"I wanted to tell him it was all right," recalls Clarke, "but I couldn't. My tongue was so swollen it filled my mouth. I couldn't speak for two hours."
The Melbourne newspapers shouted CLARKE FAILS AGAIN.
Ron and Helen Clarke are dining at a friend's Melbourne beef house. The friend is not much in evidence but a hostess keeps fluttering by, demanding to be told how she can serve.
"Well, I want a very simple salad," says Clarke. "Just lettuce and tomatoes, no dressing, no croutons, no frills."
Derek Clayton has been invited. "He claimed he had another engagement," says Clarke. "Then I told him I was paying. But it was too late."
The salad is placed before him, with parsley and sculptured radishes. Clarke sighs and picks out the offending vegetables. Only very gently does he try to make the nature of his running understood to the others with him, perhaps reasoning that a world that cannot hold the parsley is not ripe for a philosophy of a sport that is now more complicated than winner take all.
"It's been upsetting that people have seen my attitude not as recklessness but weakness," he says. "The Australian behavior toward losers is far from healthy. If youngsters are taught that losing is a disgrace, and they're not sure they can win, they will be reluctant to even try. And not trying is the real disgrace."
The chorus, whenever Ron Clarke is consigned to insignificance, is "Who ever remembers second place?" But (hat is the gulf between spectators, who seem to believe that runners are drawn to compete only in order to make themselves immortal, and amateur athletes, who are private men doing what they do for myriad private reasons. Among distance runners, who understand something of what Clarke attempted, will be found his most thoughtful judges.
In 1966 Clarke spent a week in Prague with Zatopek, who at the time was not yet cast into official disgrace for having supported the liberal Dub?ek government. Clarke retains the whole of that visit in softly gilded memory. He speaks of his boyhood hero's grace, his standing in the eyes of his countrymen, his unabated fitness and energy. As Clarke departed, Zatopek accompanied him through customs and, in violation of regulations, onto the plane itself.
"He stood by me and then slipped a little box into my pocket. He seemed embarrassed and clearly didn't want anyone to see what he'd done. For a moment I wondered what I was smuggling out for him. Later, when the plane was in the air, I unwrapped it."