The James Dean of running, Pre lived fast and died young. More than being a phenomenally talented runner – he held national records in everything from a mile to 10K – he was an entertainer who saw running as a creative act. “Some people create with words or music, or with a brush and paints,” he said. “I like to make something beautiful when I run.” Pre died in a car crash aged 24. But his legacy lives on.
Key quote: “To give anything less than 100% is to sacrifice the gift.”
The bad boy of British athletics, Bedford helped to turn track and field into a prime-time event. His iconic moustache and extracurricular antics were the stuff of legend, as was his relentless running style. Never lacking in confidence, before the 10,000m at the Munich Olympics Bedford suggested that viewers “stand by your beds and watch me win a gold medal for Britain”. He ended up out of the medals on that occasion, but his work in making the London Marathon what it is today is testament to Bedford’s character and charisma.
Key quote: “I had a marvellous time. It was a different era. What was wrong with being young, good at sport and having a laugh?”
Saint, sinner, athlete, alcoholic – the Kenyan marathon prodigy was a mass of contradictions. One thing never in question, however, was his remarkable talent. Upon watching Wanjiru obliterate the field at the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon, Dave Bedford describe him as “instantly the best and most exciting marathon runner in the world, maybe ever”. High praise, indeed, but Wanjiru would never fully realise his talent. Women and booze derailed his career, with Wanjiru eventually falling too his death after a night of heavy drinking. He was just 24.
Key quote: “The only thing I thought was, ‘Who cares, let’s go!’ I’m not the type of guy who runs behind someone else. I was going to run up front no matter what the pace was.”
The greatest sprinter of all time is also one of the sport’s great entertainers. His pre-race posing is now almost as famous as his sprinting. But the key to Bolt’s braggadocio is that he can always back it up. See his six Olympic gold medals for details. The key to sprinting, they say, is to stay as relaxed as possible. And Bolt is the coolest customer around.
Key quote: “Don’t think about the start of the race. Think about the ending.”
Not as decorated an athlete as some on the list, but probably the one you’d most like to share a pint with. Andy Holden (pictured, centre), along with being a tough and talented international athlete, was a legendary drinker. One of his greatest feats was winning the Bermuda Marathon, having drunk eight pints the previous night. In his later years, Holden also managed to run 100 miles and drink 100 pints in a single week – that’s more than 14 of each a day.
Key quote: [Upon finishing second at the Belfast Marathon, having been led the wrong way by the lead car]: “It’s just one of those things which happen – it was an Irish marathon.”
“The Czech Locomotive” remains the only person to have won the 5K, 10K and marathon at a single Olympics. Yet his greatest legacy is the generous spirit in which he raced. Zátopek, who’s ungainly running style was pilloried by the press, once gave his Olympic medal away to Australia’s Ron Clarke, saying only, “because you deserved it”. Rarely has an athlete been so loved or revered.
Key quote: “A runner must run with dreams in his heart, not money in his pocket.”
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