Happy New Year! Happy Birthday, Dick Quax!!
Jan. 1, 2021 — I saw this photo in 1975 in the Japanese running magazine as an “up-and-coming young athlete”. After 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, where NZ’s own Richard Tayler won the gold medal in the 10,000m on the opening day and John Walker chased down Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi in the 1,500m and both men broke the world record; they hosted the World Games and brought in some of those heroes of Commonwealth Games. In men’s 5,000m, they had Suleiman Nyambui who would go on to win the silver medal in 1980 Moscow Olympics behind “Yifter the Shifter”; Kenya’s Henry Rono who would break 4 world records 3 years later. Dick Quax beat them all and won handily. At the press conference, asked when he thought he would win after the race, he replied: “Last night!” From that moment (when I saw this picture, not when I heard about his cocky comment!!), he was my hero (along with Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers).
I didn’t really have that many opportunity to watch him run; we didn’t really have many European track circuit on TV in Japan. But I still remember; getting up early and watched the coverage of Montreal Olympic Games in the summer of 1976. During the final of 5,000m, running at 64-second per lap pace, he looked like he was jogging! He was such a smooth running machine. I remember wondering what the heck had happened to him in the heat of 10,000m (later I found out he was sick the day before the heat). When they had the first World Cup T&F in Düsseldorf, Germany, I had to go away on the day of 5,000m. I called home to ask my brother who won. “Guess,” he teased me. “Dick Quax?” I replied. He wasn’t even in the race!! A few years back, when I went back to Japan, I was digging out my old room and I actually came across the image of Dick setting the world 5,000m record in 1977 in the old Japanese running magazine — 43 years ago!!
It was actually Arthur Lydiard himself who introduced me to Dick Quax while I was in New Zealand. I’ve met many “Arthur’s Boys” while in New Zealand but, somehow, Dick and I hit it off very well. I visited him several times, even stayed at their place a couple of times…talked about running, training, life in general…. Sometimes he came out to be cocky (like above mentioned!!) and sneaky (nicknamed “Dirty Dick”!) but I actually saw gentle, caring side of this “running God”. In fact, I drew the image of Dick for him; and I actually added “Running God (走神)” in Japanese characters. The late Coach Kiyoshi Nakamura, Toshihiko Seko’s coach, once said that he considered Dick Quax to be a “perfect running specimen.” “If there’s someone I would have loved to coach, that would be Dick Quax,” he said. I conveyed that to Dick. “No partying, no girlfriend?” he said. “No thanks!!”;o)
Dick came in the international scene in 1970, as a 21-year-young, he gave a helluva race to the reigning Olympic 1500m champion, Kenya’s Kip Keino, at Edinburgh Commonwealth Games 1500m final. He led the field in 57-seconds!! “People say Filbert Bayi ‘revolutionized’ 1500m race tactic,” Dick said to me, “but I did that 4 years before him!!” He said so like a proud boy! It must have been 1996 or 1997, they gathered all the distance event world record setters at Stockholm stadium, where Dick set his 5,000m world record in 1977, to have an exhibition mile race. “Viren was there as well,” Dick told me. “And I beat him!!” Same thing — like a proud boy!! “Are you going to try more age-group events?” I asked him. “Nah!! Once is enough!” he smiled. As great a runner as he was, for someone who ran up to 150-miles a week, Dick was often plagued with injuries. He had “glass legs”. He was, if I recollect it correctly, the first athlete to have surgical treatment for what is now known as a compartment syndrome. 1976 Olympics at Montreal would have been his Games. Injury-free, well-prepared…. And the day before (literally!) the 10,000m heat, he picked up a stomach bug. He stayed up all night, sitting in front of a toilet bow, throwing up. In the heat, no use, he still ran well in 28:56 but “only” 9th and didn’t make it to the final. It was amazing how quickly he recovered and turned around; ran one of the most thrilling finishes in the Olympic 5,000m history (another view of the race HERE) and claimed the silver medal. I had told him many times that, personally, I believe he would have beaten Viren in the 10,000m had he been healthy — considering how the race was run; and won by Viren. “I wouldn’t say that I would have won,” uncharacteristically modest Dick had said to me. “But I would have come home with another medal for sure…”. I told him, with all the accusation of Lasse’s blood doping, it’s his fault. “Had you beaten Viren, he is no longer super-human…”
We kept the fairly close contact after I went back to Japan. He called me at my parents’ place in Japan where I was staying before heading back to University in the US. My mom, who doesn’t understand English, picked up the call. Scratching her head, she came over and said: “I think this is for you. From someone who sounds like a duck…!” ;o) He asked me if I could translate his training video — The Right Track — in Japanese. And then when I was coaching Hitachi team and we went to a training camp in New Zealand in 1990, he helped us set up the places to stay and training locations. And when he got married to a lady (Roxanne) from North Dakota, he called me and asked me to be his Groomsman!! Just think; to be in the wedding of my high school hero!! I remember suggesting him, this is a good opportunity that he should consider moving to Minnesota. “It’s too cold!” he said. “Well, it’ll toughen you up mentally,” I told him. “You don’t need to be THAT tough!!” he laughed. One time, they were visiting Roxanne’s family in ND for Christmas-New Year. It was, like -10F while they were there. Then right when they left, we got hit by the “real” cold front and temperature got down to -25F!! I was talking to him afterward and told him that he was lucky he missed the cold weather. “What the hell was IT then!!?” he laughed. His son, Theo, now goes to Northern Arizona State University and himself a sub-4 minute miler. Steve Placensia, the head coach at University of Minnesota and coached by Dick in his competitive days, wanted him on his team at U of MN but he picked Arizona. Possibly that experience that winter was the deciding factor???
Dick’s birthday is January 1. It was, for the longest time, customary for me to call him in the afternoon of 12/31 in the US when the year already turns in NZ and wish him happy new year AND happy birthday. In 1996, I got to go to Atlanta Olympic Games with Dick. We both stayed at Jeff Galloway’s place and attended the Games quite a few days. We watched Heile Gabrreselasie and Paul Tergat’s Titanic battle in the 10,000m as well, on the same day, as Carl Lewis making history by winning his 4th long jump gold medal title in the Olympics. We walked across Centennial Park only an hour before the bomb exploded!! After the Games, he stopped by in Minneapolis. We got together and went for a weekend long run with a few local runners. I told them that he WAS my hero…. “You mean, I’m no longer your hero!!?” he laughed. Ever since, I would tell people that he was my hero before; now he’s ONLY my friend. But, come to think of it, he and I had been friends much longer than him being my running hero. And I’m certainly more proud to have him as my friend than “simply” my running hero. The last time I talked to him was the early spring of 2018. I called his cell phone and I caught him on the hospital bed. “I’m about to get blood transfusion,” he said with a bit scratchy voice. “I’m getting my blood-doping!!” he laughed. His sense of humor is still strong, I thought. In late May, I went to Japan to conduct a Lydiard clinic in Tokyo. I was there with my daughter. On the 28th, just as I was finishing up a morning jog with my daughter, I got a message from Roxanne. I had a very bad feeling…. As I called her back, she told me that Dick had just passed away a few hours earlier.
When I moved to Tokyo and was getting ready for the weekend’s clinic at Apa Hotel by Hama-cho Park in Tokyo, I quickly added extra few slides to my Lydiard presentation. I highly doubted anybody in Japan might know who Dick Quax was. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to let them know what a great runner he was. But even more importantly, I wanted people to know what a great guy he was. As I showed the video clip from Montreal Olympic 5,000m and explain to my 30-strong Japanese audience who Dick Quax was, I choked up. It was as if it finally sank in with me. So this is my personal story of the Flying Dutchman; Dick Quax. Many people don’t even have a “hero”. Fewer ever even get to meet his/her hero. I am one of the few lucky ones who got to become life-long friends with my high school hero. Happy Birthday, my old friend. Rest In Peace, Dick. I miss you. — Nobby Hashizume