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.

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:...
But with athletics in Victoria, my home state, emerging from Covid lockdown this weekend (14-15 November) with a ‘community’ cross-country, now is as good a time as ever to dive back into Australia’s history at the world cross-country championships.
The year 2020 has been described as “a year like no other” so many times now that it is easy to forget that sometimes it’s true. Rankings, for example, which are such an anticipated and enjoyable of our sports’ end-of-year ponderings and annual awards in general, are going to be a far more difficult exercise in a year in which all competition took place within the constraints imposed by a global pandemic.
It’s often forgotten how slowly and grudgingly full recognition was given to the fact that women could actually run. Women weren’t allowed to compete in Olympic track and field until 1928, when the 100 metres and the 800 were the only two running events. The 800 was dropped after confected hysteria over some of the competitors finishing in a ‘distressed state’, a criterion which somehow never applied in the men’s event.
Let’s keep this on the record, shall we. Having considered recently how much credibility should be given to some of the world records set this year (Please Buy This Record, RT 18 October), let’s look this time at the quantity of records set by Australian duo Jessica Hull and Stewart McSweyn. Hull took down Benita Willis’s national record for 5000 metres when she ran 14:43.80 in Monaco and then Linden Hall’s national mark for 1500 with a 4:00.42 in Berlin. Finally, she ran 8:36.03 for 3000 in Doha to slice a couple of seconds off Willis’s former 3000 record. Earlier in the year, Hull ran 4:04.14 in Boston to take the indoor 1500 record from Melissa Duncan.
I never had a record-breaking career, but early in my record-buying career I acquired a disc recorded by British comedian, Peter Sellers. One track tells the tale of a pre-teen pop music phenomenon whose 15 minutes of fame had clearly come and was going fast. Our popster, despairing he hasn’t had a chart-topper for all of three weeks, ends the track I’m So Ashamed with a sobbing plea: “Please Buy This Record.” It’s not a bad metaphor for sport in 2020. The devastating impact of Covid19 was felt early and has endured throughout. By the end of March the Tokyo Olympic Games had been postponed. We are assured that the Games will go ahead same time next year, yet we were assured they would go ahead this year until they didn’t.