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 3 September, 2000

 


 
Run To Win
   
1 Cor 9:26-27, Heb 12:1-2

 

The sport I loved as a teenager more than any was athletics. I discovered as a boy I could run fast. By twelve years of age I was already training in athletics. From the day I had my first race at high school in Form 1 and won, I was to run every day of my life for the next six years, training every night, running in winter cross-countries and in summer athletic competitions.

Every year I would represent the school in the inter-school championships, set a number of records that would stand for many years over a wide range of dis-tances, from 100 yards to three miles. I ran in the cham-pionships conducted for juniors throughout our State. Only those people who grew up in Melbourne during the early 1950's with the expectation of the Olympic Games in 1956 can understand the drive that was inside all of us who loved our sport. We had one chance to represent Australia and we were going to do all we could to make that 1956 Olympic team, even though a little too young.

At the age of 13 I joined the Box Hill Amateur Athletic Club under the leadership of Reg Barlow and under the guidance of that incredible coach Percy Wells Cerutty and the mystery European coach who came to make champions of us all, Franz Stanfl. There were fast ath-letes from around the state and from interstate. Two young men were making a profound impact - Herb Elliott in Western Australia and Ron Clarke in Victoria. Both were running faster times than the rest of us and as 1956 approached many of us realized that although we might represent our state, they were the young men who would represent Australia. Both became world champions. Herb Elliott would never be beaten in any mile race ever!

The greatest Australian athlete was John Landy. Every second week during the summers 1952 and 1953 I watched Landy attempt to break the four minute mile. There were powerful runners in those days like Les Perry, Dave Stephens, the world six mile record holder - "The Flying Milkman" as we called him, Herb Elliott, Geoff Warren, Neil Robins, John Plummer from NSW, Merv Lincoln and Ron Clarke. But there was no one in those days of the stature of John Landy.

He became the world champion miler in 1954, None was faster week after week in the world over the mile and three miles than John Landy. Ron Clarke already held the Australian and World Junior Mile record. As we came close to the Olympic Games everybody was looking to John Landy to set a new world record. The greatest race I've ever seen in my life was at the 1956 National Cham-pionships in Melbourne. I was along the side fence inside a crowd of 22,000 people when the entrants lined up for the start of the 1956 National Mile Championship. Every-one knew that if John Landy got a fast start in the early part of the race he would set a new world record. We were all wanting Landy to run and win.

When the gun went off the young men each repre-senting their states sped to the first turn and at the end of the first lap Robbie Morgan-Morris had completed the first quarter mile in 59 seconds, followed by Ron Clarke, Alec Henderson, John Plummer and then John Landy. The time was right on target for a world record. At the half mile Robbie Morgan-Morris was still leading and the time was two minutes two seconds. At the start of the third lap young Ron Clarke and Landy moved forward at a cracking pace. The world record was on!

Landy had only to go with him and a new world re-cord would be in his grasp. Then occurred an event which is etched into my mind so clearly that I can see it being replayed as if in slow motion. I can never think of the event without my eyes filling with tears. Clarke was moving to the lead as they came into the corner on the third lap. John Landy was on his shoulder. Alec Hender-son tried to squeeze between the two runners and the in-side edge of the curb. In doing so Clarke, with his spikes, clipped his heel. Clarke sprawled forward onto the cinder track while Henderson was knocked onto the inside arena. Landy leaped over the falling body of Clarke in front of him and as he did his sharp spikes tore into the flesh of Clarke's shoulder. The whole field either jumped over Clarke or ran round him. The crowd which had been chanting "Landy, Landy, Landy, Landy" with every stride suddenly responded with an enormous gasp.

Landy then did the most incredibly stupid, beautiful, foolish, gentlemanly act I have ever seen. He stopped, ran back to the fallen young Ron Clarke and helped him up to his feet, brushed cinders from knees and checking his bloodied shoulder said "Sorry". Clarke was all right. He said to Landy "Keep going, I'm all right. Run! Run!". Landy had forgotten everything. The Australian mile title, his bid for a world record, even the approaching Olympic Games in a spontaneous gesture of sportsmanship.

Clarke got to his feet and together Landy and Clarke set off after the other runners. They were 60 yards behind the rest of the field which had kept on running and the crowd did not expect them to continue. John Plummer, Merv Lincoln and Alec Henderson were leading the pack. Clarke and Landy sprinted off on that last half mile.

The crowd was shouting as with every stride Landy hauled in the front runners. He quickly ran round the rest of the field, came into the home straight leaving Clarke behind with the most powerful finish I have ever seen in my life. He stormed down the track and in the last ten yards passed Henderson and Lincoln to win the Austra-lian Championship in four minutes, four seconds.

I doubt if there has ever been a reception given an athlete in all of history as those 22,000 people gave Gen-tlemen John Landy that day. The cheers and the ap-plause would not die down. It continued minute after minute as Landy completed a victory lap. There was no question he could have set a new world record that day. Stopping and going back, picking up Clarke and then running back over his tracks had cost him eight or ten seconds. But it also unleashed in him a finish that was beyond anything that we had ever seen before. We had seen the greatest mile race in history. Landy was to go on and set new world records and become a hero at the 1956 Olympic Games but nothing compares with the race that summer night in the Melbourne Olympic Park in 1956 when he stopped, picked up young Ron Clarke and for-got himself into athletic immortality.

I have occasionally met that quiet gentleman, John Landy, and reminded him of that day when we saw one of the great moments of Australian sporting history. I have witnessed many sporting competitions since, both Olympic and Commonwealth Games and other world championships but I have never witnessed a moment like that which belongs to Gentleman John Landy. His was the act of a great sportsman and fine gentleman who was also the world champion.

For two years, 50 and 51 AD, the Apostle Paul lived and worked in Corinth on the Greek Peloponnese. Cor-inth was the home of the Isthmian Games, the Greek Games that came second only to the Olympic Games. Paul worked in the tentmakers shop owned by Priscilla and Aquilla. It was on the wide Lechaeum Road, which linked the port to the agora, or market place. The market-place was bounded by a long portico, and in the south-ern stoa, was the office of the Isthmian Games. Nearby was the bema, or judgement seat where Paul was brought to trial. Not far away was the Temple of Apollo, seven of whose 38 columns still stand today. To the north lies the great theatre and to the south the ruins of the stadium where the Games were held. The 180 metre long straight track, was the length of a stade, which gave its name to the sprint, and to the hairpin shaped stadium in which the games were held. The stadium did not hold large numbers of spectators, like the Roman ampithea-tres because the Greek sports were designed primarily for the competitors while the Roman Games were de-signed primarily for the spectators. There were many temples as the sporting contest was part of a religious and cultural festival. Everyone was involved. That is why Paul made so many allusions to the sports.

The Apostle Paul wrote to those Corinthians 1 Cor. 9:24 "You know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run then in such a way as to win the prize." (GNB) Here in a few words was Paul's philosophy in life. Other Christians avoided simi-les with the sporting world which they knew, because it was so closely tied to the pagan religious festivals and the immorality that went with them. But Paul was un-afraid to use an allusion to what the public knew.

1. RUN!
Obviously to be successful requires effort, disci-pline, training. Every athlete knows that. He says: 1 Cor 9:25-6 "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever". Paul's teaching was that Christians had to participate in life, not withdraw to monasteries with walls for contemplation or to a life-style bounded by regulations that prevented Christians from doing this or that. Life was a race to be run! Christians should also run to win.

2. WIN!
The Apostle Paul wanted his readers to understand that Christians have a responsibility under God to be the best they can. God had a purpose for each life, and we must get ourselves ready to fulfill that purpose. So he wrote: 1 Cor 9:26 "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly." Paul had purpose. His life was to be effective for the sake of Jesus Christ. He would fulfill his mission in proclaiming the Gospel. Nothing would stop him. Nei-ther rejection, beatings, shipwreck, riots, imprisonment, threat of death and execution could stop him. These things may have delayed him, made him turn back to help his fellow who was in need like John Landy - but then it was back into the race. You could hear him say: Hebrews 12:1 "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Landy did not win at any cost. No one could find adequate words to describe John's performance. But in a fine piece of journalism Harry Gordon wrote (as an open letter to John) in the Melbourne "Sun" newspaper his understanding of what he had witnesses that day:

`Dear John, … "Yours was the classic sporting ges-ture. It was a senseless piece of chivalry, but it will be remembered as one of the finest actions in the history of sport. In a nutshell, you sacrificed your chance of a world record to go to the aid of a fallen rival. And in pull-ing up, trotting back to Ron Clarke, muttering "Sorry" and deciding to chase the field you achieved much more than any world record. Your action cost you six or seven seconds. And you sprinted round that last lap like a 220 runner to overhaul the field and win in 4:04.2. You, the fellow who used to be called a mechanical runner with-out a finish! A lot of people are wondering why you pulled up. The truth is, of course, that you didn't think about it. It was the instinctive action of a man whose mate is in trouble.'

John Landy, has spent his life since as a quiet natu-ralist, agricultural scientist, photographer, author and environmentalist. During this past month he was named as the new Governor of Victoria. He knew how to run, and how to win. So many people want to win by cutting corners, cheating, causing others to fall on the way. Paul insisted that we act like true gentlemen, sports heroes who would help another. How do we run to win, but also have this Christian character in our action? Listen to these words inspired by Paul: Hebrews 12:2 "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." That is the secret: to run with perseverance the race be-fore us, trying hard to win, but with our eyes fixed on Jesus who is ahead of us. We can run to win, but we do best when we are following the lead of the Master, with our eyes firmly fixed on Him.


  "The Unforgiving Minute" Ron Clarke pp 53/54

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes



Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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