John Walker (athlete)

John Walker (athlete) bigraphy, stories - New Zealand distance runner

John Walker (athlete) : biography

12 January 1952 –

Sir John George Walker (born 12 January 1952 in Papakura) is a former middle distance runner from New Zealand.

Walker was the first person to run the mile in under 3:50. He won the Olympic Games 1500m in Montreal in 1976.

Running twilight

At the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane he won the silver medal in the 1500 metres finishing behind Steve Cram. He moved up up to the 5000 metres distance for both the 1984 Olympic Games and the 1986 Commonwealth Games with limited success. He raced at the 1990 Commonwealth Games competing in both the 800 and 1500 metres, where he was tripped early on in the latter.

Walker became the first man in history to run 100 sub-4 minute miles in 1985, achieving that feat just before fellow miler Steve Scott of the U.S. There was some controversy around this as Scott claimed there was an agreement that the two would race each other, with the winner being the first to claim 100 sub-4 minute miles. Walker denied such an agreement existed.

As his career wore on, leg injuries and stomach cramps started to affect his training. In the early 1990s he aimed to be the first runner aged over 40 to run a mile under four minutes, but his attempts failed due to a leg injury. At this point his international career had shown unusual longevity – spanning almost two decades. Walker ended his racing career with 135 sub-four-minute miles.

He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 1996 the Olympic Committee awarded him with the Olympic Bronze Order.

World record breaking runs

Walker broke the World Record in the mile run with a time of 3:49.4 minutes set at Göteborg, Sweden, on 12 August 1975, bettering the previous time of 3:51.0 set earlier that year by Filbert Bayi. It was the first time that the Three minutes and 50 seconds time had been broken, and it was a full 10 seconds faster than Roger Bannister’s historic sub-Four-Minute Mile of 3:59.4 that was run twenty-one years previous. He was named Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News the same year.

Walker’s new record lasted until 17 July 1979, when it was lowered by the Briton Sebastian Coe.

The following year Walker broke the world record for the 2000 metres, running 4:51.4 in Oslo, Norway, on 30 June 1976. He smashed the existing ten-year-old record held by Michel Jazy by nearly five seconds; Walker regarded this run as the best he ever ran. Steve Cram broke the record on 4 August 1985, running 4:51.39 at Budapest, Hungary. Indoors, Walker broke the 1500 metre world record with a time of 3:37.4 in 1979.

1974 Commonwealth Games

Walker achieved world prominence in 1974 when he ran second to Filbert Bayi in the 1500 meter run at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand. In one the greatest 1500 m races held to that time, Walker and Bayi both broke the existing world record, and others in the race recorded the fourth, fifth, and seventh fastest performances ever. Additionally, Walker won the bronze medal in the 800 metres in 1:44.92, his lifetime best for the distance, and still the second-fastest New Zealander ever, behind Peter Snell.

Throughout his career as a world-class miler Walker was coached by Arch Jelley, a school principal, and a middle distance runner himself, whose work with runners has been typified by meticulous training programmes on a scientific basis and effective communications in person.

After running

In 1996, Walker announced that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He now operates an equestrian shop in Newmarket in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife, Helen, and was a Manukau City Councillor, after which he became a councillor for the merged Auckland Council. Walker and his wife have four children: Elizabeth, Richard, Timothy, and Caitlin.

On 1 June 2009 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Walker was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours List