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Arch Jelley — January, 2021
Arch Jelley is a legendary distance running coach in New Zealand whose coaching career spanned nearly six decades. His most noteworthy coaching accomplishments are coaching John Walker to the first sub-3:50 mile in 1975 and an Olympic Gold Medal at 1,500 meters in 1976. Arch combined the best coaching and training principles from Arthur Lydiard, Arthur Newton, and Emil Zatopek to form his program. He started coaching the Owairaka Club in 1960 and added his first high-profile athlete, Olympian Neville Scott, in 1962. Arch guided Ian Studd to a British Empire and Commonwealth Games Bronze Medal in the mile in 1966. He coached dozens of other leading athletes including Dick Quax and Rod Dixon at the 1976 Olympics, 1990 Commonwealth 10,000-meter Bronze medalist Barbara Moore, and Steve Scott at the 1988 Olympics. As possibly the eldest coach ever of an Olympic athlete, at the age of 93, Arch guided Hamish Carson, five-time New Zealand 1,500-meter champion, to the 2016 Rio Olympics. An accomplished distance runner, in 1946 his six-man Otago team won the New Zealand Cross Country Championships as he finished fourth overall. He was the West Coast North Island three-mile champion and Wellington six-mile champion. Arch was a New Zealand Olympic coach in 1976 and 1984 and World Championships manager in 1983. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to sport at the 1982 New Year Honours and an International Amateur Athletic Federation Diploma in 1987. Arch was inducted into the New Zealand Athletics Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006. He received a Sparc lifetime achievement award for coaching excellence in 2007, an Athletics New Zealand merit award in 2009 and was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit at the 2021 New Years Honours. Arch and his second wife, Jean, together have eight children, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. They live in a retirement village in the West Auckland suburb of Green Bay.
GCR: THE BIG PICTURE As you look back on your running career and decades of coaching, how exciting was it to be putting in the hard training and racing and pushing yourself to try to reach your ultimate best and then to utilize your knowledge and experience to help others reach their potential?
AJ I was never in hard training as I rarely ran more than 30 or 40 miles weekly. I was mainly a cross country runner and our aim in those days was to represent our province in the New Zealand Cross Country Championships. I ran in about nine of these representing Otago, West Coast North Island and Wellington. During the summer I usually played tennis and only did the occasional run. I did win a couple of provincial track championships but, as a senior runner, I did not do much running on the track. I was still fairly knowledgeable running wise, and this background proved a very valuable background for coaching.
GCR: After over eighty years of experience in the sports of both cross country and track and field as an athlete, coach, and fan, can you imagine your life without the intertwining of distance running throughout the decades?
AJ I was brought up in the Depression and know a fair bit about adversity and hard work from personal experience. After I returned from serving in World War II, I immediately enrolled at the Teachers College and at the Otago University. During my active running career, I was teaching full-time and doing university studies part-time. This meant that my running activities were somewhat limited, and therefore my weekly milage was only about 30-40 miles. However, running and coaching has been a very important part of my life.
GCR: During your coaching career, 20 of your athletes represented New Zealand, with 12 competing in either the Olympics or World Championships. How rewarding was it to watch so many you coached and mentored pull on the New Zealand singlet and represent your country at the highest level?
AJ I always got great pleasure out of watching my athletes improve their performances irrespective of the ultimate level they attained. I was particularly pleased when an athlete with limited basic speed pulled on the New Zealand black singlet mainly because of a great work ethic.
GCR: Few coaches can look back and say they coached an athlete to the Olympic Games, much less an Olympic Champion and World Record Holder. In retrospect, how much of an honor, privilege and career achievement was it to coach John Walker whose 3:49.4 mile in 1975 was the first sub-3:50 mile and who also won the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal at 1,500 meters?
AJ When I first started coaching John, I had no idea that he would become an Olympic champion or World Record holder. I thought he was reasonably good, but no more. My ideas changed dramatically on January 1, 1972 when he defeated Dick Quax over 800 meters at Tauranga and ran a personal best time. He had already completed his training earlier in the day and ran in borrowed gear. I then wrote to the New Zealand selectors to say that there was an outstanding prospect here in Auckland, that he was big and fast and strong, and that one day he might erase the name of Peter Snell from the record book. It was a great thrill when John won the gold at Montreal and likewise when he broke the world one mile record.
GCR: RUNNING As a youth, in what sports did you participate and what were some of your accomplishments in these sports during your teenage years?
AJ I played cricket and tennis at a very average level. During high school I was very under-sized as were my brothers. I won bantam and featherweight boxing cups and was the senior gymnastic champion. In my last year at high school, I was captain of the under eight stone rugby team which consisted mostly of third formers.
GCR: Everyone starts somewhere on their running journey. Could you tell us about your beginnings as a runner, and then your early days of training and some highlight races with the Mornington Harrier Club?
AJ I became a runner quite by accident when I was invited to run in a novice road race organized by the Mornington Harrier club. Much to my surprise I won this race and I then joined up with the club. I was a junior runner and ran on the track with some success until I was conscripted into the army and then the navy.
GCR: Who were your coaches and mentors and what were you doing in training as far as distance, stamina, and speed sessions?
AJ When I was a junior, that is in 1940, I was coached by a gentleman named Percy, but I never knew his surname. This involved running repeats of 200 meters or 400 meters flat out twice a week at the Caledonian ground in Dunedin. There was no aerobic conditioning whatsoever and thus the training was very unproductive and probably had a negative effect.
GCR: Were you able to do much running or other athletic endeavors to keep fit during your service in World War II, especially when you had the challenge of being stationed on a submarine?
AJ I won one mile race in England but apart from that there was no time for frivolities such as training.
GCR: After World War II ended, how did you get back to running at the University of Otago, who was your coach and how did he improve you as a runner?
AJ After I returned from World War II, I rejoined the Mornington Harrier Club. From that time on I coached myself. I had no idea how good I would be in the senior ranks.
GCR: How exciting was it when your Otago team won the 1946 New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Wellington as you and your teammates took five of the first six places?
AJ When we left Dunedin for the New Zealand Cross Country Championships, the reporter from ODT said we were the weakest team ever to represent Otago and only Harold Nelson was worthy to be selected. We finished five in the top six and thus Otago easily won the teams championships. We were over the moon.
GCR: Who was your coach, or were you self-coached, and what were some of the key training concepts you were doing?
AJ I coached myself. My brother Stan and I had read of the exploits of Arthur Newton, the long-distance runner who pioneered the idea that it was the speed that killed and not the distance. This concept was later brilliantly interpreted by Arthur Lydiard with revolutionary results worldwide. We had also read about Emil Zatopek’s one hundred miles a week training. Later we heard about this crazy guy from Auckland who was asking his track runners to run 22-mile long distance runs on the road. We couldn’t believe it, but we soon had to take notice as Arthur Lydiard’s runners started capturing all the New Zealand distance titles.
GCR: Did you train with teammates at this time to improve?
AJ Because of my teaching and study commitments most of my training was done on my own.
GCR: As your teaching career caused you to move more than once, what were some of your top racing performances for West Coast North Island in Whanganui and for the Olympic Club in Wellington?
AJ I was the West Coast North Island 3-mile championship one year but ran mostly in the winter and not the summer when I played tennis. I was on the West Coast North Island team that won the New Zealand Cross Country team championship one year and I finished 10th in the NZCC Championships one year. In Wellington I won the 6-mile Centre championships one year but mostly play tennis in the summer. I won the Bennett road race twice and won the Dorne Cup once. I represented Wellington several times in the NZCC championships.
GCR: When you look back on your years of racing on the track and in cross country, no matter how big or small the field, or strong the competition, was it always satisfying to be first across the finish line and to break the tape?
AJ It’s always nice to have a win, but I don’t think I ever dwelt on it. It’s like most sports, you get beaten lots of times.
GCR: If you could go back and change anything in your training regimen, what would that be?
AJ It would have been nice to have been able to have put more time into my own training, but I have no regrets at all. We all think what we could have done if?
GCR: COACHING - PHILOSOPHY What are the components that contribute to the overall art that helps one to be successful as a coach?
AJ Good knowledge of the event, being an athlete oneself, being a good people person, having a genuine desire to help athletes to improve without worrying or thinking about possible or future rewards. Enjoying coaching.
GCR: What are your key overarching principles that guide your coaching of all athletes, regardless of ability, to help them achieve their goals and potential and what are the similarities and differences between teaching and coaching?
AJ My teaching and coaching styles were very similar and inter-related and key features were adequate preparation, individual attention to each person, not getting too serious and enjoying the process.
GCR: Competing is often a roller coaster of results due to the tough training that has us treading the fine line between improvement and injury. How tough was it for you to find that balance that led to peaking at the right times for the most important competitions?
AJ You have got to establish what is the right volume of training for each person. What would be have been ideal for Rod Dixon or Dick Quax would have been suicidal for John Walker.
GCR: How did what you learned from your own training and racing help runners to maximize their improvement that was at a higher level than you would have done without being a runner?
AJ Being able to empathize with one’s athletes is a very big advantage. If you have been a distance runner yourself, you have a much better feel for the event. However, there are some notable exceptions to this concept.
GCR: What do you find are the similarities and differences between coaching elite athletes and the remaining runners and are both rewarding in their own ways?
AJ I found coaching athletes very rewarding irrespective of their level of attainment. There wasn’t any real difference in the way I coached them.
GCR: COACHING – TRAINING METHODS How did moving to the Owairaka Harriers and learning of Arthur Lydiard’s coaching methods and ideas change your coaching thought process and jump start your coaching career?
AJ When I joined Owairaka in 1959 I was already very aware of the great success Arthur was having with his athletes and I had known for several years that his ideas had revolutionized training ideas in New Zealand and throughout the world. Joining Owairaka though, probably gave me the stimulus to start looking more seriously at coaching. I do remember thinking that if Arthur can achieve these results, I reckon I can too. That was probably a bit too optimistic in hindsight.
GCR: What were some of the primary ideas regarding overall weekly mileage, long runs, stamina running and speed training that you ingrained from Lydiard’s method’s into how you trained your athletes?
AJ I based my training programs on Arthur’s schedules but made sure they were tailored to suit each individual’s needs. I wasn’t that keen on Arthur’s uphill bounding, which often tended to cause injuries, but most of Arthur’s ides were very sound. One big difference was in the volume of training my athletes did when they commenced track work. Whereas Arthur’s athletes cut back on their milage considerably, most of mine kept running a high milage. This was one of the reasons that John Walker was able to go to Europe and perform very well over an extended period.
GCR: What did you do to integrate principles of others, such as Emil Zatopek and Arthur Newton, into your coaching methodology that made it like Lydiard’s, but a bit different?
AJ When you are preparing an athlete’s program you have all these ideas in your mind.
GCR: When you coached New Zealand’s athletes at two Olympic Games, two World Championships and one Commonwealth Games, what did you do to help them mentally and emotionally to do their best since they all had their own coaches who designed their training programs?
AJ You’re there as coach to advise when required and to give all athletes every possible assistance.
GCR: COACHING – ATHLETES One of the first outstanding athletes you coached was Neville Scott, who was a finalist at 1,500 meters at the 1956 Olympics and a 1958 Commonwealth Games Bronze Medalist. What did you do in 1962 to build on his talent and to help him to return to World Class level and what were some of the challenges you faced in coaching him?
AJ I treated him more or less like all my other athletes. We discussed his short-term and long-term objectives, made him a suitable program, and observed him at some of his training sessions. If a special race was coming up, we always made a race plan.
GCR: How did you start coaching John Walker and what did you do to change and improve his training based on your philosophy and success with other top athletes?
AJ John approached me when he was a junior runner and asked for advice. For various reasons we drifted apart but in August of 1971 he again asked for my help. We were a team then for the next 20 years. I set about improving his aerobic base in gradual stages and he immediately started to improve.
GCR: Most track and field fans recall Walker’s 1,500 meter and mile exploits, but can you relate some about his success at 800 meters in 1972, especially defeating Dick Quax early in the year and later winning the New Zealand 800-meter title?
AJ Defeating Dick at Tauranga was a turning point in John’s career, but it must be remembered that the 800 meters is not Dick’s favorite distance. It was after this race, though, that I predicted that John would become a world class runner. Later that year he won the New Zealand 800-meter title with great ease and narrowly missed selection for Munich.
GCR: Were the 1974 Commonwealth Games the ‘coming out’ of John Walker as he won the 800-meter Bronze Medal in a personal best of 1:44.92 and then finished in Silver Medal position to Filbert Bayi at 1,500 meters in 3:32.52 as both broke the World Record?
AJ Before the Games of 1974 John was just regarded as a reasonable 800-meter runner and as a novice 1,500-meter runner. When he finished second behind Filbert Bayi in World Record time, the Americans could not believe that this was possible. How could a 3:38 runner drop six seconds in one race? Yes, this was when John first achieved worldwide publicity.
GCR: All track would and field fans and followers of the history of the mile World Record know that Roger Bannister raced the first sub-four-minute-mile, and that John Walker ran the first sub-3:50 mile. How exciting was it for you as his coach at the time, and has his feat grown in stature over time?
AJ It was a marvelous birthday present for me as the news came to me on the August 13th, my birthday. It was mostly an un-paced run and I’m pretty sure that, had it been paced like most record attempts these days, the time have been several seconds faster.
GCR: The ultimate in track and field is winning an Olympic Gold Medal. What were your thoughts when John Walker won the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal at 1,500 meters and was it equally satisfying to both athlete and coach?
AJ It is very difficult for any athlete if he is the favorite to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Unless the athlete is in great shape and has a very good temperament he will usually fail to live up to expectations. Our two predominant feelings were first elation and second relief. The Gold Medal was a tribute to John’s outstanding temperament under the pressure.
GCR: What had John been doing in training in 1974 through 1976 that culminated in that great Commonwealth Games in 1974, World Record mile in 1975 and Olympic Games Gold Medal in 1976?
AJ John was just doing his normal training which involved two completely separate ‘seasons’ per year. John thrived on this regimen. There was never anything over complicated about his training. It was just consistency and good solid work. Everything came back to being strong. There were never any very fast short track sessions done.
GCR: Are there any other races John Walker raced that stand out in addition to those we discussed?
AJ I think John’s win at Brussels in the Memorial Van Damme 1,500 meter race on August 16, 1977 was one of his greatest races. He was the Olympic champion and he left for Europe without any aerobic foundation, but he still went very close to the world record. He could only run for about 20 minutes at a time and ran mostly on pride, determination, and natural talent.
GCR: Could you expand a bit on his training and racing in that summer of 1977 when he physically was unable to train regularly, but still raced often and with great success?
AJ After reading some comments on John Walker’s DNF at Dusseldorf, it appears some of his critics apparently do not know the difficulties John Walker faced when touring Europe in 1977. He was suffering from an entrapment of the popliteal artery and, prior to this tour and during his aerobic buildup, he was unable to run more than 20 minutes before his knee seized up and he was unable to run. As Olympic champion, he was still keen to tour, but he was unable to do any of his customary training. The only alternative training I could devise for John was to get him to run at a steady pace up the very steep five-kilometer Waitak hill which took about fifteen minutes and then repeat the run after I had driven him down. This was his staple diet. When he left New Zealand, he knew he was nowhere near his usual fitness, but he still decided to go. I went with him. Under the circumstances, I thought his performances were quite outstanding. I cannot think of any other top runner who could have matched them or even toured under such circumstances. I think it was a tribute to his outstanding talent and never say die attitude. By the time he reached Dusseldorf, however he was at the end of his tether both physically and mentally. Following is a summary of his races when he raced without his customary aerobic foundation in 1977. Number of races - 21; number. of 1,500-meter races - 11; 1st place - nine times with five times under 3:37; second place – twice; DNF – once; number of mile races - six, always under 3:57 with a best time of 3:52.0 in Dublin; first place – four times and second place twice. He ran two 800-meter races for a third and a fifth and one 3,00-meter race which he won in 7:41. He also won two 1,000-meter races. In the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels he won in 3:32.72, just a fraction outside the World Record. Those who criticize John for his DNF at Düsseldorf were witnessing an incredible athlete who was nearing the end of a truly remarkable and unprecedented tour. I wasn’t at Dusseldorf, but I felt deeply for him and couldn’t have been prouder of him and the way he weathered this three-month tour.
GCR: Even past age ninety, you had the opportunity to coach Harnish Carson, five-time New Zealand Champion at 1,500 meters, to the 2016 Rio Olympics. How fulfilling was it to still mentor and coach well past when others have put their coaching behind them?
AJ I really enjoyed coaching Hamish and it was great to see him selected for Rio.
GCR: WRAP UP You were awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to sport to 1981 and were one of four coaches inducted into the New Zealand Athletics Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006. Additionally, in 1987 you were awarded an International Amateur Athletic Federation Diploma. Recently, you were made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit at the age of 98. Is it both humbling and exciting to be so honored?
AJ I guess it’s nice to be recognized, however I don’t know about the excitement part. I’m not easily excited. I think it is a tribute too to all the amateur coaches throughout New Zealand without whom most sports would probably perish.
GCR: What is your current health and fitness regimen?
AJ I’m recovering from a complete knee replacement done some four months ago. It was almost a fatal decision of mine to have this operation and I was very lucky to survive. I would not recommend this operation for a 98-year-old. I am currently walking slowly two kilometers twice per day and doing some time on the exercycle.
GCR: As you close in on a century of life, what excites you each day and for what do you hope to be remembered?
AJ I look forward each day to some project I am working on or some other activity, such as preparing lessons for teaching bridge, playing bridge, genealogy research, reorganizing various papers, and visiting family members when not in lockdown. It doesn’t concern me greatly as to what I would possibly be remembered for.
GCR: When you are asked to sum up in a minute or two the major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running, being a part of the running community, helping and coaching others, and overcoming adversity, what you would like to share with my readers that will help them on the pathway to reaching their potential athletically and as a person?
AJ Most success in life comes from consistent hard work – there are no shortcuts to success. I have found, too, that many who achieve early success do not always reach great heights and those with less promising beginnings often emerge on top. That it is why it is dangerous to predict too early the potential of athletes. They learn at a different rate and some mature very much earlier than others. I have noticed this concept occurring in many fields of endeavor.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests Sport, Athletics, Genealogy, Photography, Literature, Education, Bridge, Family
Nicknames Inky at high school
Favorite music Musicals, Dolly Parton, Andrea Bocelli
Favorite books and authors Favorite authors include Alan Paton, Iris Murdoch and Arthur Miller. I like to read biographies, poetry and nonfiction
First car An Oakland 1928, but did not own a car until about 1948-9
Current car Mazda CX3
First Job Clerical cadet, Survey Department
Family My parents struggled bringing up five children during the depression. There was no government assistance given then to WW1 veterans who lived in cities. They were heroes one minute and completely forgotten the next. Dad was wounded at Gallipoli and his brother was killed at Passchendaele. Four of us have reached the nineties and the baby of our family is now almost 88 years old. This is surprising in view of the fact that both our grandfathers died at age 58
Pets Dog called 'Tiny'
Favorite breakfast Oatmeal porridge
Favorite meal No favorite meal. I like just about everything
Favorite beverages ): I was a very light drinker, but don’t drink alcohol at all now. I’m partial to the odd ginger beer
First running memory Running to and from school when five or six years old even at lunch time
Running heroes Jack Lovelock, and I remember him talking to our assembly at OBHS in 1936
Greatest coaching moment When John Walker won the Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
Worst coaching moment I don’t recall any great disasters
Childhood dreams I dream a bit now, but don’t recall any childhood dreams at all. I was a typical child of the depression and my main objective was to obtain a steady job in order to assist our family. As a child I don’t think my dreams extended any further
Funny memories I did hear from an athlete in the States saying that he had heard that John Walker’s foot injury had been cured by application of arch jelly and asking if he could purchase a tube
Embarrassing moment When I discovered that my wife and I had occupied the wrong cabin at Pauanui for a whole week without realizing it belonged to someone we did not know
Worst date ever Goodness knows. Even if I pinpoint one, I will not tell you
Favorite places to travel In New Zealand, first, Kerikeri and that area, and second, Central Otago