics and break the World Record and I did. Maybe I could have run a little faster, but what difference would it have made? I had to get on with my life. The Rome Olympics was too far away. Even though I was still running I took a job at Harvard as Assistant Coach which made me a professional according to the rules in place and my days of running and racing were over.
GCR:Let’s go back to how you got started in running and when it became your athletic focus. In which sports did you participate as a youth and when did you take up competitive running?
TCMy dad had played baseball and was with the New York Yankees farm system. He was on the North Bears as a pitcher. Once you signed with one team you were with their organization. But it was during the Depression, he got married, had kids and had to stop playing. In our family your athletic capabilities were measured by how good a baseball player you were. When I started in high school I thought that I wasn’t that good a player but they kept me on the team. My sophomore year the same thing happened. I was a pitcher. One time the coach got up to bat in practice and I hit him with a pitch twice. He told me that I had a great fast ball but no control. I told him, ‘You have slow reflexes!’ At any rate, at the end of that period of time I decided I’m not going to do this and would do something else. I watched other sports and thought tennis might be my sport. I went to Caldwell high which had ten small towns feeding into the high school. I watched tennis and saw how good they were and thought it would take a long time to get to that level.
GCR:Who were the coaches who steered you toward track and field?
TCI played basketball in high school and the basketball coach, Dwight Burr, was the assistant coach on the track team. When he heard I wanted to do something else he encouraged me to try the pole vault as I was tall, strong and fast. The Head Coach, Emil Piel, told me I was a good runner. I was heading over to try the pole vault, but Coach Piel said he was having runners do an intrasquad half mile and that I should hop in and see how I could do. I ran the half mile and won it and Coach Piel said, ‘You’re not a pole vaulter buddy!’ I have no idea what my time was. So that was how I got into track. It was my junior year and I ran as a junior, suffered a coupe losses when I started out and was doing well by the end of the year.
GCR:What do you recall were the key workouts Coach Piel had you and the team perform?
TCThe workout I remember the most is when he would put about twenty of us in a line and the guy in the back would sprint up to the front and then the next guy would sprint to the front. That was his favorite workout.
GCR:It has been difficult finding your high school race results though you won your section of the New Jersey State Track Meet in 1951. What were some of your prep highlights?
TCI went undefeated and my times weren’t that fast, but my best time of 2:00.2 was the fastest in the state that year. I remember running in the Nork Invitational as a junior and there were about fifty guys in the race. I got knocked down; they ran over the top of me and left me with a bunch of spike wounds. My father said from now on I had to go out in front. The next year at the Nork Invitational I went out so fast that I must have had a thirty yard lead. I almost lost as I tied up so badly but that was my strategy in high school.
GCR:What colleges were you considering and did Coach Art O’Connor of Fordham have a big influence as to why you selected Fordham?
TCI had received scholarship offers from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and Villanova. Also, Georgetown had expressed interest in me. I was not a very sophisticated person. I came from a family in Livingston, New Jersey and was in the middle of five boys. I took the scholastic scholarship exam for the University of Pennsylvania as they were going to award one scholarship to a New Jersey student. I took second best and was pleased that I was that high. Then later a person from Penn called me and said that person was going to take a scholarship to Harvard and they asked me if I wanted to use that scholarship to go to Penn. I thought that I would take it as Coach Ken Doherty of Penn was interested in me and had contacted me. But Fordham’s offer was a full scholarship and Penn’s was only for tuition. If I had told Coach Doherty about the scholarship situation, he most likely would have matched it, but I didn’t ask. Another part of the reason I went to Fordham was that my mother’s cousin went to Fordham and had been captain of the track team. My mother was enthusiastic about Fordham and wanted me to go there. It turned about to be a great experience that provided me with tremendous opportunities which is something I will never forget.
GCR:What were the primary tenets of Coach O’Connor’s training philosophy and what did he do to help you progress from a good high school runner to an NCAA champion and future Olympic Gold Medalist?
TCHere is an example of what happened one day. Other guys would sometimes cut practice and I never had. But one day I did and went over to visit the girls at New Rochelle College. When I got back it was almost six o’clock which was our dinner time and I was back for dinner. I went by the track and there was Artie O’Connor sitting on the bench at the track. When I asked what he was doing he answered, ‘Waiting for you Tom. I’m glad you showed up. Put your shorts on and come out here.’ That’s how he was. He was someone whom I admired and who was very helpful. He believed that we should run workouts where we ran shorter distances than our races at a faster pace. One of my big workouts was in-and-out 300s where I would run one, jog back, run one, jog back and so on. All were faster than my top quarter mile I would run in a race. So his philosophy was to get your speed up, hold it and do enough of it so you could stay there.
GCR:Most 800 meter runners seem to be more slightly built runners who are 800/1,500 meter racers while you were a big strong 400/800 meter racer like Alberto Juantorena who won both events at the 1976 Olympics. Do you think it is an advantage to be a stronger, speedier 400/800 meter racer and are you surprised there haven’t been more athletes who have raced these two events at a high level?
TCI think I was ideally suited to be a 400/800 meter runner. When I broke the World Record I weighed 188 pounds. People thought it was odd that I was so heavy to run, but I was in trim shape at 188. What has happened now is that Kenyan runners and U.S. runners under coaches like Alberto Salazar are running such hard workouts. It’s amazing how fast they run some miles even in a marathon.
GCR:You were named to several Halls of Fame including the USATF, Fordham and Caldwell High School Athletic Hall of Fame. How special is this recognition and the opportunity to reflect back on your athletic exploits?
TCThat is a very interesting question. Bob Giegengack was the coach of Yale and the assistant coach during the Olympics, in charge of me and we became very good friends. Some years later we were both inducted into a track Hall of Fame. It was nice and I enjoyed seeing some of my old friends. But it is different today as athletes are seen and perceived so differently. It wasn’t like that in my day. I went to the 50th reunion of the 1956 Olympic team in Indianapolis and it was nice to see some of the people who showed up. I am amazed how big a deal they make of some ceremonies like the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions. I guess it is nice, but it didn’t have that type of impact on me. It isn’t as much getting inducted as it is the human element of having my friends, teammates and colleagues there to celebrate with me.
GCR:With professionalism entering track and field in the past three decades, do you ever wonder what might have been if shoe companies and other sponsors enabled you to train regularly and compete into at least your late twenties?
TCIt would have been a whole different thing. I continued to run and up until age 39 when I was in a bad auto accident I could run almost as fast as when I was 23 years old.
GCR:Were you still training hard even as you got into your forties and fifties?
TCI enjoyed competition and every year broke five minutes in the mile. When I was in good shape I could warm up for the 800 meters and break five minutes in the mile. When I was fifty years old I went out and wasn’t getting close to five minutes and thought that eventually that would happen. But one day I was at the track and there was a coach with a group of milers. I decided to go with them and after the first lap the coach said, ‘Don’t let that old guy catch you.’ Then the next lap he said, ‘Don’t let that old guy pass you.’ Then before the final lap he said, ‘Catch that old guy!’ So I ran 4:34 when I was fifty and could still move along pretty well.
GCR:What is your current fitness regimen and what are your future health and fitness goals?
TCI am fortunate that I still play tennis about five days a week and I play golf one day a week. My wife won’t let me do anything else.
GCR:What goals do you have for yourself in other aspects of your life for the upcoming years?
TCMy goals have changed. We have three boys and nine grandchildren and are quite family-oriented. We try to help them and do things with them. In recent years I went to Medjugorje three times and witnessed some unbelievable miracles. I have a friend who is a stigmata and on Good Friday all of the wounds of Christ open up on her body. I have been very fortunate to have these experiences and hope I am wise enough to understand them. I’m looking out now and realizing that the most important thing in life to me is to have the opportunity to get to heaven.
GCR:How did the character traits you learned from competitive running and racing carry over positively into your work as a school teacher and administrator and your home life as a husband and father?
TCThose traits have been both good and bad. I am a highly competitive person and have pursued that in my business life and my family life. Sometimes it is too much.
GCR:Are there any major lessons you have learned during your life from growing up in New Jersey during the end of The Great Depression and World War II, the discipline of running and adversity you have faced that you would like to share with my readers?
TCI had a saying on my refrigerator for years that said, ‘Persistence will win out,’ which was a quote from Calvin Coolidge. That sums it up.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI worked until two years ago and was Chairman of the Board at Oppenheimer and PIMCO for some of their funds so I had a long and interesting business life. Today I play bridge with my wife at our club and I play tennis and golf that I mentioned earlier. I like to visit old friends, like my deceased friend, Al Oerter’s wife and family, who live nearby when we are wintering in Florida
NicknamesMy best nickname is on my license plate and it says, ‘T Court.’ I was called the ‘Fordham Flash’ after the Olympics and the legendary baseball player, Frankie Fritsch, said, ‘I’m the Fordham Flash!’ I told the press that was his nickname and to let him have it
Favorite movies‘The Naked Prey’ with Cornel Wilde and ‘Dr. Zhivago’
Favorite TV showsMy wife and I watch Jeopardy every night
Favorite musicI enjoy classical music and I like to sing
Favorite booksI read the entire series of ‘The 100 Greatest Books’ and many of those were wonderful. I enjoy learning and am reading a couple of books right now
First carA Volvo
Current carA Mercedes
First JobI was a caddy
FamilyMy wife is Margaret, though she is called, ‘Posy.’ My oldest boy, Tom, will be 50 this year, Peter is 48 and Frank is 44. We have nine grandkids
PetsI am not a pet guy as my wife has allergies which don’t allow that. We had dogs when I was a kid
Favorite breakfastI eat Cheerios every day with blueberries
Favorite mealA prime rib
Favorite beveragesPowerAde
First running memoryThe first half mile intrasquad race I did in high school
Running heroesI knew nothing about running when I started and didn’t have any heroes. Heinz Olsheimer from Germany was a runner I saw race in Madison Square Garden when I was in high school. He was a great runner who ran from the front and stunned everyone
Greatest running momentIt has to be winning at the Olympics
Worst running momentAs a freshman at Fordham I had made the two-mile relay team and unbeknownst to me I had caught mononucleosis. We were running at the Garden and I ran so poorly that I thought that running was not for me
Childhood dreamsMy brothers were better in baseball than I and had those dreams, but I don’t recall any dreams of mine
Embarrassing momentWhen I ran in Finland I was racing the quarter mile at one meet and was in terrific shape. They shot the gun to start the race and then tried to call us back, but I didn’t realize that. I ran the whole race, but no one was in the race except Tom. I had what felt like my fastest race ever. But there was no time recorded. I didn’t know that no one else was running until afterward. They were very nice and gave me fifteen minutes to rest and then I raced again
Favorite places to travel We took a wonderful couple of weeks touring France one time and that was great. We like to visit our kids in California, Connecticut and Sewickley, Pennsylvania. We don’t travel that much now