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Fierce fight in the family
Gwilym S. Brown
August 22, 1966
When the Commonwealth nations went at each other's throats the chief casualties were double loser Ron Clarke and a slew of swimming marks
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August 22, 1966

Fierce Fight In The Family

When the Commonwealth nations went at each other's throats the chief casualties were double loser Ron Clarke and a slew of swimming marks

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One of the enduring clich�s of international sport is that the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, which ended last week in hot and humid Kingston, Jamaica, are a fun thing really, a jolly old family affair. The Queen, among others, said so, and so did the Duke. Well, the eighth installment of the quadrennial reunion proved that the fun aspect can be greatly exaggerated. At Kingston there was a powerful competitive element. No one was forgetting a future affair that distinctly will not be a family reunion, the 1968 Olympic Games. A pair of distance runners from Kenya, Naftali Temu and Kipchoge Keino, produced an astonishing show on the National Stadium's red clay track that seemed to indicate there may be hundreds of young runners, now living and training at high altitude, who will be able to beat Ron Clarke or Jim Ryun or anyone else in the thin supply of oxygen available in Mexico City. Temu, as unknown in Kingston as in Kansas, resoundingly defeated Ron Clarke in the six-mile run. Keino, after a bitterly fought three-mile victory over Clarke, came back to win the mile in 3:55.3, pulling five other runners under the four-minute mark with him.

A group of Australian swimmers indicated that they may be well ahead of schedule in getting ready to challenge the U.S. and Russia at Mexico City. Splashing gleefully through the bright blue outdoor pool, the Aussies treated the record book like the hated index of their deficiencies that it had become in recent years. En route to winning 11 gold medals they smashed no less than nine world records.

The Games were also significant where the career of the world's outstanding distance runner, Ron Clarke, is concerned. He arrived in Kingston intent on winning both the three-and six-mile runs, to add some luster to a career that showed numerous world records but not one Olympic or Commonwealth Games victory. He left with two silver medals instead and a determination to change his training techniques.

Clarke's troubles began almost at the start of the Games, in the six-mile run. "This is the most important race of my life," he said. "It's the best chance I've ever had to win a big games gold medal." So it seemed. There was no one in the field of 11 with either the competitive record or the fast times to match Clarke's. "I want to win the six-mile, but I also want to make the race as easy as possible," he said, aware that 48 hours later he would be meeting his frequent and vigorous opponent, Keino. "I'll go out fast and try to shake everyone off. If I feel strong, I'll keep going. If I don't, I'll drift."

Clarke did not feel particularly strong—the humidity and heat were intense—but he never had a chance to do any drifting. Temu, a short, spindly 22-year-old army private from the hill country 140 miles north of Nairobi, shook himself free of the pack and stuck to front-runner Clarke like a gnat. Clarke tried to brush him off by racing through the first three miles at a killing pace, then by a series of spurt and stall tactics designed to weaken his inexperienced opponent. The only one to weaken was Clarke. Temu's coach, John Velzian, an Englishman whose government had sent him to teach physical education in Kenya eight years ago, had warned his runner of what might happen. "When he spurts you spurt, when he slows you slow," was Velzian's advice to Temu.

Temu followed instructions, his confidence blooming with each trip around the quarter-mile track as he sensed that Clarke's was failing. With four laps to go and the crowd of 20,000 howling, he suddenly sprinted into the lead and covered the last mile in 4:17.2. Temu's winning time was 27:14.6, some 27.6 seconds over Clarke's world record, but as the Kenyan rushed joyfully through the tape the world-record holder was tottering along 150 yards back up the track.

"That was the hardest race I've ever had," groaned Clarke as he collapsed into the high-jump pit when his ordeal was over. "I've never felt worse. It's impossible to run against those blokes. They train and live up in those high altitudes and even someone you've never heard of can beat you."

Two nights later in the three-mile race, Clarke at least knew whom he had to beat—Keino—and what he must do to beat him. The Australian has never trained himself to finish with a kick and must rely, therefore, on a steady fast pace that will exhaust his opponents well before the end of the race. In this strategic plan Clarke was helped by teammates Kerry O'Brien and Ian Blackwood, who alternated in pulling the field through a first mile in 4:15.8, right on record schedule, But two laps later Keino sprinted ahead of Clarke. The pain of holding such a pace, however, forced the Kenyan to slow down. "I was out for the record," said Keino, "but I began to feel very tired. I decided I'd better just concentrate on winning." Keino saved his finishing sprint until the two runners, side by side, came galloping out of the final turn. Then he moved ahead and won by 12 yards.

"How will this affect my attitude toward Mexico City?" Clarke considered the question the day after his second loss to a Kenyan. "I am more determined than ever to do well. I haven't worked on developing my speed because I've been too stubborn and I haven't had too much time, but now I'm going to start doing sprints a couple of times a week at least. Not having a fast finish is just too much of a handicap."

He also plans a more drastic change in his life to offset the tremendous advantage he feels that runners from high altitudes, like Temu and Keino, will have at Mexico City. At 29 Clarke is a successful, busy man. He is the comptroller for a combine of seven companies at Melbourne. He is also a busy family man, with a wife and two children and another child due in December. Nevertheless, six months before the start of the next Olympics he plans to pack himself and his family off to Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees, a high-altitude training center to which he has been invited by the French.

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