This is the third story in a series on the Munich 1972 Olympics. In this piece, Jeff Benjamin writes about Rod Dixon and his friendship with Frank Shorter, who took medals on the same day at the Munich Olympics, Dixon in the 1,500m, and Shorter in the marathon.
The Munich Olympics at 50! Third In A Series – September 10th 1972
A 50-Year Kiwi-America Medal Friendship Begins! By Jeff Benjamin
On September 10th, 1972, the gun was fired off to start the Men’s Olympic Marathon. After 1 lap in the Munich stadium, the distance runners went on to the streets of the city for 2 hours.
During that 2-hour time period of the race (which spectators were able to watch live in the stadium screens), other men’s finals took place on the track of the Olympic stadium.
The performances of 2 runners that day in different events would inextricably link each other going on a half-century later.
While Frank Shorter, a not unknown top runner, would win Gold over the 26.2-mile distance, New Zealand’s Rod Dixon, who was NOT ranked in the top 10, would probably become the happiest Bronze medalist ever seen over the 1500!
Here are some of Dixon’s recollections of that day alongside his reflections of 50 years of being connected to Shorter.
“The New Zealand, Olympic track and field team were traveling in Europe and Scandinavia prior to going to Munich for the Olympic Games.
The meet in Oslo in early August presented New Zealanders with either participation in the 1500 meters on the first day or the option to run the 3000 meters on the second day.
I chose to run both the 1500 (I ran a time is 3.40 2!), and then the next day, I lined up in 3000 meters.
Also in the 3000m was Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter from the USA, together with my countryman Dick Quax along with Norwegian and Swedish runners.
What really surprised me in the race was the immediate pace setting by Prefontaine, who really just went out and set the pace from the gun…the rest of us were following and what I did know was that it was a very fast time and it suited my training at the time to have had the 1500 the day before and now the 3000 meters.
I finished 5th in the race, and yet two places ahead of me was Frank Shorter, and that was very surprising as we knew that Frank Shorter was more of a 10,000 meter and Marathon runner!
After Oslo, our New Zealand team went to Denmark, and we had another couple of track meetings, and then we made our way to Sweden and had a couple of races there and then on to the Olympics in Munich.
The 1500m schedule was made up of heats, semifinals, and the Final over 3 days. That suited my style of running as I had run 10th in the world cross country race in 1971, and that gave me, I believe, 3 races in 3 days.
Based on strength, it was a good schedule for me. I qualified in the first heat, placing second behind Kip Keino, and then the next day I finished first in the semifinal, sharing the same time with Pekka Vasala from Finland.
So in the final and we had two New Zealand runners in that race, and they were two Kenyans, Kip Kaino and Mike Boit. It was almost the perfect race as Keino took the lead with two laps to go and really pushed the pace, and that tended to suit me to be running hard for the last 800 meters, winning the Bronze medal!
Once we had finished, we were then assembled into the tunnel under the stadium, and we had to provide medical samples for testing whilst that was going on; we were advised that the marathon was finishing soon. We were permitted to go to the tunnel entrance to the stadium to watch the finish, and to my surprise, we saw the impostor coming in, and a lot of people really didn’t know that wasn’t Frank Shorter, although most of us knew it wasn’t Frank. The security took the imposter off the track, and Frank Shorter ran his last lap and 1/2 to win the gold medal.
It was incredible, and I was there also, too when Kenny Moore came in. Frank and Kenny came under the entrance where we were standing, and that’s when I congratulated Frank and Kenny on the 1st and 4th placing.
That was really the beginning of having an incredible journey I’ve shared with Frank Shorter for 50 years now!”