Bob Schul won the 5000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics ahead of Germany’s Harald Norpoth, American Bill Dellinger, and France’s Michel Jazy; he is the only American gold medalist at the distance. Schul, who ran in the U.S. Air Force, at Miami [Ohio] University, and for the Los Angeles Track Club, once held the American 5000 record of 13:38.0 and the world 2-mile record of 8:26.4. He has written the “Bob Schul Training Manual” and an autobiography “In the Long Run,” both available from his website. Now 63, he coaches the Bob Schul Racing Team and men’s andwomen’s cross-country and women’s track at Wright State University in Dayton. Runner’s World Daily: Being favored in the Olympics, as you were in 1964, was unique for a U.S. distance runner. How did you feel about that role?
Bob Schul: When you go into a race as a favorite, you have much more pressure. You can’t be a person who would just say, “I can do anything I want because nobody expects me to win.” If nobody had ever heard of me at the Olympics, I could have taken off with a mile to go and said, “Okay try to catch me.” And if I didn’t win, people would say, “Look at the guts the guy had.” At that time, I thought I could run about 13:20 [his winning time was 13:48.8]. And you’ve got to remember we were on cinders, which I look at as being about 2 seconds per lap slower than an all-weather track. So if I could have run 13:20, we’re talking under 13:00 on all-weather. But those are big ifs.
RWD: Michel Jazy had a silver medal from the 1500 in 1960. Did his lead late in the Tokyo 5000 give you much concern?
BS: Oh yes. Jazy was the person I feared most. I had beaten [Ron] Clarke a couple of times. I’d
beaten [William] Baillie [of New Zealand]. I’d never run against Norpoth, but he was just a youngster and an up-and-comer. I’d beaten Dellinger. Jazy had run 3:54 [for the mile]. My best was 3:58. I knew it was going to be the toughest match I would have in the last 300 meters, but my strongest suit was still to do it that way. As it turned out, speed was not the overwhelming factor. Between 300 and 200 to go, I wasn’t gaining on him. But speed and endurance in combination was what won the race. Endurance is what failed Jazy. I ran exactly the same time as Peter Snell did in his last 300 meters [in winning the 1500 in Tokyo], and he was on a dry track and I was on a muddy track.(Both ran 38.7 for the last 300 meters.)
RWD: What made the L.A. Track Club so great?
BS: We had one of the finest coaches the world had ever seen in [Mihaly] Igloi. He was so dedicated. He was at the track at 5:00 until 9:00 in the morning, and then again from 5:00 until 9:00 at night with different people. That’s tremendous dedication. He was doing that 363 days a year. He let us off at Christmas and Easter. How many people in their jobs would do a split shift like that 363 days a year? That’s unbelievable dedication. Secondly, we had a group of very dedicated athletes who just looked at these sessions as mandatory. It wasn’t like someone said, “I’m going fishing and I’ll see you next week.” Igloi was the driving force, he said, “Every day, you must train.” So everybody was at those workouts, injured or not. There were times when I didn’t do tremendous workouts because I was limping or something, but I was there. Thirdly, there was a mystique that attached itself to this club. Gradually, we believed that [L.A. track club members] Jim Beatty and Jim Grelle and Laszlo Tabori and Max Truex and Bobby Seamon were the best in the United States, and that we [the rest of the club members] would also be the best in the world if we trained properly.
RWD: To those who know your competitive running life, what would be the biggest surprise in your autobiography?
BS: I guess most people don’t know I was asthmatic and almost died of it as a youngster. Truthfully, Tokyo is the only Olympic Games where I could have competed. All of the others [i.e., Rome in 1960, Mexico City in 1968] were high-allergy places. And in those days we didn’t have all the drugs that you can take now. If anything is fate, it’s that the Olympic Games were in Tokyo at the time I was approaching my peak.