May 28, 2021 — It has been 3 years since I received a call from Roxanne, Dick Quax’s wife, at 6AM while I was jogging with my daughter in Japan, letting me know my high school hero and long-time friend, Dick Quax, had passed away. Rotorua’s established master runner and coach, Kim Stevenson had shared the following tribute to Dick Quax with me. This was published on the Distance Running NZ site:
THOUGHTS ON DICK QUAX:
When Dick departed this world, I was unable to attend his funeral for a number of reasons; but I felt a massive sadness at his loss and felt I needed to express some thoughts of what those of us who were not the Elite Athletes of the 1970’s felt about Dick and from a personal point of view what I learned from watching and observing him and to begin to understand what you needed to do or have to do to become a top runner in this sport we all love so dearly. I also sincerely believe that it was Dick who really put New Zealand back on the World Map in the early 70’s. Rod Dixon and John Walker came along a year or two later.
Firstly, a little history. From the mid 60’s and into the 70’s, there were an amazing number of outstanding Junior Distance runners throughout New Zealand. However, around 1964–65, three young men in Hamilton were amongst them but their names did not appear regularly as “Stars”, especially of the future. Collin Morris, Ray Batten and Dick Quax were those young men… At (the age of) 16/17, the order of those names as I put them was probably the order of how they ranked; even in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty. However, by the time they reached Senior Ranks (1967), Ray Batten nailed down the National Steeplechase title (8:55.8) with his mate Colin Morris 2nd. Dick Quax was still battling a good local miler, Reg Lowe.
In 1968, Dick ran a 4:00.6 mile on the grass track at Cambridge. Interestingly, only 2 weeks after Norris Wyatt ran 8:46.8, under the Olympic qualifying time for Steeplechase that year. The track must have been in good nick at that time.
1969 saw Dick win his first National mile title on Seddon Park in Hamilton. He then placed 4th at the now defunct Pan Pacific Games 1,500m in Tokyo. Then early in 1970, Dick smashed through the 4-minute mile barrier with a 3:57.8 to beat the current Olympic Champion Kip Keino.
The stats about Dick are well known from this point but the reason I started with the early stuff is that Dick, in those early days, was developing this absolute doggedness and self-belief to make it in the rugged world of Distance Running.
However, I jumped the gun a little. My first “real” memory of Dick was at a Waikato (Now Waikato/BOP) Cross-Country Championships, somewhere near Morrinsville in 1966. We were running the Junior Division (Under 19). I recall big cow crap patches and long grass and this tall blonde kid who buried us in the race. I recall asking a mate who the tall blonde kid was. Dick Quax was the answer. He jogged around after the race with a distinct air of superiority. I was curious and fascinated. What was this “Air”?. I heard words like Arrogance, Super-confident, Up-himself…, being bandied around by others. I was interested and put those words in my memory banks because I had this feeling that this kid was going to be far better than the rest of us. I moved to Auckland in 1967. I wandered along to the old Mt. Smart Stadium to watch the great “Auckland vs Waikato” Athletics Meeting … One of those really iconic meets that was lost to our National Calender years ago. The Waikato Team for the mile was Reg Lowe and Dick Quax. The race is a blur now but in the last lap Reg and Dick took off. I was watching over on the back straight (the start of 200m) as Reg came through very quickly with Dick just a few metres behind. Dick looked over his shoulder to see what was happening behind him but they were well clear of the field and finished in those positions. After the race I saw the guys warming down and Dick had that “Air” again. I was still fascinated. What was it? I still had not put my finger on it. However, I believe that Reg never beat Dick again after that race.
Next thing I note was the 4:00.6 mile at Cambridge then in 1969 TVNZ broadcast the National Athletics from Seddon Park. Dick once again buried the field with a very good run for his first National Title. Then I heard “those words” again from various people. But all along this young man was training VERY consistently and improving all the time. In early 1970, Kip Keino was returning to New Zealand. Kiwis were big fans of this Kenyan icon and the rumour amongst the Auckland running community was that young Dick Quax was looking good and could possibly run under 4 mins for the mile against Kip. History tells us that it was Dick who won that race. He beat Kip convincingly. I was at Mt. Smart that fabulous night when Dick ran that sub-4… We screamed our heads off. He had arrived!!!! New Zealand had another Great Runner.
I saw that Dick had the confidence to “have a go” at the current Olympic 1500 Champion. The self-belief he took into and from that race was amazing. I did not hear those “other words” that night. Old hands at the sport left the stadium with smiles on their faces. Dick took that renewed confidence into the 1970 Commonwealth Games 1,500m final. I can recall Bill Baillie saying that Dick was the only guy in that field that had the guts to challenge Kip Keino… Everyone else was running for minor placings. Dick ran for the Gold. Silver was the reward. I realised by this stage that what Dick had was a huge self-belief in his ability and training but many took that as an arrogance. But let’s fast forward to 1972.
New Year’s Day, Tauranga Twilight. 800m. I was lucky enough to be considered good enough to be in that field, albeit as an “also-ran”. Dick had entered so had a young guy many of us knew was a class act. John Walker. The gun went and it was all on. Dick and John had this amazing battle up front on a very soggy, soft grass track with John coming out on top (1:50.8). But he had to work for it. In typical Quax fashion, Dick gave him nothing. The rest of us hung on for grim death. I actually ran quite well but more importantly I learned I needed a little more self-belief. Where did I learn that from: Dick Quax. What finally nailed it for me was about a month later when there were two races a few weeks apart. The first was a meet at Porrit Stadium. Waikato vs West Coast North Island. Kevin Ross from Wanganui had beaten Dick 5 times. He was entered in the 1,500m. Suddenly into the stadium walks Dick. (Dick was living in Auckland by this time). He managed to gain a place in the field. He lines up in the 1,500. What happened was amazing. Dick took it from the gun….. He ran 3:39.4 on a hard track on a hot, humid Waikato afternoon and buried Kevin. It was the best solo run I have ever seen and will never forget. To quote Peter Heidenstrom in his book “Athletes of the Century”: “If only he had run in the Olympics as he had that day…”. The only run that has been done in a similar fashion in NZ was John Walkers 3:50.58 mile at Mt. Smart in 1981 on a cool evening and a far superior track.
A few weeks later, Dick repeated the solo effort on the same track with a 13:35.00-5,000m. Once again, an outstanding solo effort.
After those two runs, finally I realised from observing, watching (and learning) from Dick that to be a top athlete (apart from some talent!!), you had to have a dogged, hard-nosed approach to training and to BELIEVE that you can and will do it. Also to have at times a very tactical approach to racing. No matter how many times you get beaten you must keep plugging on.
At times Dick came across as arrogant and he had a love/hate relationship with the New Zealand public but as a hard case Dutch friend of mine said: Dick had a typical hard-nosed, stubborn Dutch attitude to the Sport and did not give a damn what people thought, he knew what he wanted and needed to do.
How did Dick treat the likes of me, a keen Provincial level athlete who was of no danger to him? I did not know him as well as many but anytime he saw me he always greeted me like a Mate and once when I was trying to smash out some 2-minute efforts on Cornwall Park, Dick came running through and yelled out “You’re looking good, mate.” From Dick that was praise!!!
In recent years I was with my family walking through Pakuranga Town Centre and I happened to bump into Dick. First thing he said was “You are looking fit and well, are you still running?”
Finally: There have been many discussions about Dick’s efforts at Montreal in 1976. I was at those Games and was lucky enough to have front row seats 120m from the finish of the 5,000m. It was and still is my sincere belief that Dick would have won the 5,000m if he had not taken ill as the Games started. He ran 28:56 in the heats of the 10,000 whilst seriously ill. Only a driven, tough, stubborn athlete would have attempted that race in that condition!!!! The illness really knocked him around so his resulting recovery to make to 5,000m Final was amazing. The fact he medalled was outstanding in the circumstances.
RIP Dick. Thanks for the Memories. — Kim Stevenson