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Running For Their Lives By Mark Whitaker
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The extent to which Olympic athletes dedicate themselves to their respective sport never ceases to amaze those of us who might be a tad podgier than we would prefer.
Hour upon hour of running, followed by weight training, sprinting and yet more running have become the essential daily routine for most athletes hoping to appear at this year’s Olympic Games.
Furthermore, it is essential that a well-regulated athletic approach is complemented by an equally disciplined way of life away from sport if the athlete is to harbour realistic ambitions of securing a medal. No weekend blow-outs or a few beers after work several nights a week.
Yet sport’s professional nature ensures that all of the sacrifice is deemed worthwhile when the athlete wins.
Imagine, then, an amateur athlete showing similar levels of dedication to his sport, initially to raise publicity for a cause which had him adapting the role of David against the Goliath that was the South African state.
When Brighton-born teacher Arthur Newton left for South Africa in 1911 to become a farmer, he had absolutely no athletic background nor experience beyond running occasional races at school. Yet following a dramatic turn of events, the 28 year-old was to become “the world’s greatest distance runner”.
After serving in the First World War, Newton returned to Natal to discover he was at the centre of a land dispute with the South African government over the condition of his neglected farm.
Frustrated, Newton undertook to use astonishing feats of athleticism to publicise his case. This was no undertaking ‘to get fit’ of the type many of us are familiar with. Newton’s frustration pushed him to extraordinary extremes which eventually resulted in him breaking the 24-hour distance record, as well as twice smashing the world 100-mile record. On the second occasion, he was 51.
It’s unlikely he would have carried on without the assistance of Peter Gavuzzi, a Folkestone-born steward on an ocean liner who met Newton in Los Angeles before the start of the inaugural 3,500-mile ‘Transcontinental Foot Race’ in 1928.
Theirs is a fascinating partnership and this is a truly incredible tale of endurance, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness of the type we may hear much of this summer, but it’s unlikely anything the Olympics throws up will match what Newton and Gavuzzi did.
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Who is the current Olympic marathon champion?