A Column By Len Johnson

Len Johnson wrote for The Melbourne Age as an athletics writer for over 20 years, covering five Olympics, 10 world championships and five Commonwealth Games.

He has been the long-time lead columnist on RT and is one of the world’s most respected athletic writers.

He is also a former national class distance runner (2.19.32 marathon) and trained with Chris Wardlaw and Robert de Castella among other running legends. He is the author of The Landy Era.

The Commercial Hotel in Kerang, a rural town in Victoria’s Mallee region, is as unlikely a site for a High-Performance Training Centre as you could find. Yet it may have a claim to being Australia’s first such facility.
Regular readers will know that this column loves the annual rankings lists. If there’s one thing better than watching a year’s athletics unfold around the world, it’s reading about how respected observers of the sport rate the way things have gone. Whether it is done by popular vote or detailed...
We’ve all done some strange things for training from time to time. But you would have to go some to match the training Ron Clarke put in one weekend in 1966. Granted, most of us would have trouble matching anything Ron Clarke did (other than, perhaps, the three years he...
A column by Len Johnson For those not closely monitoring Tasmania’s Christmas Carnivals series of cycling and athletics competitions – i.e. most of the world – Stewart McSweyn’s 3:50.61 mile at Penguin on 29 December came as a bolt from the blue. Not that there’s any surprise about McSweyn running that...
It’s been quite the year for records. World records, area records, national records going down like ninepins. It’s possible that without much ‘normal’ athletics happening, record-breaking creates even bigger headlines. Setting up a night of records, as happened when Joshua Cheptegei and Letesenbet Gidey broke the men’s 10,000 and women’s...
By any measure, 2020 has been an ordinary year. So many of the sporting milestones which punctuate our calendar either went uncelebrated or, when they could proceed, were “celebrated” in eerie silence. One Australian running tradition was maintained, however. The calendar year ended with a resounding performance at 10,000 metres, for which we must give grateful thanks to Patrick Tiernan. For the first time in over 50 years, the annual Zatopek 10,000 metres races did not take place. Happily, they will instead be raced in January, 2021. But Tiernan found a December 10,000 race to run, at “The Track Meet”, in San Juan Capistrano, and was able to enjoy his own private celebration after setting an Australian record 27:22.55. Tiernan finished second to Eric Jenkins of the US, who won in 27:22.06. His time was also an Oceania record. San Juan was formerly a Spanish mission in Capistrano, famous for the annual return of migratory swallows each northern hemisphere spring. Truly, all Tiernan’s swallows came home to roost on 5 December, 2020.
  A column by Len Johnson Neil Robbins knew Ron Clarke well enough to call him ‘Fat’, Clarke’s boyhood family nickname. He was a teammate of John Landy and Marjorie Jackson; a clubmate of Les Perry, Geoff Warren and Dave Stephens, ‘the Flying Milko’. He trained with Merv Lincoln and many...
Japan’s Fukuoka marathon used to be the best non-championship marathon of the year.You knew when it would be run: the first Sunday in December each year. You knew who would be running: the best six international runners organisers could get on a ‘start at the top and keep going until six men have said ‘yes’’ basis; the best six Japanese runners (few of whom ever said ‘no’ to Japan’s most prestigious race); anyone else around the world who had bettered the 2:27 qualifying time and was willing to pay their own way.The Olympics were the only global championships back then, so most years Fukuoka might bring together the European and Commonwealth champions, the winners of traditional races like Boston and the English AAA championship and others burning with ambition. Before there was a world championships, the Fukuoka marathon was the next-best thing.
Right now – 27 November, as this is written – it is exactly 64 years past the mid-point of the athletics’ program at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games. Sixty-four is not an anniversary we usually celebrate, I’ll grant you, but consider two points of mitigation in that regard. Firstly, the four-year Olympic cycle does not lend itself to the five-year rhythm of most anniversary celebrations: the two waves only coincide once every 20 years, which is way too long between drinks.
Karsten Warholm won nothing of consequence this year. He raced hardly anyone of consequence. Yet the dual world champion in the 400 metres hurdles is a viable candidate in every athlete of the year award going. Did we mention yet that 2020 is a crazy year? (I think we did:...