Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 2 Jan 2005 08:54:41 -0500

Fame Reclaimed

RUNNING COMMENTARY 552

(rerun from January 1999 RC)

Gerry Lindgren was a hero of my youth. I was young then, and he was even younger.

At 18 he wasn't just the best ever for his age. This kid from Spokane with pixyish size and a squeeky voice looked and sounded like a high school freshman. Yet he was one of the world's best distance runners, period.

Americans liked his prospects of winning a 10,000 medal, maybe even gold, at the 1964 Olympics. And why not? Gerry had beaten the mighty Soviets that summer, and he'd won the Trials.

He didn't win at Tokyo, didn't come close on Billy Mills's golden day. We'll never know how Gerry might have done if not running his race on a sprained ankle.

We do know that he tied Mills for the world six-mile record the next year, at age 19. At Washington State, Gerry set an NCAA record for titles won.

Injuries began catching up with him in his early 20s, and he never made another Olympic team. Then adult life caught up with him.

Details are vague, and rumors are best left buried. It's enough to say that he disappeared from home, family and business in the 1980s.

When spotted running in Honolulu, he denied being -- or knowing -- this person called Lindgren. He now lived by the name Young.

Supported by new friends in Hawaiian running, he eventually reclaimed his own name and along with it some of the fame that is rightfully his. He again runs races as Gerry Lindgren and now works as a free-lance coach in the Islands.

Much as I'd admired him early, then rooted for his comeback later, I had never met Gerry. I'd seen him run only twice.

Now I was in Honolulu for a talk at NikeTown. Keala Peters of Nike arranged a dinner the night before.

"This started as an intimate gathering, but it keeps growing," she said. "We now have 15 coming."

She ran through the guest list. I knew about half of these people, and most of the others by name. They were a mix of top runners, coaches, writers and officials.

One name in particular grabbed my interest: Gerry Lindgren. It happened that I sat next to him at dinner.

In his 50s he retains some of the look that he had at 18. The years in hiding didn't speed up his aging. His hair is its original color, and his lines are few. His voice is still boyish, and his sense of humor impish.

This is the guy who once told writer Mike Tymn (who sat on my other side) that he still had "a four-minute mind, but nine-minute legs." Well, not quite. He'd run his latest 10K in 36 minutes.

Gerry ordered a vegetarian meal. He's strict in his eating, to the point of avoiding milk and egg products. When the log-sized burrito arrived, he asked the waiter, "Did someone put a live chicken in here?"

As he worked through the burrito, I asked how he thought he might have done in the long-ago Olympics if not for the ankle sprain. "Some people built me up as a possible medalist. But I was just a kid who didn't really know what he was doing."

The years since then have taught him a lot.

UPDATE. Five years after this writing, and 40 years after his Olympic season, Gerry Lindgren is finally a USATF Hall of Famer. His induction came last month in Portland, where he also watched the first Nike Team Nationals for high schoolers. No one that age has topped the running he did in 1964.

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