Tag Archives: Europe

Max Truex in Poland

The year was 1961 and I had made my first National team. The USSR versus USA match was completed and the US men had won again. I had not competed in that track meet as I was the third best steeplechaser and only two athletes ran in these dual meets. A few days after the Russian Meet we ran in Germany and I tasted my first International experience. I led in the race until the last hurdle, fifty meters from the finish, when I was passed by my fellow countryman, Charles “Deacon” Jones who beat me by an inch. I was upset that I had allowed that to happen as I had been slow over the last hurdle. Foolishly I went to one of the barriers in the infield and continued to practice until my calf muscle gave out and tore.

Now what was I going to do?  The rest of the trip was ruined by a stupid mistake. I had not run badly as my time was fourth fastest ever by an American, 8:47.8. Now that is just the setting for my story. We traveled to Warsaw, Poland for our next competition and were housed in a very nice training center about twenty miles outside Warsaw. We were secluded and it was great for training but many of the athletes wanted to be in the city so they could taste some of the culture of the city. After two days we moved into a hotel in the city. Prior to the move I used the wooded area and a cinder track to do my training and I had to be very careful as my leg was very sore. I knew it would be impossible to run very fast in a race. On the second day we were there I had finished my light training and started to warm down by jogging on some trails in the woods that was just beside the track. After a mile or so of meandering through the trails and thoroughly enjoying myself, I came to an opening and in front of me was another cinder track.

The track was deserted except for one solitary individual, Max Truex, who was our best 10K runner in the US. Max was also my commanding officer in the Air Force although our relationship was a little different from the usual officer to enlisted man, which I was. I watched Max as he made his way around the track and came down the last straight away where I was now standing. He ran to the end and came to a stop and placed his hands on his knees for a brief time. He then stood and looked at the watch he was carrying, and had presumably stopped, when he had finished. Then he shook his head as if to say, “I just do not believe it.” I want to point out the fact that Max was about 5′ 4″ tall and cut his hair so short it looked as if he was bald. A week earlier Max had posed in front of a picture of Krushchev, who was the dictator of the USSR at the time, and you would have thought they were brothers as Max puffed his cheeks out for effect.

As he walked in my direction I asked him, “What are you doing Max?” “Four hundreds,” came the reply, “but I can’t believe I am so slow.” Truthfully as I had watched Max come down the straight he looked as if he was running at seventy seconds and I wondered how fast he wanted to run. “Max, you were moving pretty good, how fast do you want to run?” He looked at the watch again as if wishing somehow he had misread the time. “I am trying to run 70 to 71 for a 400 and I can’t get below 82. I feel like I am moving all right but if I have to run against the Polish athletes when I can’t break 80 I am going to be in big trouble.” I looked at the track set in the midst of the forest. “Have you been running a full lap Max?” He looked at me as if I was crazy, “Of course I am running a full lap.” “Max, look at the track, it is not 400 meters.” “Not 400,” he asked in amazement, “what do you mean.” “I think the track is much longer, maybe 500 meters,” I said with a slight smile on my face. “You’re kidding?” He said as he turned to survey the area. “It does look big, doesn’t it?” Max was finished with the number of 400′s he had wanted to do and we jogged easily through the woods until we reached the building where we were staying. We asked the caretaker the size of the track and he confirmed it was indeed 500 meters. “Well I guess my 82′s are worth 70 seconds for the 400. I will be all right for the race this weekend.” He gave me a little laugh as he walked away to shower.

Rich Block in Germany

In the early eighties the better runners in my Club would travel to Europe to compete for a couple of weeks in various competitions. On this occasion Rich Block, who would soon break the four minute barrier, was with me at a small meet in Germany. Rich was a little tired from travel and racing so I found out the meet promoter needed a “rabbit” for the 800 meter race. There were only two good runners in the race, another American and a runner from Sweden. All the others were local Club runners.

As I talked to the promoter he told me he wanted the first 400 meters to be run in 50 seconds. “Alright”, I said, “That will not be a problem” I knew Rich could run that fast but truthfully, I also knew he would be close to “all out” in doing so. No matter, he was only expected to run the first 400 and he could drop out if he wanted.

In those days you could pick up a little money for being a rabbit but since this was a small meet we settled on $100.00 for Rich to do the job. Everything was set and Rich relaxed until the meet that evening while I did some sight seeing.  On a beautiful summer evening the meet was under way and as the events unfolded I went to the meet promoter to be sure everything was in order. “It is a beautiful evening”, I said. “Have you told the other runners that Rich is to be the rabbit in the race?” “Yes”, came the answer, “Everything is arranged.” After a little more small talk I made my way to Rich to go over the plan. “Rich, they will start you in the third position and you will have to get out fast. I will be at the 200 meter mark and call your split.  Any questions? “Rich looked at me and said, “This is to be 50 seconds, right? I don’t think I can run any faster as I feel beat.” I smiled and said, “That is what they want. Have fun.”

Rich continued his warm up as we had about thirty minutes before he was to run. Finally it was time for the 800 meters and the announcer called for all the runners to report to the starting line. I moved to the 200 meter position and checked my stop watch. Everything was ready.  All the runners were lined up, side by side, with the American in position one and the Swede beside him. Rich was next to the Swede. In German, the command came for SET, and soon after, the gun sounded.

Around the turn they came and Rich could not get in front of the other two runners. To make matters worse Rich was forced to run in lane three which meant he was running twelve meters extra around the turn. They were moving very quickly and I could see the strain on Rich’s face as he tried to take the lead.  He was beside the American as they went past me and I yelled,”23.” Into the turn now and Rich had to fall back. Into the first quarter and they were a shade under 49. Rich was still in third and ran 50 flat. I could see he would have trouble staying with them much longer. He made it to the 600 meter mark and then his legs just wouldn’t carry him any longer and he struggled in, losing many meters to the other two.

The race was won in 1:48+ and Rich was third in 1:57. He could have dropped out, but it was his choice. I knew something had gone wrong between the promoter and the two good runners, otherwise they would have let Rich take the lead. But how would I handle Rich. He had been somewhat embarrassed and I wanted to keep it light.

I watched Rich as he walked to the high jump pit which was in the middle of the turn, right after the finish. I saw him lay down in the pit as I walked in his direction. What would I say to him. I approached him and said, “Well, that first 400 was pretty fast.” I can’t relate what he said in return, but I was keenly aware that he was upset. “Well, just relax, I want to talk with the promoter.” As I looked around the site to find him I saw the American cooling down and I approached him. After the usual small talk and congratulating him on his victory I said, “By the way did you know that Rich was the rabbit in the race?” He looked at me a little startled and answered, “No, we were never told. I wish we had been because the first lap was too fast.”

I found the promoter and informed him that I knew he had not informed the other runners. “But your boy did not lead”, he said, “Why not?” “Because the others didn’t know and Rich was only supposed to run 50 seconds which is what he did.” With a wave of his hand he walked away. I must admit I was a little upset with his attitude.

Rich had finished warming down and he asked, “Will I still get my money? “We will see”, I answered “We will see.”  Later that evening there was the usual meal for all the sponsors and the invited athletes. Rich and I sat at a table with a few other athletes from Germany and we enjoyed the meal and the company. The hour was getting late and we had to catch a train to our next competition early in the morning. We had already been paid for the competition expenses which included a little extra so all that was remaining was the $100.00 for Rich. “Do you think he is going to give it to you”, Rich asked. “Let’s find out” I said and turned around to talk with the promoter who was sitting with a group of well dressed Germans. Maybe friends or backers of the meet I thought.

“Excuse me, but we have an early train and would it be alright if we settled up the fee for Rich in the 800 meters?” He stared at me for a few seconds before answering, “He does not deserve any money, he did not lead.” He was technically right of course but it was his not telling the other runners that was the problem. “But Rich ran exactly what you asked, he went through the 400 in 50 seconds. Isn’t that what you had asked him to do?” “Yes, but.” I didn’t let him finish. “NO, no,” I said, “I don’t want to argue but if you don’t do what you said I will tell all the people at your table what happened.” He didn’t wait a second before he stood up and looked at me. “Bob, would you like to come to my room, I know you and your athlete must be tired.” He turned to the others at his table. “Excuse me for a short time, I have some business with my American friends. I will be back shortly.”  Then he said something in German and he led the way to his room.  We received the money and excused ourselves. The next morning we boarded the train for the next city