National Track & Field Hall of Fame Inductee Dyrol Burleson Q&A
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field
INDIANAPOLIS - USA Track & Field announced on November 4 that all-time great athletes Jearl Miles Clark, Dyrol Burleson, Roy Cochran, Ralph Craig and journalist James Dunaway have been elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
Excerpts from a recent interview with Dyrol Burleson follow. A similar interview with fellow Hall of Famer Jearl Miles Clark is available on the USATF website, and an interview with Hall of Fame Contributors inductee James Dunaway is forthcoming.
The Class of 2010 will be inducted Saturday evening, December 4, at the Jesse Owens Awards and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, held in conjunction with USATF's 2010 Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach, Va. The National Track & Field Hall of Fame is located at The Armory Foundation, at 216 Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights, N.Y. For more information, visit: http://ny.milesplit.com/pages/Hall-of-Fame
A two-time Olympic finalist in the men's 1,500m (6th in 1960, 5th in 1964), Dyrol Burleson won that event at the Olympic Trials in both of those years.
Burleson was a three-time NCAA champion (1,500m/Mile: 1960 1,500m, 1961 mile, 1962 mile) at the University of Oregon, who twice held the U.S. outdoor 1,500m record (3:41.3 & 3:40.9, 1960) and the U.S. outdoor mile record (3:58.6 in 1960 & 3:57.6 in 1961).
In 1965 Burleson set the U.S. indoor 1,500m record of 3:42.8, and in 1961 he set the U.S. mile record of 4:03.8. He also held the U.S. 2-mile record when he ran 8:42.5 in 1962, and was a member of the quartet that set the 4xMile world record of 16:09 in 1962. He was ranked top ten in the world at 1,500m on seven occasions, and was ranked #1 globally in 1961. Burleson was the first runner ever to break the four-minute mile barrier at the University of Oregon's famed Hayward Field.
Dyrol Burleson Q&A
Q: How does it feel to be elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame?
A: I'm really excited and I don't know if I really deserve it. Gee wiz... it's incredible!
Q: How did you get started with track and field?
A: I started my freshman year in high school when I was 14. Really the biggest influence on me was Sports Illustrated. That was when they first got started and they had their athlete of the year, and of course it was the first sub-4 minute mile (Roger Bannister). I was real excited about that, so decided I wanted to be a miler and I wanted to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I achieved both. I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice and I became a miler.
Q: How good were you in high school? Did you win state championships?
A: Yes I did, only my senior year. That was also the interscholastic record of 4:13.2, I set that. That was the first time my picture was in Sports Illustrated. That was important to me. I was very fortunate to be raised 50 miles south of Eugene (Oregon) close to Bill Bowerman (Univ. of Oregon - National Track & Field Hall of Famer) and he had an influence on all track and field in the area, especially for milers. I also had a very good high school coach in Sam Bell (National Track & Field Hall of Famer), who when I left high school went on to Oregon State and then ended up at Indiana (University).
Q: With Coach Bowerman being so influential in the area where you grew up, did that make choosing the University of Oregon easy for you when the opportunity presented itself?
A: Oh yes. I started getting letters my sophomore year, and then junior year a lot more and then even more my senior year. He gave me the first full ride scholarship for track and field at Oregon. In turn, my goal was to never lose a race for Bill on the track. I'm a track man, not a cross country runner or road runner. I achieved that. I never lost a race at Oregon. I couldn't run as a freshman back then, and you couldn't compete in varsity until you became a sophomore. But that year I did win the AAU meet, and I won the Pan American Games and the Russian meet. So I knew that if I could've competed, I wouldn't have lost a meet for Bill either as a freshman.
Q: What was it about Coach Bowerman that made him so effective with you and so many others he coached?
A: I'm not unique by any means. I think everyone who competed for him had the same feeling. We were sort of going to war and he was always there for you, and he was also ahead of his time with a lot of the running techniques and how to train and that sort of stuff. He was one really special person, all the way around. He was highly respected by everyone.
Q: What was it like to be the second American to break the 4-minute mile barrier?
A: I think it was 3:58.6, so I got my first American record in the spring of 1960. It was at home at Hayward Field in a dual meet against Stanford. My goal was never time, it was always to win. Of course, I never would have had that sub-4 or anything if it hadn't been for Bill Bowerman. Give him credit, period.
Q: What was it like to finally move past that 4-minute barrier?
A: Back then it was kind of an elite company, and when you would break the 4-minute mile, Bannister would send you a black tie with a 4 on it with fern leaves on both sides of it. The whole world has changed. Back then we ran on cinder tracks with heavy shoes and our training was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today. Of course you can make a living now as a runner and the world was quite different back then than it is today.
Q: In 1960 you won the Olympic Trials and went off to the Olympic Games in Rome. What was that experience like?
A: It was great. I have a lot of good memories. I remember being able to compete in the Games and being around Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and those kind of guys. I'm a sports fan, period. So I sort of enjoyed them for all of their professional careers, and then Cassius Clay, who would become Muhammad Ali. We had some incredibly good people on that team. But when I reflect back on the 1960 Games I reflect on how dominant Herb Elliott was in the 1,500 meters. He just took it out and ran away from everybody, and was just incredible. I really admired his performance.
Q: In 1964 you once again won the Olympic Trials before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. How was that experience different for you from what happened in 1960?
A: Right after the race it was hard for me (3:40.0, 5th in 1,500m final). But as you mature you put things in perspective. I made a big mistake in that race. I was just too cocky. I always relied on a sprint finish and I just let myself get too far back. That part was a disappointment, but on the other hand, my old roommate for both Games was Bill Dellinger (5,000m bronze medalist), and then Bob Schul won in the 5,000 meters, and then Billy Mills incredible 10,000 meters win. When I look back that was the day before the Africans and others literally took over distance running. We had a very good showing in our distances, and I was very proud of my teammates accomplishing what they did.
Q: You set a number of U.S. records and posted the 4xMile world record in 1962. What was it like to set records and break barriers?
A: For me that wasn't it. I always ran to win. It was victory that meant the most to me. Records are only made to be broken. You really cannot compare the records of today with records from way back in the past. "Chariots of Fire" was one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite, and when you look at the conditions they were running under its just unreal. So records come and they go. Records are nice but they don't really mean anything to me.
Q: How did you support yourself after college while still training to be among the world's best runners?
A: That's what you had to do, and during college I worked at a lumber yard. When I wasn't competing like over Christmas break or during the summer, I'd work at this lumber yard. When I graduated, for the two years before the Games I worked for a dental insurance company. When I went there I told them that my intention was to be a parks director. I made that decision when I was six years old that I really wanted to do that. That even preceded my desire to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. So I worked for them for two years prior to the Games. Later I came back and I taught in graduate school. I was an instructor on the faculty at Oregon, and then I started my career with Linn County Parks, which is a very large regional parks system. It was small when we got started there, but it's a very large regional park system with camping and boating facilities, that sort of thing.
Q: When you look back on your running career, what are you proudest of?
A: Being part of that record 4-Mile relay team, being part of Bowerman's first national championship in 1962 and having never lost a race for him. Basically that's it. Again, I'm a track man, not a road racer, although I did participate in the first Portland Marathon, but my participation was as the honorary starter and I just watched (laughter). Even when I was in my 40s
Q: As a proud Oregon grad, what are your thoughts on the importance of track and field in the Eugene area these days?
A: We have a great track coach, and of course I'm prejudiced, but I don't think any school touches ours with our program, and our fans and our officials and everyone down there in Eugene. A track meet in Eugene is special for everyone that competes there. I'm really pleased with the fact that the people in the stands really appreciate track. We root just as much for our team members as we do for good performances from whoever's in the competition.
For more information on USA Track & Field and the National Track & File Hall of Fame, visit: www.usatf.org