Evening gang, and welcome to Day 21. That’s right; just three short weeks left, and I know it’ll go by quickly. (-:
And speaking of having to get places quickly, I’d say the track is usually a good place to start. (We’re talking people here, not horses. But don’t sweat it. I can save a spot for those equine speedsters on another post!)
In terms of running humans, though, the history of track and field certainly has a lot to offer.
There are stories of stamina, talent, heart, strength and strategy. You’ve got all sorts of tales of hope, grit and guts, featuring the brave, the fearless and the heroic.
And then, of course, there’s always at least one weird one.
Gary Bjorklund was a US Olympic middle and long-distance runner from Duluth, MN. He ran a mile in 4:19 seconds as a 15-year-old high school kid, and then in 1969 went on to post a record time of 4:05. And now more than 50 years later, Bjorklund still owns the Minnesota state record for the fastest mile ever run.
He followed that up with a highly distinguished college career, earning All-American honors five different times – twice each in outdoor track and cross country plus once in indoor track and field. Additionally, Bjorklund shattered the record for the six-mile run at the 1971 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene Oregon.
The following year, he was considered a strong contender to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, but he sustained a serious injury to his left foot and was unable to compete in the trials. He was eventually forced to undergo surgery, had to miss the entire 1973 season, and some doctors at the University of Minnesota speculated that he might never run again.
Bjorklund, though, beat the odds, recovered from his injury and set his sights on qualifying for another Olympic Games, this time in Montreal, Canada.
On June 21, 1976, Bjorklund competed in the trials for the 10,000 meters, and his surgically repaired left foot once again
took center stage.
The trials were held at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon, the same place where Bjorklund had starred at the NCAA Championships five years earlier. The 25-lap race (roughly six miles) offered a spot on the ’76 team for the top three qualifiers.
Headlined by the likes of Frank Shorter (Olympic Champion in the marathon, 1972 Games, Munich, Germany) Bill Rodgers (an eventual eight-time marathon champion) and Craig Virgin (an NCAA Cross Country champion the year prior), Bjorklund was also in the mix to qualify.
Shortly after the gun went off to begin the 10,000 meters, not even the savvy and notoriously raucous crowd at Hayward Field (perhaps best known as the home track of the late, great Steve Prefontaine) could have imagined what would happen next.
Somewhere during lap 14, Bjorklund lost his track shoe (yes, the left one), when another runner bumped him on a turn. Despite only wearing just the one shoe, Bjorklund continued running, with the frenzied crowd chanting his name, encouraging him not to give up. (And keep in mind, the man had to run nearly three more miles after his shoe came off.)
Meanwhile, as both Shorter and Virgin vied for the top spot, Bjorklund suddenly trailed Rodgers by more than 30 meters. But with just two laps remaining, and with the suddenly partisan crowd willing him forward, Bjorklund quickly closed the gap on Rodgers, overtaking him in the final stretch and earning the final qualifying spot.
Later that summer at the Montreal Games, Bjorklund earned a spot in the 10,000 meter final, becoming the lone U.S. qualifier
in the event.
Bjorklund’s career lasted several more years, and he became an elite marathon runner. Had the US not boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Russia, he would have most certainly been a threat for a medal there.
For all those achievements, though, and for all those records and victories, history will remember Gary Bjorklund for that race at Hayward Field. Yeah, they’ll surely celebrate him, not only for his late-race heroics and his response to the rallying cries of the crowd, but first and foremost, for the courage it took to keep running, wearing only one track shoe.
So here’s to you, Gary. We dedicate Day 21 to you, and we wish you godspeed.
So, talk about walking a mile in another man’s shoes, huh? Better yet, try running a few extra miles, just wearing one of ’em.
See you tomorrow for Day 20, my friends.