Saturday, 7 July 2007 archive: Arthur Lydiard: Hero

Photo: Mark Doolittle

Arthur Lydiard was born 90 years ago on July 6. He invented jogging, the simple method of long, even-pace running at a strong speed (lsd or long slow distance) to build up physical fitness by gradually increasing strength and endurance. Millions of men and women worldwide run as part of their everyday health and fitness regime. Nicolas Sarkozy was pictured in today’s paper doing such a thing.

Born at Mt Eden Auckland in 1917, educated at Mt Albert Grammar, and Owairaka Club runner, Arthur Lydiard trained New Zealand’s greatest track athletes, and helped propel New Zealand to the top of world middle-distance running. On a hot September day in Rome in 1960, within the space of one hour,
Peter Snell took Gold in the 800 metres and Murray Halberg won Gold in the 5000 metres. There have been many great moments in New Zealand sport, but that effort is arguably New Zealand’s finest. The two athletes were instantly stars on the global stage and Lydiard became the world’s most respected athletics coach. His methods were new, original and unorthodox - and had run straight into the prevailing wall of suffocating officialdom. In order to get to the Rome Olympics a public appeal was launched to send Lydiard as an "independently travelling unofficial coach.”

After Rome the New Zealand administrators could no longer ignore him and for the next few years he continued to take New Zealand athletes to the top of world running. Peter Snell was his most famous pupil and was the dominant force in world middle distance running in the early 1960s. His success at the Rome Olympics was followed two years later when he ran an incredible 3 minutes 54.4 seconds mile on a grass track in Wanganui. One week later he broke the world records for the 800 metres and the 800 yards. Also in 1962 he broke the world record for the indoor 880 and 1000 yards; he comfortably won the mile and the 880 yards at the 1962 Empire Games in Perth.

At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo – where Lydiard had achieved ‘official’ status and was the coach of the New Zealand athletics team - Snell broke his own Olympic record for the 800 metres and won the 1500 metres. He finished off 1964, and his career on the track, by breaking his own mile world record with a time of 3 minute 54.1 seconds. Three events, three Golds.

Arthur died in 2004 at the age of 87 after giving a lecture in Texas on athletics. He had his feet up and was watching television in his hotel room. Sport has the ability to provide a nation with thrilling moments, from which we can extrapolate national characteristics. When you come from the edge, you experience being ignored, ostracized and embattled, until, maybe, the grit, guts and genius of your idea busts through. Arthur Lydiard achieved this transformational moment.

There is a lot to write about the 32rd America’s Cup in Valencia, of which I have been enthralled at 3am. Arthur, I speculate, would have been too. Cheers to his wife, Joelyne.

Links: excellent wikipedia page on
Arthur Lydiard - "blunt, forthright and counter-intuitive" - and a comprehensive introduction to the "Lydiard System."

The photograph above is from a lecture to 400 runners in Boulder Colorado on his last lecture tour. "A man from the audience asked, “What about pain? What do you tell your athletes about dealing with pain?” Arthur Lydiard immediately and confidently replied, “My athletes don’t have pain. They enjoy running.”

Photo caption: "A towering backdrop bearing images of Snell, Halberg, Viren, and other running giants coached by Lydiard bore the powerful, commanding likeness of Citizen Kane’s portrait. The living monument carried himself cautiously at 87 years of age. He nonetheless commanded reverence and respect."

1 comment:

Dean said...

That is a fitting tribute to a man that, in more ways than can ever be quantified, changed the face of world running, endurance sport and fitness alike.
Arthur's tenaciousness coupled with his uniquely Kiwi "quiet-confidence" has kept the true impact of his accomplishments from becoming even more renowned.
It is widely believed that most, if not all, of the World's top coaches today incorporate Lydiard principles into their regimen. This applies to endurance sports across the spectrum. Many coaches proudly prescribe Lydiard's methods to their charges and an even greater number do so unknowingly.
Arthur was a regular Kiwi who, with hard work, guts and determination, showed the world what a force Kiwi's can be.
Thanks for all the posts. Keep it up.
Dean Jagusch