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Gerry Lindgren

by Michael A. Musca
Visit Runner's World Online
We inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them

Gerry Lindgren is perhaps best known as the first American ever to win a distance event at a U.S.-Soviet Union dual meet. On July 25, 1964, Lindgren outran two seasoned Russian runners, Leonid Ivanov and Anatoly Dutov, to win the 10,000 meters at the USA-USSR Track Meet in Los Angeles. Gerry was U.S. 1964 national champion at 10,000 meters and national champion at 3,000 meters in 1967. As one of collegiate athletics' foremost competitors, Lindgren won 11 of the 12 NCAA Championship track and cross country events he contested while a student at Washington State University. He placed ninth in the 1964 Olympic Games 10,000 meters. Lindgren set the six-mile world record in 1965 and set U.S. 3000 and 5000-meter records twice each. These days, Lindgren, 59, is a long-time resident of Honolulu and works as assistant coach for the University of Hawaii track and field and cross-country programs. Gerry was recently in the news after an ESPN profile cast his personal life in a negative light.

Runners World Daily: Your recent autobiography, although technically written by 'Gerry Lindgren's Shadow', has created a buzz in running circles? How is the book selling?
Gerry Lindgren: The book is doing well, I guess. First printing almost sold out. My problem has been in distribution. I have Barnes & Noble wanting to sell it but I have to go through a distribution company to do that. Distribution companies want six titles minimum to consider stocking it. So, out of the water. The only way it is available right now is through my website I am working on a second printing right now. I'll have it ready to print next week maybe.

RWD: How is the coaching at University of Hawaii coming along?
GL: I run the cross country program and I coach middle distance and up on the track team. My girls just may pull off a major upset this year. I have five or six girls who have a heart that is bigger than they are. A lot of things have to happen well between now and the outdoor season, but they run so well now I am surprised every day.

RWD: Come on now, how tough can it be to recruit runners to Hawaii?
GL: Recruiting here is a little bit tough right now because we are kind of like the new kids on the block. Good runners have never thought of coming out here. We have some of the loveliest running areas I have ever seen and a great program now. Recruiting should be much more easy!

RWD: Are you still racing?
GL: I still race when I can but I am not an "every weekend" kind of racer like I was before. Currently I am injured (pelvis, sciatica) but slowly getting back into it. I will probably run two or three races this year.

RWD: How do you view your running legacy?
GL: My running legacy has bowled me over. When I left the mainland and moved to Hawaii, my ulcer problems had gotten so bad I couldn't compete any more and I figured I would just drift into oblivion like runners always do. Then I find there are pockets of Lindgren fans in several parts of the country. A coach in Ohio sent me a t-shirt with my photo on it and an inspirational message. A coach in California purchased 60 of my books and has his cross-country team read my book at the beginning of each year. They won the state title this year! So many pockets. Instead of drifting away, I find myself at the edge of high school running, having several records still intact and a legacy of hard work that inspires youth still. I wanted my running to inspire youth. It was what I have always worked for. But I never imagined so much. I am overwhelmed! I cry!

RWD: What was it like to be inducted to the USATF Hall of Fame?
GL: My hall of fame induction was an honor I thought I would never deserve. I didn't run to win races or to get into a hall of fame. My purpose was to use the wimpiness of my body to inspire others to greatness. My book was for the same purpose. I was part of the running revolution that changed the way the whole world looks at running. I want everyone to know how to change the world. The hall of fame induction was nice to be sure, but not what running is all about.

RWD: Some of your long-standing high school records were recently being broken. Does that make you sad or are you happy for the state of high school running?
GL: The breaking of my records makes me VERY happy. What good are records if nobody improves on them? Now that Galen Rupp has shown the way I hope other high school runners will follow. I have had more positive thoughts about American track & field in the past six months than I have had for several years.

RWD: In college, you took on the NCAA when they told you not to run in AAU meets. Would you do that any different today? Do you see yourself as a trailblazer in the area of athletes' rights?
GL: When I first got to college, there was a war going on between the NCAA and AAU. They had been at it for over 50 years. Because I was not running for myself, I could easily stand up to all the powers that be who hurt running by their abuse of power. I HAD to take a stand. The NCAA threatened me so strongly I was scared to death. But I knew I had to break their boycott or athletes would be stopped from competing for another 50 years. I was honored to give up my life for such a worthy cause.

RWD: What is the race you most want to be remembered for?
GL: I would most like to be remembered for the Russian meet in 1964. In running, I decided I wanted to get everyone in the world to run, I loved it so much. Of course, I had no realistic hope of my wimpy body causing the world to run, but when one is young and dumb, you can think any way you want. I just decided that if that was my purpose, and I worked hard as a runner, somehow the working hard would equate to achievement of the goal. "Stupid-think," I call it. I wrote my book because I want people to know that THAT is how you change the world. The Russian meet caused American runners everywhere to know they too could compete with the best runners in the world. They took on a better attitude about themselves and their sport. Their enthusiasm caused the running revolution. The Russian Meet started the Running Revolution.

RWD: What was your worst race?
GL: My worst race was the Olympic Trials in 1972. I had been hit by a car while running two weeks earlier and bruised my kneecap. I could run after repeatedly icing my knee, but in that race the ice ran out before the race ended. Steve Prefontaine sped past me and I finished miserably dead last!

RWD: What was your toughest workout ever?
GL: My toughest workout of all time was the track workout I had to do repeatedly in preparation for the Russian meet. My coach, Tracy Walters, would meet me at the track at Rogers High School and time me through three-lap intervals. I would run the first lap at a 70 second pace (what we decided the pace would probably be in the race), then sprint the second lap as fast as my legs would go, and then in the third lap I was to go back into 70 second pace as if I had not just sprinted my legs and lungs away. After the interval, I would continue at a slow jog around the track for "recovery" and do it again. Six to seven times in one session, we would do those three lap intervals. Usually with some other intervals thrown in unexpectedly as well. Fast quarter miles (one lap), half miles (two laps) at 65 second per lap, and always finishing the workout with one final all-out quarter mile sprint. We thought that the Russians would sprint in the middle of the race. I had to be able to respond to their sprint to prove to the world that Americans are not LAZY as the Soviet propaganda charged. I hurt so bad after the workout I had trouble walking home. Once I got home I fell into bed and slept for hours.

RWD: If you could go back and change one race, which race would it be? What would be the outcome?
GL: If I could go back and change one race, I would change the Olympic 10,000-meter race in 1964. Before that race, I had raced a four-mile race on the Mt. SAC cross country course. Someone came to our training camp and said there was a race at Mt. SAC that morning. Almost all the distance runners went down to get in a good workout. At the start I sprinted out at a controlled panic and kept up my panic through the whole race. My time of 16:08 over the four-mile course gave me an average mile pace of 4:02! I would change the Olympic 10,000 by going out at a controlled panic as I had done in the Mt. SAC race instead of starting out at the slow wait-and-see pace as I did. The outcome of the race would probably have been the same, with Billy Mills winning the gold, but they would have set a world record that may still be there. I had an opportunity to make some of the best runners in the world better and I didn't do it.

RWD: Do you regret not having concentrated on the marathon?
GL: The marathon, back in the '60s was not the glamour event it is now. Crazy people ran the marathon; not serious track runners. Marathoners never even trained on the track. I remember in the Olympic training camp I would go out for a morning run and stumble onto Buddy Edelen training behind a pace car. I would run with him for a while, marveling at the speed he was running. I think he didn't like me running with him, he was kind of offended by my being able to keep up with him. I would like to have run more with him because his pace wasn't too much slower than mine when I did 20-mile runs. But ME run the marathon??? No way!

RWD: What do you think you could have run in the marathon?
GL: In 1970 or '71 I think it was, I was talked into running the marathon at Seaside, Oregon. Several of the best American marathon runners were there and several times they warned me not to go out too fast. Still, at five miles, I wondered why everyone was so far back. I was on two-hour marathon pace at the turn-around and still under two-hour pace with four miles left to run. But with still a couple miles to go the bear jumped on my back and I faltered. I ended up finishing behind four real marathoners and each of them was laughing at me as they passed. One other time I kept a sub-two-hour pace for 26 miles but I passed out before the finish. In those days marathons were run without water aid stations and it was the thinking of the time that you dehydrate for two-three days before a race so you are lighter.

RWD: A recent ESPN profile cast you in a negative light. What would you like to tell the running community about that piece?
GL: The ESPN piece was both good and bad. ESPN does not usually cover track at all. Just getting them to do that small piece was one small step for running but one giant step for track & field. I was extremely disappointed in their approach. I have been subject to so many similar harassments that when they contacted me I was apprehensive. They promised me that they would not try to create that kind of piece. They lied to me. I feel so betrayed by this. My ex-wife obviously has an ax to grind…. But to take her bias and turn it into a hate-campaign against me is unforgivable. I get hate mail. People jeer at me when I run. People call the school and question the athletic department about my suitability as a coach here. I feel so betrayed, so violated.

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