© Copyright
General News

Changes in track and field amaze 1968 bronze medallist

Changes in track and field amaze 1968 bronze medallist
Bert Rosenthal (AP)

8 February 2000 – New York - Tom Farrell is a perfect example of the changes in athletics over the past 30 years.

Farrell, the 1968 Olympic bronze medallist at 800 metres, left the sport a year later at the ripe old age of 24 to go to work and support his family. He also thought he was too old to compete any longer.

Nowadays, and specifically in his event, athletes are competing into their late 30s and even 40s. For example, 39-year-old Johnny Gray is one of the world's top 800-metre runners; Regina Jacobs, 36, set an American indoor record at 1000 metres Sunday, and Joetta Clark Diggs, 37, is still going strong in the women's 800.

All three won Friday night at the Millrose Games.

Farrell, a native New Yorker who had been living in Los Angeles and working for Xerox for 31 years as an equipment salesman, returned home about a month ago and became a volunteer coach at St. John's.

The transition was shocking.

"The athlete of today is a little different from the athlete of the past,'' Farrell said Monday at the New York Track Writers' luncheon.

"When I was in school I trained hard every day, regardless of the weather. Every Monday, we did workouts of 12 400s. Now, on Mondays, they have an active rest day."

Farrell also said the training equipment is much more advanced now than during his competitive days, noting the availability of treadmills and weight machines.

He also pinpointed the advancements in the tracks used today, especially the Armory Track and Field Center and Madison Square Garden.

"The Armory is incredible,'' Farrell said. "When I ran, it was a banked, old wooden floor. If you fell, you could get killed. When I saw the new banked track, I was blown away.''

For years, the Garden also used a highly banked, slow wooden boarded track. For the Millrose Games last week, a new Mondo, brightly colored track was introduced.

"It looked magnificent,'' Farrell said.

However, the biggest change to Farrell, is in the athlete's longevity.

"In 1964, when I was 20, I finished fifth in the Olympic Games,'' he said. "I thought I was too young to win a medal. In 1968, I finished third and I thought I was too old, so I retired (in 1969)."

Before retiring, after only five years as a world-class athlete, Farrell accomplished much in a relatively short period of time.

In addition to competing on two Olympic teams and winning one medal, he won two NCAA titles, two national championships and two Millrose titles. He also set the world indoor record of 1 minute, 49.8 seconds for 880 yards (800 metres) in 1965, breaking a mark held by the great New Zealander, Peter Snell.

"He (Farrell) was a great half-miler,'' said Howard Schmertz, meet director of the Millrose Games for the past 25 years.

"He quit at his peak. In those days, you didn't run very long. You had to support your family.''