Faithfully Pursuing an Olympic Ideal
My tiny running diaries - there are 11 of them now - tell me that in a half century of running, I have logged exactly 90,000 miles. That personal milestone occurred on June 11th this year, during an early-morning run along the Alpheus River in Olympia, Greece, site of the ancient Olympic Games (776 BC until AD 392).
I was born on Columbus Avenue in Boston's South End, the third of four sons of Albanian immigrants. In solitary flights I ran a hundred times, two hundred times, along the Charles River, on both the Boston and Cambridge embankments. I ran for miles along the Jamaicaway and around Jamaica Pond, circled and criss-crossed the Boston Common and the Public Garden, and always at a boy's jogging tempo.
I would stop and gaze in wonderment at Arthur Fiedler's Pops concerts on the Charles River Esplanade; the old Museum of Natural History (now a retail store); inside Isabella Stewart Gardner's museum-home and her Italian art treasures; and the Museum of Fine Arts' priceless artifacts.
Best of all, in what seemed an other-worldly experience, I would wander the Boston Public Library.
My home environment and this peripatetic, no-cost education in "the Athens of America" formed two-thirds of who I would become. The third precious dimension was a steady, joy-filled, modestly successful 20-year experience as a competitive long-distance runner and coach.
I received an extremely good education in both the sciences and the humanities - that is, sport science.
My formal education included an undergraduate degree from Boston University, a doctorate from the University of Maryland, and two master's degrees in history from the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University (where I taught for many years). From this I gained the courage and license to eventually call myself a professional "sports historian."
THERE were (and are) three seasons for the distance runner: cross country in the fall; indoor running in a dozen cities during the winter months; and outdoors from March through August. I joined a small cadre of a thousand young men (women distance runners following a similar pilgrimage did not appear until the 1970s) who ran races from the near-sprint 1,500 meters to road races that stretched from 10 kilometers through the 42-km marathon (26 miles, 385 yards).
Running a marathon was exhilaration and disappointment. The ancient Greeks knew this, too, calling it "agony and ecstasy." I ran the Boston Marathon in the 1950s and '60s, and failed to make the United States Olympic Team in 1952 at 10,000 meters. I'm not likely to forget my 11th-place finish, nor my time: 33 minutes, 33.33 seconds!
I could never forget my competitive experience nor my not-so-notable performance at the Olympic trials. Much of it was frustrating, but all of it was done with a sense of fun and uplift. And so I continue to the present day, on the edge of the Atlanta Olympic Games, to run 50 to 70 minutes almost every single day of the year.
MY other Olympic odysseys as coach, American State Department specialist, journalist, and - at the last four summer Olympic Games - as its official historian, encompass Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964), Mexico City (1968), Munich (1972), Montreal (1976), Moscow (1980), Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988), and Barcelona (1992). I will attend the Centennial Games in Atlanta.
Organizers at all these quadrennial festivals (except those in Moscow, when the United States boycotted the Games) have allowed me into these "sacred stadia" at 6:30 a.m. in order to allow me 25 solitary laps on the Olympic track - exactly 10,000 meters (six miles and a bit more). My fastest time (37 minutes) was in Rome; Barcelona's 10 kilometers took me 53 minutes. I like that time and at this writing am hoping I might approach it on July 18 in Atlanta's new Olympic Stadium - before the sun rises. Atlanta organizer Billy Payne gave me permission to run, but it is unlikely that he'll be there to greet me before dawn!
*On July 15 in Atlanta, John Lucas received the Olympic Order, the highest award the International Olympic Committee can bestow. In 1992, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch honored Dr. Lucas with the title of Official Olympic Lecturer. He has delivered 179 lectures worldwide - so far.