I started running at the age of 11 back in 1984. Aside from my Uncle Manny, there are 3 international runners that had a great influence on me as an athlete.
1. Lasse Viren: Back in 1987 I saw on TV a documentary film about his exploits in ’72, ’76 and ’80 Olympics. I became an instant fan after witnessing his toughness during the 1972 10,000 meter final in Munich where he fell on the track halfway into the race. Then gradually recovered and won the race in World Record time of 27mins 38:34secs. He is now a living legend as he remain the only athlete to win the golds in the 5,000m and 10,000m events in two successive Olympics (1972 and 1976). In 1976, he finished 5th in the Marathon (42 kilometers), the first and only time he ran that event. In 1980, he finished 5th in the 1980 10,000m after engaging 2 Ethiopians for the lead up to the last 300m of the race.
2. Steve Ovett: Back in the 80’s, where You Tube and the Internet are not yet available, I read a book that introduced me the wonderful world of miling, the “Golden Milers”. Said book enumerated all the international milers that broke the 4 minute mile, starting of course with Sir Roger Bannister, down to then record holder, Steve Cram. The book also gave a short story of each runner on their training/preparation for their record breaking run, and their thoughts during the run itself. And I was magnetized by the charisma of one British Miler – Steve Ovett. His down to earth personality made him darling of the British masses. Of course, it helped that he won the 800m Gold and 1,500 Bronze in the 1980 Olympics, not to mention his unforgettable rivalry with another British miler – Sebastian Coe. Both the English and the Metric Mile World Records changed hands several times between these two gentlemen from 1979 to 1983, capturing the world’s interest in the mile.
3. Alberto Juantorena: When I switched to the 400/800 meter events during my College days, I quickly searched for someone to emulate. Then I chanced upon an old sports article that featured the exploits of a Cuban double Olympic gold medalist for said events in the 1976 games – El Caballo (the horse) as he was fondly called by the international media because of his extraordinary long strides. Juantorena, in 1976, beat a young Steve Ovett and the Belgian legend Ivo Van Damme in the 800m final in world record time of 1:43:50, and 3 American sprinters (which traditionally dominate this event) for the 400m title. This rare double has not yet been duplicated in the Olympic and World Championship Games history as of this writing.