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Tony Staynings — July, 2017
Tony Staynings was a two-time British Olympian in 1976 and 1980 in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. He won the British AAA Championships in the steeplechase in 1975 and 1976 and U.K. Championships in 1977 and 1980, the latter also being the British Olympic Trials. He was a two-time member of the British Junior squad at the World Cross Country Championships. Staynings was a member of the Bristol Athletic Club team that broke the National 12 stage road record in 1980, a record which still stands today. While at Western Kentucky University, Tony was an eight-time All-American and a member of the 1974 WKU NCAA Cross Country Championships runner up team. He won six Ohio Valley Conference championships and was named OVC Athlete of the Year in Cross Country (1974), Indoor Track and Field (1977) and Outdoor Track and Field (1977). Additionally, Tony was the inaugural OVC All-Sports AOY in 1977. His personal best times include: 1,500m – 3:42.0 ; Mile – 4:01 ; 2000m - 5:06.18; 2,000m Steeplechase – 5:30.86; 3,000m – 7:55.2; 3,000m Steeplechase – 8:27.21; 3 Miles(indoor)- 13:00.2; 5,000m(indoor) – 13:39.9; 5,000m – 13:39.0; 10,000m – 28:22.53. Tony won multiple county championships while in secondary school. In 1992, he was inducted into the Western Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and was voted to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Half-Century Track and Field Team. Tony earned his undergraduate degree in health care administration and Master’s degree in public health and administration and worked in that arena for many years. Currently he does independent consulting. Tony resides in New Jersey and has three sons, one daughter and one grandchild. He was very kind to spend an hour and forty-five minutes on the telephone for this interview.
GCR:Let’s start out with the topic of the Olympics since so many people only follow track and field once every four years – they know Olympics and they respect Olympians. You made the British team in 1976 and 1980 in the steeplechase and does that accolade, ‘Once an Olympian always an Olympian,’ still ring true so many years later?
TSI think it’s reinforced. I had a period of time where my career was dominated by what I was doing. I got away from the sport a bit but, with the technology that is available now, I absolutely soak up every piece I can get. I love some of the websites where I can go on them and watch races over and over. That technology makes it better for the athletes who are competing and for the fans. I was an Olympian and I’m a huge fan of the sport right now. I’m sort of counting the days down to the World Championships which have been set up to bridge the gap between the Olympics and have made it certainly better for fans and the sport’s enthusiasts who follow along.
GCR:Let’s talk about your Olympic competitions starting first in 1976 when you were still a relatively young man in your early twenties. How exciting it was to be actually competing in the Olympics?
TSIt was sort of nip and tuck for a while. For those who were avid followers of the sport, one of my good friends was, and is, Nick Rose. Earlier in the year Nick had run the fastest 5,000 meters in the world. Such are the trials that are set up for England that he didn’t have a good run on that day, it was somewhat political, and he ended up missing out on the Olympics. I consider Nick to be so much better than me. What sewed it up for me was that I went to Kiev in the Ukraine for an international match against the U.S.S.R. I won the race in a fairly decent time of 8:30. A couple of days later I came back to England, ran a 2,000 meter steeplechase, and set a British Record. By today’s standard it isn’t that fast, but I ran a 5:30 which is decent. I had not been told that I had been automatically selected. I went to the Olympic Trials and I was having a really off day. The first half of the race I was just completely out of it. I did end up finishing third at the Trials and making the team.
GCR:You made it through your heat in sixth place in Montreal and you finished 11th in the final. How was that racing experience and also just being in Olympic Stadium?
TSAt that time it had been twenty years since anyone from Britain had ever made the Olympic finals in the steeplechase, so that became a target for me. In the heats I did something I don’t usually do and I took the lead to get myself positioned well. I ended up finishing in the qualifying position and making the final. What for me was a big thing was that the final ended up being won in a World Record time. It was very competitive and I ran, I think, one second outside of my best time. It was enjoyable and it was satisfying and the atmosphere was just electric. It was so good to soak it up and share it with the other people who were there.
GCR:In 1980 it was so different with the U.S. – led Olympic boycott. You made it out of your heat and into the semifinals, but didn’t make the final. How was the atmosphere in Moscow and were you not at your best for that competition?
TSI think I peaked a little too soon for that as I ran my fastest time ever at the Olympic Trials. I ran close to two minutes for the last two laps over hurdles and ran 8:27. The Olympics in Moscow weren’t the same as in Montreal. The British way of boycotting, or showing our displeasure with the Soviets, was that we didn’t participate in the Opening or Closing Ceremonies, we flew in just in time for our competition and as soon as the competition was over we flew out. So it was nowhere near the same. I do recall that I did have an off day and it bothered me. But the experience of going to two Olympics was quite satisfying because it does take quite a lot to make an Olympic team. It’s not something that you just say, ‘Well, I’m going to go to the Olympics.’ You have to do a great deal of preparation. I remember just how intense some of that preparation was. And in England it was a cold, rainy sort of period just before we left. I remember doing some interval workouts with Nick Rose on a grassy cliff park that overlooks Bristol and it was 42 degrees and raining – and this was in July! It was a challenge, but it was good. But I look back on it and anyone that makes the Olympic team has done an accomplishment. To make it multiple times is even more rewarding.
GCR:In the U.S. we put quite a bit of emphasis on wining national championships and I want to note that you won the British AAA Championships in the steeplechase 1975 and 1976 and then the U.K. Championships in 1977 and the one you just mentioned in 1980 when you ran 8:27. Does anything stand out as you had some close races, just beating Dennis Coates in 1977 by a second and finishing two seconds up on Roger Hackney in 1980 when you closed with those great last two laps?
TSI tended in many of my races to run conservatively. In the steeplechase, if you die out there, once you run out of energy you lose so much more from that point where you run out of steam. So I ran more conservatively and probably gave my competitors an advantage. I did have a reputation that if I was there within striking distance with a lap to go, or even two laps to go, I had a strong chance to run better than anybody else. I did have some fairly decent leg speed though I didn’t run the mile or the 1,500 meters as often as I probably could have or would have liked to. But I did have good leg speed and could easily run sub-60 seconds over hurdles for the last 400 meters. In one of the races I was about a hundred meters behind with three laps to go and ended up winning by thirty or forty meters. I was amazed at how fast I ran the last couple laps.
GCR:Speaking of the mile, you ran close to four minutes, around 4:02 I believe, and even though there have been hundreds of sub-four minute milers over the years, do you wish you had given it more of a shot and got under four minutes?
TSI don’t know where the times come from that are quoted as I ran right around 4:01 on several occasions and I also ran a 3:42 for 1,500 meters. I wish I had done that sub-four minute mile just to be able to say I had. When I ran the 1,500 meters in 3:42 my last 300 meters was 38.5 which translates into close to 51 seconds for the last lap for 400 meters. I could have or should have broken four minutes for the mile and we all can say that. But I had a great experience and enjoyed it and don’t think it makes sense to go back and wish I’d done this or done that. We can say that about a lottery ticket or a bet to win the Super Bowl.
GCR:One more international event I’d like to touch on is the 1978 Commonwealth Games where you finished in seventh place in 8:48.87. The Kenyans were out front, led by Henry Rono who won in 8:26. How was your preparation and how did that race play out for you?
TSI think what it boils down to is my hat goes out to those who have an understanding on the impact of running at altitude. I’ve only competed at altitude a couple of times. One was in Utah at Brigham Young University and the other was at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. Edmonton wasn’t as high up, but it was high enough to have an impact. Everybody felt that edge. Very few of the British distance runners who lived at sea level really stood out and did well. Henry Rono had a phenomenal year that year. He dominated the Commonwealth Games in an unusual double in winning the steeplechase and the 5,000 meters. It’s a tough double and he completely dominated. When I look back, it was relatively slow, but you have to take what you do. Looking back, knowing the things that I know now about training, I probably would have taken advantage of altitude training a little more. It was offered to me but I didn’t want to do it at the time.
GCR:Let’s switch gears and talk about your years when you ran collegiately for Western Kentucky University. There was a pipeline of British runners coming over to the U.S., so how did Coach Bean recruit you and did other British athletes encourage you to come to WKU?
TSI came over in the fall of 1973, but I had been recruited by well over thirty universities in 1970 because when I was 17 years old I set a World Record for my age at 10,000 meters. I beat the old record by about 18 seconds. Then a couple of months later I got into a special race and took another forty seconds off of my record. So, I ended up taking a minute off of the old World Record. I ran 29:56, which at 17 years old at the time was considered quite remarkable. And so I got recruited by quite a few universities including Arkansas and Western Kentucky and at the time I didn’t think I was mature enough to make that transition. I was very immature and did a lot of silly things and so I made a very conscientious and a very mature decision that I was not ready. Then Nick Rose came over to Western Kentucky and was followed by Chris Ridler. Chris and I were the same age. They both came back during the summer and Chris told me that I should come over and that it would be a great chance for me to work on my education. I didn’t have a good working position at the time so I decided to go over.
GCR:How was it for you to adapt to the differences as you were in a new country and a different environment?
TSI didn’t look back. It was a challenge adapting to the weather. The first cross country race we had was in Owensboro in August or September and it was incredibly hot. England doesn’t get the temperatures we get over here in the United States in the south. I really struggled with the first one or two races, but then we got our team together, we were training together and we had that herd mentality where when we got out there together and, if we weren’t feeling great, we could tuck behind somebody and draft off of them. Over a period of a couple of years we had some depth in our cross country program, we all got along well and we supported each other. We had a lot of fun and it became easy.
GCR:I’d like to focus on the 1974 Western Kentucky cross country team that had Nick, Chris, You and also Dave Long as a super strong top four runners. The four of you tied for first place at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships, WKU won the District meet and you went to NCAAs in very strong position. Did you feel WKU could contend for the team title or did you look at Oregon’s squad and know that your fifth man would really have to step up and run an amazing race?
TSWhat lot of people don’t realize is that the year before at the 1973 meet we ran and Nick Rose was second to Steve Prefontaine, Chris Ridler was tenth or eleventh and I finished either just behind or just ahead of Craig Virgin who was a freshman then. But one of the officials, and I use the term ‘official’ lightly, was a student from Washington State University and he said I cut the course. What happened was that we went in a straight line, there were posts and we were supposed to stay within the posts. About a half mile after the start I got pushed around the post. It was a straight line so there was no advantage, but he reported me for running outside the post. As a team, when the official results came in, were in second place. When they disqualified me we ended up finishing sixth. There was an article in the WKU newspaper that said, ‘Six inches takes Western from second to sixth.’ So, we knew we were a good team in 1974. We had a little more depth because we added Dave Long and we ended up finishing second. Nick won overall. We knew we had a solid chance of doing well, but Oregon to their credit had a great coach and they had a much more solid fifth man which made all the difference.
GCR:I went back and scored the meet earlier today through four men and, when each team’s top four had finished; Oregon was winning 33 points to 34 points. That is where the team aspect comes to a head as there has to be a strong fifth man. Was it still a thrill to come in second place as a team and did you enjoy the fact that even though Nick Rose won and had that individual honor that all of you could celebrate together?
TSThe team we had really cared about each other. A few months ago I was in Georgia and touched base with one of the runners on that team, Stevie Smith, who was our seventh or eighth man. He was a good guy on the team and supported us. We had dinner recently and were like lost brothers who found each other and we just had a great time. It is true that there are so many friendships that are developed. The athletes who were performing well didn’t keep to ourselves back during our collegiate running. We took an interest in all of the runners on the team and tried to encourage them to be successful because the more successful our teammates are, the more successful we are as a team. And it proved to be true.
GCR:Why don’t we chat a bit about some of your major track races where you placed at the NCAAs and get your comments? First, in 1975 indoors in the 3-mile you finished second behind John Ngeno of Washington State by about seven seconds. Was it a competitive race where he stayed in the pack or did he go out in front, take the lead and push the pace?
TSJohn had a lot more raw talent than I had. I didn’t get to appreciate it until I watched videos of races and listened to commentary. Also, until I watched tapes of some of my races, I didn’t realize how my body type was suited for indoors. When I look back on my running career, I was probably more successful indoors than anywhere else. I gained confidence by knowing that my size and stature and my cadence and my ability to accelerate suddenly helped me enormously. That was the first indication that I could do something at a national level, so that was enjoyable.
GCR:It’s interesting when you mention that about your stature because when I interviewed Jim Beatty, who was the first sub-four minute miler indoors, he said that really helped him out too being short and small when racing on those indoor board tracks. So it appears that this probably is a common thread that smaller runners are suited to the tight indoor tracks.
TSWell, it was and the other thing is that I developed confidence. Typically, I was the shortest person in the race, though that didn’t impact me in any way. I just thought, ‘Fine – they’re going to have to beat me.’ I do recall running the indoor two-mile another time and finishing second to Henry Rono. The first quarter mile went out in 69 or 70 seconds which was ridiculously slow for the two-mile. I felt extremely confident then, though that was before we realized just how amazingly strong Henry Rono was. He threw a 61 second quarter mile in and then another 61 and then another 61. I was still with him, but I was starting to feel it. I think he did another 61 and he went through 2,000 meters in 5:11 or 5:12. So after that slow opening quarter mile it ended up just being too much for me. But I broke away from the rest of the field. Looking back, that was probably one of my better performances indoors, although I did probably outshine that with some of my three mile runs at the A.A.U. Indoor Championships.
GCR:One race that really stands out to me when I look at the runners who placed in the top eight is the 1976 NCAA Outdoor 5,000 meters with Josh Kimeto winning in 13:38 and followed by Samson Kimombwa in 13:38 , you in 13:39, and then Craig Virgin, Dave Taylor, Ralph King, Steve Plasencia and Herb Lindsay. The top eight was so strong – how amazing was it to race against that talented of a field?
TSGeorge Malley was in the field too and he went with the leaders. The two Kenyans and George were up front and he ended up dropping out. It was 85 to 90 degrees in Champaign-Urbana for the race. They took it out ridiculously fast. What happened is that I held back and I came through and if the race had been another ten meters longer I would have taken them. I was finishing that strong. What was funny is that at the time there was a big controversy at the time about allowing foreigners to get scholarships to compete. I remember being interviewed by Bruce Jenner, who was on ABC, about that topic. But back to the race, with 200 meters to go I took off like a rocket and the crowd was going crazy because they see me, a white guy wearing a Western Kentucky shirt, racing two Africans. I think all of them didn’t realize that I was a foreigner too.
GCR:They may have thought you were from the mountains of Kentucky and that your dad made moonshine!
TSThat is probably true. It was ironic because there is a picture after the race of Craig Virgin and me. It was so hot and our feet were so blistered up that we were both with our hands draped over each other’s shoulders with our feet in this bucket of ice cold water. Somebody took a picture of that and it was a great shot.
GCR:When I browsed through the NCAA cross country results, it was interesting who the runners were that finished a second in front of you or a second behind you. In 1975 Herb Lindsay was a second in front of you. In 1976 Bob Hodge was a second ahead of you and Henry Marsh was a second behind you. There were so many good runners in these blanket finishes. What are your thoughts on how tough the fields were in cross country that brought together everyone who raced in track at 1,500 meters, the steeplechasers and the 5k/10k guys? Did cross country seem to be like the All-Star races where everybody was there?
TSCross country was a staple in England. We were involved in it at a club level. Club athletics is bigger in England than in this country. It was also a different era, a different time. Road races and road relays were big, but there was a foundation in cross country. We were running through mud and over hill and dale and it is tough. It’s great preparation, because imagine running over a muddy course and in the rain and in the snow. Then, fast forward to the summer and we are running on a track with firm ground, good spikes, we weren’t slipping and sliding, and the psychological benefit of training and running cross country and then transitioning to a very flat, friendly surface of a track is just amazing. I think that many of us found that. Henry Marsh excelled in cross country, ran in the Olympics and I think finished one place in front of me in the final in 1976. He went on to become a staple of American steeplechase racing and even to this day his impact was huge. He was a phenomenal runner.
GCR:You won quite a few individual Ohio Valley Conference championships. Was it a lot of fun competing at the conference level, not just individually, but to try to win team championships?
TSIt was fun and we won the OVC outdoor title for many years, at least ten, in a row and it was looked at as what we had to do. I was talking with a friend the other day and one of the things we were able to do was to use those races as part of our training. We were running 80 or 90 or 100 miles a week in cross country and a little less in track and we could train through meets. In track, if I knew I had to run a 4:10 or a 4:07 to win the mile, it was sort of at 90 percent and not all out. If I had to run 14 minutes to win a three-mile, that was basically a training run. So, we were able to train through it and recognize in the backs of our minds, especially for Nick and myself, that we were gearing up for transitioning from running the U.S. outdoor season to running the European outdoor season which was much more intense.
GCR:When you look back now, you were the Ohio Valley Conference Athlete of the Year – in cross country in 1974 and in both indoor and outdoor track and field in 1977 – how meaningful are those accolades?
TSThey were meaningful and one award I got on top of those was the inaugural Ohio Valley Conference Athlete of the Year for all sports in 1977. That was the first time they included all sports so that was big for me back then. It wasn’t that I was running against people who weren’t good. Ray Flynn was competing for East Tennessee State. He and I had a few races and he won the 1,500 meters at the conference meet in 1977. I finished second and beat my previous best by three seconds. Two weeks later I took another three seconds off, so I made a huge improvement and it was because of running against people such as Ray Flynn. There was the Irish Brigade at East Tennessee State and an English contingent at Murray State. We still stay in touch with many of them today. Ray Flynn is a well-known agent and the Millrose Games Meet Director. Some are still involved in the sport and have maintained their love for the sport.
GCR:You set a lot of school records while at Western Kentucky and still hold records in the indoor and outdoor 5,000 meters along with the 3,000 meter steeplechase and are third on the all-time 10,000 meter list. Is it sort of amazing to still hold these records after more than forty years?
TSI think that at the time we were just running and racing and having fun. We didn’t consider going fast forward twenty years and if records would hold up. Twenty years is a long time and now its forty years – wow! We have some old people still hanging on out there!
GCR:We’ve been talking about you racing, but let’s focus some on your training. What were some of the keys of your cross country training in terms of stamina training or inclusion of hill workouts?
TSThe cross country regimen was due to big credit to Dave Jennings who was Nick Rose’s coach. He eventually assumed a role in coaching me as I was transitioning. He wrote our training workouts. We had a staple. We would do a long run on Sunday mornings. One of the original great runners at the school was Hector Ortiz who was the first cross country All-American at Western. He had a loop he developed that we called ‘Hector’s Loop.’ It was five miles, but the truth was that it was measured at a bit short like 4.7 miles. So psychologically we were doing five miles each run in thirty minutes, but we were cheating ourselves. We would do that five mile run most mornings. In the afternoons we usually did hard work on Mondays and Wednesdays. It depended if we were racing. We would do hills. We would do fartlek running where we would do fast fartlek intervals of two or two and a half minutes. We may do some track workouts in the wintertime, but that was more distance running. We didn’t do anything real fast. It was pretty straightforward. After our hard Monday and Wednesday workouts we would cut back on the mileage and allow a couple of days to gear up for a race.
GCR:And then when track season came around what were some of your key workouts?
TSWhen it was indoor season we didn’t really have a place to simulate indoors except at the top of the basketball arena so we would do a lot of indoor workouts there. We couldn’t see around the bend. We would run outside and do sprints on the road. Nick had a routine that he would get in where he was doing 200s, 300s or 400s and they would all be geared to running 60 second quarter mile pace. So that became a staple for us. I remember later on that we had seven or eight athletes that started a workout and we were doing six by a half mile and the target was to do them all under two minutes. Amazingly, I found it was easy because I would only be leading one lap of the entire six half miles. We had a 4:01 miler that didn’t make our four by one mile relay team and that was Ross Munro. He was our fifth best miler. We entered the Drake Relays and set a British Record because all of us were from Britain. It was Chris Ridler, Swag Hartel, then me and Nick Rose. We ended up running 16:17. We went back to Europe later that year and they set up a four by 1,500 meter race and we set a British record in that too.
GCR:Amidst the individual demands that our sport requires, did you really enjoy the time with your teammates?
TSWe had fun and today more athletes need to enjoy what they do and take away that pressure. We played cards when we were in a van going from Bowling Green, Kentucky to Des Moines, Iowa for over six hours. It went by so quickly because we were playing cards with each other. We were gambling – a couple dollars here and there. We had a blast!
GCR:Are you still close with many of your teammates?
TSThe university had a fortieth anniversary of our team coming in second place in the NCAA cross country. It was a special event. Nick flew in from England and it was pretty cool.
GCR:I did read previously that all but one of the 14- man team were alive and able to make it.
TSYes, Chris Ridler passed away in 1984 from leukemia. He was thirty-one when he died. He was much too young. He was a great friend. We were very tough on each other as competitors. I remember running a mile and I won it against either Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan in 4:06. Chris got so upset with me because I didn’t lead and would sit on the other runners. I just told him, ‘if that’s going to win the race, I’m going to do it!’ We laughed about it later, but we all got so competitive. We’d get disappointed or mad and say some things, but at the end of the day we loved each other. When he passed it was really tragic and I was so saddened to hear that.
GCR:Why don’t we go back to your childhood and how you got started in the sport of distance running? Were you a pretty athletic kid doing a lot of sports and activities and how did you get started running as a youth?
TSWell, the truth of the matter is that I was the most unathletic, nerdy looking kid you could ever meet. At the school at the age of eleven I went from elementary school to secondary school in England. The kids would be playing soccer, we called it football, or they would be playing cricket. The Sports master knew who the good kids were and made them the captains. So they picked teams for football or cricket or whatever. One day at the end there were half a dozen of the nerdiest, most unathletic kids you’ve ever seen and the Sports master said, ‘Congratulations gentlemen, you’re my cross country team. I need you to run around the field for the next hour.’ And that was my introduction to running. At first I wasn’t really good, but it gave me a sense of belonging.
GCR:How did you transition to club running and then really improving to where distance running became your sport?
TSI ended up joining a club, Westbury Harriers. Chris Ridler was a member of Westbury Harriers and they had a big tradition. Over a period of time I ran in the youth and then the juniors and I went from being the last person on the last team to becoming the first person on the first team. That took a number of years. I remember in 1966 when England had won the World Cup I was introduced to a guy who became a major inspiration to me, Ivor Edmunds, who was a decent road runner. He said to me, ‘If you stick at it you can run for your country.’ At the time England had just won the World Cup for the first and only time ever and it stuck on me. I thought, ‘I can run for England.’ He told me, ‘I don’t know how to coach people your age.’ I was thirteen. ‘Come back to me in a couple of years and I’ll work with you.’ And I did. Over a period of time he installed in me a sense of understanding about my body as I was growing. He gave me confidence. He had me do workouts that were more geared toward distance running and less on speed. So my success was in the longer races. I didn’t have any speed, but I cultivated that over a period of time. What I did do was to get in the habit of doing pushups and sit ups every day, twice a day, and I continued throughout my competitive career. I was doing sixty of each in the morning and afternoon and even transitioned to doing handstand pushups. I had an incredible wiry strength in me. When I first came to the University I weighed 117 pounds, but I could bench press 200 pounds. Your core and your upper arms is where you get explosiveness. I was able to go from not being very fast to where my best 800 meter time was in the last half of a 1,500 meters. It was a 1:51.
GCR:When you were a youth and becoming a distance runner, what were some highlights of your racing where you started to see that you could shine, whether it was at 1,500 meters or other distances?
TSEngland was divided into counties in the same way that the U.S. is divided into states. So I competed at the county level. The county I competed for is Somerset, which is in the southwest of England. I started picking off county titles and even got to the point where I won the junior cross country race and came back and won the senior cross country race thirty minutes later. It became obvious that I had some drive and I had passion for the sport. It gave me confidence because I wasn’t a social butterfly. The only thing I could do was run. When I first saw my name in the newspaper from a race I thought, ‘Wow! That’s pretty cool!’ When I look back it may be corny but, the reality is, when I gained confidence and self-esteem it really triggered something for me. Over a period of time I got to feeling pretty confident. When I set the World Record for my age for 10,000 meters at 29:56 I felt pretty good. It was posted as a write up in the news. My best 5,000 meter time before that was about 14:40 and I went through the 5,000 meters in that 10,000 race in 14:30. It sort of let me know that I had something there. The people I ran with as a junior who were my age or slightly younger or slightly older includes some good names – Nick Rose, Julian Goder who ran a 27:30 later on, Bernie Ford, Barry Smith and Dennis Coates who set the Olympic Record in the heats in the Montreal Olympics. So there were a ton of good distance runners in England at the time. It has been controversial these days as some people say we have lost that depth and to some degree I agree with that.
GCR:When you speak about your junior results, you did compete in the 1972 World Junior Cross Country Championships and finished in 31st place. Was that your first time representing England internationally and how thrilling was that?
TSYes it was my first time and it was great. I ran in the World Cross Country Championships twice as a junior. The first time was in Ghent in Belgium and the second time was in Cambridge in England. It was good and it opened the door for me to realize that I could expand my horizons. I do know that technically I had the ability to compete for England or the Republic of Ireland, because my mother was Irish, or I could compete for West Germany because I was born in West Germany. I remember being asked to compete for Ireland when I lived in England. They invited me to compete for an Irish cross country team. I think I was seventeen years old. I very quickly made a decision to turn it down because being an Irish international runner while living in England wasn’t the same as being an English international runner living in England. It has much more prestige. I probably could have made it to at least one or maybe two more Olympics because my times in the steeplechase, the event I mainly competed in on the outdoor track, would have had me definitely making more Olympic teams. But I didn’t think like that at the time. I wanted to compete and wanted to be the best I could be. I think I was getting more competition running against English-based competition than if I was competing in Ireland at that time.
GCR:Going back to cross country, it doesn’t appear that you competed at the World Cross Country Championships at the senior level when you were older. Was there any reason that you didn’t?
TSI never competed at the senior level, but Nick Rose really had a passion for cross country. Nick won the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Spain one year. That was the year that Dave Bedford won the senior race. Nick is very humble. Nick is one of the most unassuming sports legends out there and I don’t say that lightly. He competed at the Masters level and he still competes now. He won the 65+ Masters cross country race in England just this past year. He stayed in touch with his running and is a first class, humble guy. Even looking back when he would run races he didn’t like to get beat by anybody. But when we finished the race, and if it was a cross country race, he wouldn’t stop and talk to reporters – he would turn around and run down the course and cheer on the team. That’s the sort of guy he is. He’s a wicked card player too – so keep some money in your pocket!
GCR:In the late 1970s and into the early 1980s you raced in dozens and dozens of road races. Were you doing this to make a living from running like a lot of distance runners were doing at the time?
TSNot really. In the late 1970s I was still in college. I got a teaching assistantship because I was working on my Master’s degree. I was making enough to keep bread on the table. Money wasn’t a motivator for me and when it did become a motivator for me I think it destroyed some of my competitive spirit. There is a difference in wanting to win a race to make money and what I wanted – winning the race to win the race. The involvement of money was a detriment to my running career. The road racing was fun. We got into some pretty good races. I remember running a race in Virginia, it was the Virginia Ten-miler in Lynchburg, and Herb Lindsay won it. The race starts out with a slight climb and drops downhill for a mile and a half. What happened was I had just come back from running the track season and ran it in the fall, I believe in 1979, the same year that I finished second at the Diet Pepsi 10k in Purchase, New York. At the Virginia race I go through the first mile in about 4:12 and I’m in seventh place. You have to understand that with the slight uphill and then the step downhill that the 4:12 is fast but you are sort of aided by the descent. I ended up going through five miles in 23 minutes. We went through this park, I hit a speed bump, it had been raining and there were leaves on it. I slipped and I came down so hard that I tore about an 18 inch piece of flesh on my right side and I thought I broke my hip. So I didn’t run further and I ended up going to the hospital and getting treated. I think on that day I could have run a pretty decent ten-miler but it wasn’t to be. I did come back and run well at the Diet Pepsi 10k behind Herb Lindsay.
GCR:Could you tell me a little more about that race as it was loaded with Jeff Wells, Craig Virgin, Herb Lindsay and others? Was that a battle because Herb Lindsay was so tough on the roads?
TSIt was. I remember that I went out at a steady pace and came back and finished really strong. I had a great picture of the start of that race that was on a Runners’ World calendar. Barry Smith was there as were a whole bunch of international athletes. The race went out, it was a good course, a good pace, times were good and it was enjoyable.
GCR:You also ran some longer races, first stretching it out to a half marathon in Dayton, Ohio in October of 1978 where you ran a 1:03:42. How did you find racing when you extended out to the half marathon distance? Did you feel comfortable and at home?
TSI made huge tactical mistakes. I should have realized that I had the leg speed to just go with the pace and sit. In one of those longer races I got impatient and I took off and gapped everybody by quite a bit and they caught me and Dave Murphy got away and won it. He was a tremendous talent at the longer distances, both the marathon and the half marathon. It was one of those things where I needed more confidence to go out there and just go with the flow rather than take off. I did have a solo win at the Maple Leaf Half Marathon in New Hampshire just before my debut at the New York Marathon. I ran in the mid 1:03 in a solo effort and felt confident going into New York. But the marathon was a distance I just wasn’t able to master. I ran a 2:18, but when you consider my times at 10k and in the half marathon 2:18 wasn’t that good.
GCR:I noted that in Columbus, Ohio you ran that 2:18, but a couple of years later you did win a marathon in Memphis with ‘only’ a time of 2:20. But was it sort of cool to be the champion of that marathon even though the time wasn’t close to equivalent of your times at shorter distances? Was it nice to win the race and receive the accolades?
TSIt was fine. I went to that race and my sole purpose was to make a couple bucks. They were offering two thousand bucks for first prize. I saw it, I called the guy up and I said I was going to come down. I came down and Gary Fanelli was there. Gary gave me grief and we laugh about it now. Gary was a character and was a talent in his own right. He thought he would come down and pick up some easy money. I said, ‘well, you still might be able to’ and he said, ‘right!’
GCR:I live in the Orlando area and I noticed in your racing results that you ran our half marathon which was the Tangerine Bowl Half Marathon when you ran it in 1982 and then was renamed the Citrus Bowl half Marathon when you raced in 1984. Interestingly, when you ran 1:04:32 for tenth place in 1984, I was a few minutes behind you in my all-time PR of 1:08:13in 22nd place. So we actually raced that day. Do you recall much of those Orlando races?
TSThat’s cool, but I don’t remember much of those races. It’s funny because I have a good friend who is involved in our running club and he will tell me about races I ran in. I’ll tell him that I never ran that race and he will show me a picture of me at the starting line. I’ve been involved in the sport in so many different ways that it’s sort of hard to remember every race I’ve run in. After leaving college we ran for the Mason-Dixon Track Club which later became the Victory Athletic club. We had the distinction for a small town club based out of Louisville of winning the AAU cross country championship two or three times. We were like the Jamul Toads out west.
GCR:I came across an interview with Nick Rose talking about the Bristol Athletic Club team that broke the National 12 stage road record in 1980 in 4:00:37, just a minute or two in front of the Tipton Harriers and Gateshead Harriers. Nick mentioned that Steve Jones and you were on the team and ‘It just came together on the day. It is a lovely memory.’ What are your recollections of that race?
TSIt was neat because they flew me over. They needed an additional team member so I took a break from my studies. It was really nice because in England the 12 stage race is big. There are six shorter stages and six longer stages. The long stage is about 5.8 miles. That is a huge, huge traditional event. We ended up beating the course record by a huge amount and nobody has come close to it since then. I have some pictures.
GCR:It must be really enjoyable to see pictures and films that are now on the internet that weren’t available years ago.
TSFor my fiftieth birthday my mother contacted the BBC and was able to get films of some of my races which I had never seen before and they were downloaded and sent to me. I showed them to my kids and they said things like, ‘Holy moly dad, we didn’t realize you wee that good!’
GCR:In the mid-1980s your road racing career came to an end. Did you decide that it was time to move into other pursuits in life?
TSI have a Master’s degree and I was doing the road racing circuit and I had all of this extra time on my hands. My education was in health care education and management. I decided to do some volunteer work for a ten county mental retardation and substance abuse organization and that led me to move into a career working with developmentally disabled. So I spent seven or eight years as director of a program in Bowling Green working with the disabled in vocational training and development and helping them to get independent skills. Then I had a six year period where I was CEO of a couple of small hospitals – one in Texas and one in Nebraska. After that I was recruited back by the company I had begun with and got involved with the Jobs Corps program which is vocational training and development for young adults. That’s what I did for a number of years. I’m doing some independent consulting now. I’m sort of slowing down a bit in terms of being active, but I’m keeping as busy as I can. My weight gain has been a little so I’m working out now to get back into general condition. I’m doing fairly well at that and I enjoy running when I can, exercising and just trying to stay in good health.
GCR:I try to run as much as I can on trails to minimize wear and tear on my joints. Do you try to get out on trails to go easy on your legs when you run?
TSA couple of years ago I was running in England because I was living and working in England at the time. I was running five miles with Nick Rose and then over a period of time when I would get to the four mile mark I felt out of shape. I was winded. And then very quickly over a period of several months it got to where I couldn’t run a hundred yards. I went from being able to run four miles to three and a half miles to three miles and then it got to the point where something was wrong because I couldn’t run a hundred yards. I found out that I had a mitral valve that was failing me. It ended up that the only procedure to fix it was to repair or replace my mitral valve. I had open heart surgery and it was the same day that Michael Jackson died, my daughter’s birthday, June 25th, 2009. I bounced back from that okay and then a couple of years ago I was running on the treadmill and felt a twinge in my knee. I had a torn meniscus and had to have surgery on that and it never really recovered. I am able to go out and do some running. My form is okay. I do a combination of cross training so that I get a better-rounded workout. My running days are pretty well done. I enjoy running and I absolutely enjoy watching it. I am looking forward to the upcoming World Championships. But I am disappointed with the sport of running and what’s going on with whether the sport is clean or not. It’s disgusting to me.
GCR:One more question from back when you were competing – who were some of your favorite competitors either from your youth, college days, international racing or on the roads – guys that when you raced you knew they were tough and would push you tom another level and you liked it?
TSNick Rose would have to be there. He had such competitiveness. Nick was a truly, great all-around guy and a competitive and successful person. I beat Nick maybe four times and we raced each other on quite a few occasions. Craig Virgin without question was a mainstay of distance running in the United States. In Britain, Dennis Coates and I were very fierce rivals. Dennis hated it when I kicked past him in the last lap or so. Dennis won my heat in the steeplechase in the 1976 Olympics and at the time it was an Olympic Record and a British Record, so Dennis was really quite good. On the roads Herb Lindsay was a huge standout and did some amazing stuff. We had some great races but I didn’t focus on road racing as much as others did. When I look back, could I have stayed in the sport longer? Maybe. But I made a conscious decision when I went to college while some of my teammates were taking soft majors like underwater basket weaving or recreation or physical education, and there is no put down on those lines of training, that I wanted to do something that was going to give me independence from running. That’s why I chose health care administration as an undergraduate and public health and administration for my Master’s. It was a good decision.
GCR:After a stellar career there are often accolades and you were inducted into the Western Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame twenty-five years ago in 1992 and you were also voted to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Half-Century Track and Field Team. How does it feel to be so honored?
TSI didn’t know I was on the OVC All-Half-Century Track and Field Team.
GCR:It’s an exclusive team. Some of your fellow WKU Hilltoppers on the team from when you competed are Nick Rose and weight man Jesse Stuart. So you didn’t even know you were on the Ohio Valley Conference All-Half-Century Track and Field Team. Congratulations!
TS(laughing) That is cool. Any time you are recognized for your longevity in the sport it is nice. I was the inaugural winner of the overall OVC Athlete of the Year Award which was great. I remember going back to Western Kentucky and meeting some of the current team members and it was fun. The fact is that we had an impact and that impact was carried over for a number of years. After forty plus years it is pretty cool. I like to think that we were involved and represented our school in a positive way and that people look to us as good role models. Hopefully the new generation of people in the sport can aspire to do things that bring them closer to their potential. That’s one of the things that we’ve learned. I did get involved in coaching a bit, but as a manager involved with people working in the work force I like to think that if I have an impact on people that they are better today than when I first met them. I think that is an important concept. I believe that most people are inherently good. Some are more so than others. Talking about Jesse Stuart – did you know that he had a heart transplant? I had open heart surgery and went to a reunion and he had had an open heart surgery. That’s when he told me that he was on a list to have a heart transplant. Now he has had the heart transplant and he’s doing great. He’s doing really, really well.
GCR:Weren’t you good friends with Tom Fleming, who unfortunately passed away recently, and didn’t you have a connection to the Centrowitz family?
TSI had lunch with Tom Fleming a couple weeks before he invited me to watch his track team compete. I arrived at the meet and they told me he had just collapsed. None of us know about tomorrow so we have to take advantage of today and make it good. I knew Matt Centrowitz, Sr. as an athlete but never competed against him. I had the privilege of meeting his son at the New York City Fifth Avenue Road Mile. What a pleasant young man he is. He is just a really humble young man and I was so pleased to see him in the Olympics. It’s such a small world because Matt Centrowitz, Sr. has a younger brother, Gerry Centrowitz, who went to Western Kentucky with us. He was involved in the sport but wasn’t one of our top runners. We stayed in touch and he introduced me to his nephew. Gerry got to travel and seeing his nephew win the Olympics had to be a thrill for him.
GCR:I interviewed Matt, Sr. a couple of months ago and he is a straight-shooter and pretty intense.
TSDon’t be fooled by that. Matt has a personality. I wasn’t around him, but I’ve spoken to enough people to know that Matt could have some fun. He is involved in the sport and just became full-time involved with working with his son. He was a tough competitor and got a lot of respect from many people. He has made a huge contribution to the sport.
GCR:When you look back at your competitive days and the more professional aspects today, are there areas where you know they would have helped your performances?
TSKnowing the things that I know today I think there are many things I could have done personally that could have helped my running. Knowledge about nutrition and knowledge about biomechanics would have helped. I’m a huge fan of what Nike and some of the other programs have done to help athletes. We have seen the gap bridged in the distance running community between the huge chasm that there was amongst America and European countries versus the African countries. But they do have the advantage of growing up and competing at altitude which does make a huge difference.
GCR:You mentioned that you haven’t done much coaching, but as a kid you told me how you were one of the more unathletic kids who ended up by default on the cross country team. What advice do you have for kids to keep them interested in running, to minimize injuries and also to help them move toward their potential?
TSI got involved in coaching soccer for my oldest son, who is now thirty-one years old, but the intensity that some parents and coaches had was too much. Let kids grow up, let kids enjoy the sport and don’t expect them to be Super Bowl champions when they are twelve years old. At an early age the important thing is to make it fun. Find somebody that enjoys the sport with you, go out and do your base training together, have fun, tell jokes, relive the movie you saw the night before. Learn how to go through the motions and to have fun. Once you get a little older people learn to naturally want to be competitive. But should it be life and death for a competition for a twelve year old? I don’t think so.
GCR:I was reading about a race where you spoke to the runners and a participant was very impressed with how you inspired her. When you speak to a group and just have a short time to inspire them through talking about your background, working to achieve challenging goals, the discipline of running and the patience of training many years with a goal, what do you say that you would like to share with my readers?
TSA lot of people don’t know this but when I was a freshman I was up in the Boston Area with Nick Rose, Swag Hartel, Chris Ridler and a few others. I was lying in bed about two o’clock in the morning and a car came flying through my room. It landed on me and fractured both sides of my hip. The guy had been drunk, passed out and put his car in drive instead of reverse. We were in an old-fashioned motel and there was a stone pillar between the window and the door. He crashed into that and the stone pillar crushed the end of the bed and he blasted through. Nick got seventy-two stiches. He was on the far side. Chris was in the middle on a sleeping cot and he got a few stiches. But the car landed on me. The doctor said I would most likely not be able to walk properly, let alone run. That devastated me. I felt sorry for myself. But the coach at Western Kentucky told me, ‘shake it off.’ Jerry Bean said, ‘you’re better than this.’ And I determined I wasn’t going to let it shake me off. Later that year I finished second to Doug Brown in the steeplechase. That was only four or five months later. So I think that when the chips are down, remember the old saying that ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’ You can do whatever you put your mind to. You just have to be willing to make sacrifices. Enjoying your sport is also your mainstay. It can be social. It can be learning more about other athletes. It can be learning more about your own talents, your ability and your limitations. Make it fun. I see many people today living that and enjoying it and that is the important thing to do. When you get intensely competitive such as at a national level or internationally or at the Olympics or World Championships, you can step it up a little bit. But ease the pressure off and have fun.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI like learning. I like to learn new things. I enjoy understanding different cultures. In the northern hemisphere I have been to most countries with the exception of China and Japan. But I haven’t been to many places in the Southern hemisphere. By travelling you get to enjoy the other cultures and to understand and respect what other people do. I think in this country we tend to have been softened up by the easy lifestyle that Americans and many western societies have. When you take a look at what Ethiopians or Kenyans or other third world countries have, they don’t have the luxury or choice to do and have the things that the typical kids will do in this country – whether it’s a cell phone or computer. So they focus more on sports. Two twins from New Zealand moved to Kenya and I think they are the only twins to have run sixty minutes for a half marathon. That’s pretty impressive. They are living in Kenya and living a very Spartan life. I love watching people overcome hardships and succeed
NicknamesWhen I first came to the United States I still enjoyed the English traditional breakfast of fried eggs, baked beans and other typical English food. So I started eating the beans and Swag Hartel named me ‘The Bean King’
Favorite movies‘Zulu’
Favorite TV shows‘Two and a Half Men’
Favorite musicI’m very eclectic with music. I like older traditional music like The Beatles and Paul McCartney. Also, there is Michael Jackson, who left a huge impact on the music industry. I can sit down and listen to classical music. I don’t like too much rap music because many of the rap artists tend to use harsh, hurtful language and inflammatory language toward women and minorities
Favorite booksI like historic novels. James Michener was classic for me. I’m sorry that he passed on as he left a huge impact on me with many of his writings which are timeless. Steven King is another favorite, along with Tom Clancy
First carI had a Mini-Minor. It was in England and it used more motor oil than petrol or gasoline
Current carI’ve got an Audi A6
First JobI worked with my brother. When we were young we would go around with a bucket, a shami cloth and a sponge. We would go to housing developments where they were putting up new houses and we would mop up peoples’ doors. And we would offer to wash their cars. I didn’t realize it at the time but we would walk four miles to the neighborhood and four miles back. That was typically on a Saturday and Sunday
FamilyI have three sons. Joseph is thirty-one, Andrew is twenty-six and Brandon is twenty-four. My daughter, Katie, is twenty-three and she graduated from college last year. My oldest son is doing very well. He was in the Marines for five years and served in Afghanistan for a while so he had some experiences there. Joseph and his wife just had my first granddaughter
PetsWe did have pets. I enjoy pets, but that’s not my thing. I see too many pets that are spoiled and that dominate the financial side of things and they really shouldn’t. I’m pretty low-key there
Favorite breakfastThe traditional English or Irish breakfast of black pudding or white pudding, mushrooms, fried eggs and beans. There is nothing like a good English breakfast. I don’t have them as much now because I have to watch my cholesterol. I do love to cook
Favorite mealMarinated salmon
Favorite beveragesI used to love beer, but I don’t drink much beer anymore. I like a glass of white wine
First running memoryIt would be that time when teams were picked by the Sports master and the six of us who were left became the cross country team and ran for an hour
Memorable running memoryOne of the things that we didn’t talk about is an indoor race where I finished second to Eamonn Coghlan in the indoor three-mile. What was ironic about it is that, at that time, what I ran was the fifth fastest ever indoors. It brought back so many memories. It was at the Millrose Games and was a highlight as Eamonn was World Record holder in the indoor mile. He was quite impressive with his indoor running and for me to get out there and finish right behind him in the indoor three-mile was a big thing for me
Running heroesRon Clarke has to stand out. Ron was such a major, major inspiration. Also, the three great athletes from England, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram. I didn’t know Steve Cram too well, but I really did admire and respect Steve Ovett. He was a down-to-earth person with whom you could sit down and have a conversation and joke around a bit. He was unpretentious, just a really top-notch guy
Greatest running momentWinning the Olympic Trials in 1980 because I was so far out of it. What had happened is that a week before I ran a mile and I ran only 4:13. For someone who was capable of running under four minutes, to run a 4:13 shook me up. I changed my training that week, I lightened the load and I came to the Olympic Trials. I was quite a bit behind in the race and the last three laps I just exploded. The feeling of power I had in those last three laps left me no doubt that I was going to win the race. It was just very rewarding to know that I had that much control. I was like a souped-up car and I could go as fast as I wanted to. I remember that very clearly
Worst running momentI think I blacked those out from my mind
Childhood dreamsA lot of people may laugh at this, but I wanted to be a Catholic priest
Embarrassing moment oneBelieve it or not this incident happened to me. It was at the 1975 NCAA Cross Country Championships. We started warming up and I realized that I had left my racing singlet in the hotel room. I didn’t get it until five minutes before the start of the race. So, I was panicked
Embarrassing moment twoAt the 1980 Olympics for the first heat I had gotten everything ready during my pre-race ritual and I left my racing singlet in the athletes’ village. I was panicking and they found a British female rower in the stadium that had her singlet. So I used her singlet and they hand wrote my number so that I would have the race number they had assigned. In qualifying I ended up making it as the fastest non-automatic qualifier. But the anxiety that came out was pretty intense. I was a World Class athlete, it was not my first Olympics and I left my singlet in the Olympic Village
Favorite places to travelBelieve it or not, I don’t have a place that’s a favorite. I enjoy wherever I am. I think that is because my work career has had me travelling quite a bit as did my running. I did some volunteer work with Rotary International in Ecuador. I would go down there for two weeks which I did five years in a row. We would help poor communities build homes, get water systems going, get medical facilities set up and, even though we were in some poor and destitute areas, we learned a lot from the people who were there. Things we take for granted, like most of the kids there have worms because they don’t have clean drinking water. The kids would say, ‘Mommy, my tummy hurts,’ and the parents would say, ‘that’s normal.’ Well, it shouldn’t be normal. Going to places where people need assistance and I could help make a difference – those are the places that left the biggest impact on me. It has been a passion with me for a number of years and definitely brings me a big reward