Franjo Mihalić

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Franjo Mihalić
Franjo Mihalic.jpg
Personal information
Nickname(s)Jura [1]
Born(1920-03-09)9 March 1920
Ludina (part of Kutina), Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (now Croatia)
Died14 February 2015(2015-02-14) (aged 94)
Belgrade, Serbia
Residence Belgrade, Serbia [1]
Height1.75 m (5 ft 9 in) [2]
Weight58 kg (128 lb) [2]
CountryFlag of Independent State of Croatia.svg  Independent State of Croatia (1941–1945)
Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg  Yugoslavia (after 1945)
Sport Track, Long-distance running
Event(s) 10,000 m, cross country, marathon, road running
Club AK Partizan (since 1947) [2] [3]
Retired1966 [4]
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 5000 metres : 14:18.0 [3]
10,000 metres : 29:37.6 [2]
Marathon : 2:21:24 [2]

Franjo Mihalić (Serbo-Croatian pronunciation:  [frǎːɲo mǐxalitɕ] ; [5] 9 March 1920 – 14 February 2015) was a Croatian long-distance runner best known for his 1958 win at the Boston Marathon and his marathon silver medal in the 1956 Summer Olympics. Mihalić competed mostly in marathons, road races and cross country races, distinguishing himself by winning many top-level international competitions in the 1950s and setting a combined 25 Croatian and later Yugoslavian national records in long-distance track events between 5000 m and 25 km. [3] [6] In 1957, he became the inaugural winner of the Golden Badge, the award for the best sportsperson of Yugoslavia awarded by the daily Sport . He is regarded as the most accomplished male athlete in the history of Croatian, Serbian and Yugoslav track and field. [1]

Boston Marathon marathon running race held in Boston, Untied States

The Boston Marathon is an annual marathon race hosted by several cities in greater Boston in eastern Massachusetts, United States. It is always held on Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897, the event was inspired by the success of the first marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics. The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events. It is one of six World Marathon Majors. Its course runs from Hopkinton in southern Middlesex County to Copley Square in Boston.

Marathon long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres

The marathon is a long-distance race, completed by running, walking, or a run/walk strategy. There are also wheelchair divisions. The marathon has an official distance of 42.195 kilometres, usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, who reported the victory.

1956 Summer Olympics Games of the XVI Olympiad, celebrated in Melbourne in 1956

The 1956 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event that was held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia from 22 November to 8 December 1956, with the exception of the equestrian events, which were held in Stockholm, Sweden in June 1956.



Early life

Mihalić was born in 1920 in the village of Ludina (part of Kutina), in what is today Sisak-Moslavina County, Croatia. [1] [2] His father Josip was a tailor, while his mother Veronika was a housewife. Mihalić was born the tenth of their twelve children. [1] When he was three years old, the family moved to Zagreb. [1]

Kutina Town in Sisak-Moslavina, Croatia

Kutina is a city in central Croatia, the largest settlement in the hilly region of Moslavina, in the Sisak-Moslavina County. The town proper has a population of 13,735 (2011), while the total municipality population is 22,760.

Sisak-Moslavina County County in Croatia

Sisak-Moslavina County is a Croatian county in eastern Central Croatia and southwestern Slavonia. It is named after the city of Sisak and the region Moslavina just across the river Sava. According to 2011 census it is inhabited by 172,000 people.

Croatia Republic in Central Europe

Croatia, officially the Republic of Croatia, is a country at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the southeast, sharing a maritime border with Italy. Its capital, Zagreb, forms one of the country's primary subdivisions, along with twenty counties. Croatia has an area of 56,594 square kilometres and a population of 4.28 million, most of whom are Roman Catholics.

Mihalić started playing sports at age 10. [7] In 1936, while playing football for the local club NK Grafičar, Mihalić met Stjepan Bobek, three years his junior. [1] [7] At the time, Bobek played for NK Ličanin, Grafičar's main rivals. [1] [7] This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, [1] as both Mihalić and Bobek (who would become the all-time top scorer for the Yugoslav national football team) were transferred to Belgrade after World War II as Yugoslav star athletes. [8]

Association football Team field sport played between two teams of eleven players with spherical ball

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a team sport played with a spherical ball between two teams of eleven players. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies, making it the world's most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field called a pitch with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Stjepan Bobek Croatian footballer

Stjepan Bobek was a Yugoslav football striker and later football manager. Usually a forward or attacking midfielder, Bobek was renowned for his technique, vision and goalscoring ability and is commonly regarded as one of Yugoslavia's greatest players. Ferenc Puskás once said: "Bobek's technique with the ball is unrivaled. I'm not ashamed to admit, that I tried to copy him. How God-like that guy dribbled and his back-heel pass was impeccable. He still is one of the most noble artists in football."

Yugoslavia national football team former mens national association football team representing Yugoslavia

The Yugoslavia national football team represented the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in association football. It enjoyed success in international competition. In 1992, during the Yugoslav wars, the team was suspended from international competition as part of a United Nations sanction. In 1994, when the boycott was lifted, it was succeeded by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia national football team.

Mihalić started working at age 16 as a printing house apprentice. [1] With his first wages he bought a bicycle, joined the Olimp cycling club, and then spent the next four years racing for them. [1] He was fairly successful, being able to score top ten finishes competing against the best Croatian cyclists of the era. [1] However, his enthusiasm for the sport was dampened by a number of major crashes he suffered in training and racing which resulted in injuries and permanent scarring. [1]

Entry into athletics

Mihalić's entry into athletics was almost coincidental. In 1940, one of the events of the Workers' Sports Games in Zagreb was a cross country race. Mihalić was nominated for the race by his football club Grafičar as he was their fastest player. [1] Despite the fact that he entered the first foot race in his life without any training, he placed second out of approximately 200 participants, narrowly losing to an experienced athlete. [1] [9] This event was crucial in his decision to leave cycling and take up athletics. He joined the Concordia Zagreb athletics club and after only several months of training set his first national record in the 5000 meters, followed shortly by a national record in the 10,000 meters. [1]

Cross country running sport in which competitors race by running a long-distance course on natural terrain

Cross country running is a sport in which teams and individuals run a race on open-air courses over natural terrain such as dirt or grass. Sometimes the runners are referred to as harriers (dogs). The course, typically 4–12 kilometres (2.5–7.5 mi) long, may include surfaces of grass, and earth, pass through woodlands and open country, and include hills, flat ground and sometimes gravel road. It is both an individual and a team sport; runners are judged on individual times and teams by a points-scoring method. Both men and women of all ages compete in cross country, which usually takes place during autumn and winter, and can include weather conditions of rain, sleet, snow or hail, and a wide range of temperatures.

During World War II Mihalić represented the Independent State of Croatia. He won several international competitions, set five national records and was named Croatian Sportsman of the Year three times. Mihalić used his top athlete status to avoid being drafted and declined membership in the Ustasha party by saying he was "apolitical". His first athletics coach Milčo Dobrin, who as a Jew had to wear a Star of David was barred from attending competitions. Later Dobrin managed to escape to Venezuela through Switzerland. [1]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Independent State of Croatia Former country, fascist puppet state

The Independent State of Croatia was a World War II fascist puppet state of Germany and Italy. It was established in parts of occupied Yugoslavia on 10 April 1941, after the invasion by the Axis powers. Its territory consisted of most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as some parts of modern-day Serbia and Slovenia, but also excluded many Croat-populated areas in Dalmatia, Istria, and Međimurje regions.

Yellow badges, also referred to as Jewish badges, are badges that Jews were ordered to wear in public during certain periods by the ruling Christians and Muslims, especially in Nazi Germany. The badges served to mark the wearer as a religious or ethnic outsider, and often served as a badge of shame.

Following WWII Mihalić ran for the newly formed Mladost athletics club from 1945 to 1947, of which he was a co-founder. [1] [3] In 1947 he was transferred to Belgrade by the new communist Yugoslav authorities to join the Partizan sports association. [8] Mihalić got a well-paid job and good conditions for training with his new club, so he decided to settle permanently in Belgrade, where he soon married and became a father. [1]

International success

One of Mihalić's early international successes came at the 1951 Mediterranean Games in Alexandria, where he won the 10,000 m silver medal, behind Alain Mimoun. [10] Mihalić also competed in the 10,000 m event at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, finishing 18th. [2]

The first major success came the following year in Paris, when Mihalić became the world cross country champion, winning the International Cross Country Championships, a precursor of today's IAAF World Cross Country Championships. [4] [11]

Mihalić left his mark on the Saint Silvester Road Race in São Paulo, Brazil, where he won twice (1952 and 1954), once placed third (1951) and once second (1953, losing to Emil Zátopek). [4] He won the prestigious Cinque Mulini cross country race in Italy three times (1957, 1958 and 1961). [12]

Apart from his later victory in Boston, Mihalić scored wins in international marathons in Athens and Moscow (both in 1957). [6]

1956 Summer Olympics

Mihalić won the marathon silver medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. This was, in his view, the greatest achievement of his sports career. [7] No Yugoslav track and field athlete has managed to win an Olympic medal since. [13]

Mihalić came to Melbourne in good running shape; by his account, he had been training more than ever. [1] Alain Mimoun of France and Veikko Karvonen of Finland were considered the pre-race favorites. [4] Some have also seen Mihalić as one of the favorites, as he enhanced his reputation earlier in the year by winning the Balkan Games marathon in Belgrade in a then-spectacular time of 2:16:25, which would have been the fastest marathon race ever if the course had not been found too short. [4] [14] Mihalić himself judged that, in a field of 46 Olympic marathon entrants, 15 were better than him, [1] but nevertheless he felt that he had a fighting chance for winning a medal. [7]

The Olympic marathon was held in the afternoon of a very hot day, [7] [15] and the course provided little or no shade, except for the start and finish. [7] Mihalić kept with the leading group, gradually advancing in the standings, but had a serious setback while approaching the first water station at the 15th kilometer. [7] In a scramble for refreshment he tripped, collided with the water table and fell to the ground, injuring himself. [7] [16] Despite bruising his arms and legs he managed to get up and continue the race but only reconnected with the head of the pack at the 20th kilometer. [7] [15] Shortly after that, Mimoun suddenly broke away from the leading group. [17] Mihalić decided against chasing him until the 35th kilometer, when he realized none of the other runners were able to follow. [7] By that time however Mimoun had an advantage of more than a minute, and Mihalić was unable to catch up with him. [7] [18] In the end, he was the second to cross the finish line in a time of 2:26:32, a minute and a half after Mimoun, and a minute in front of the bronze medalist Veikko Karvonen. [19]

1958 Boston Marathon

Another highlight of Mihalić's career came in the 1958 Boston Marathon race, held on an unusually warm day. [20] He scored a decisive victory over the field, besting the defending champion John J. Kelley who took second place by nearly five minutes, and leaving the third-placed Einno Pulkkinen more than 11 minutes behind. [4] [20] [21] Mihalić's winning time of 2:25:54 was five minutes short of Kelley's course record established in the previous year, but was still impressive given the hot weather in which the race was held. [21] [22] The "heat-loving Yugoslav's" [23] successes in hot conditions were attributed to his unusual habit of training in the middle of the day, between noon and 2 pm. [24]

Mihalić's 1958 Boston Marathon win was the first – and, as of 2015, the only – by a male Eastern European athlete. [21] [25]

Later career and retirement

Mihalić participated in the marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, finishing 12th, in a time of 2:21:52.6. [2] His third and final Cinque Mulini win in 1961, shortly before his 41st birthday, was also his last major international result. Mihalić retired from sport in 1966 by winning his last race, the Kadinjača mini-marathon in Užice. [4]

In his active career, Mihalić won 14 national championships (12 over 10,000 m and 2 over 5000 m), [4] but never won a national marathon championship. [4] [6]

As of December 2009, three of Mihalić's track records still survive as Serbian national records: 20,000 m (1952), one hour run (1952) and 25,000 m (1957). [26]

Veteran career

Mihalić participated in 10 km runs until his late 70s. [27] He had to quit running on doctor's orders in the early 2000s when he severely injured his knee in the Cer-Šabac race. [1] He then promptly switched to racewalking and won three gold medals in the 5 km event for Serbia and Montenegro at the veteran Balkan Games, the last one in 2005. [1]

In late 2006, Mimoun, Mihalić and Karvonen, the three marathon medalists in the 1956 Olympics, met in Paris in a reunion organized by the French sports daily L'Équipe on the 50th anniversary of the Olympic marathon in Melbourne. [1]

In his late 80s Mihalić still walked 3 kilometers every day from his Belgrade home to the Partizan Stadium, where he volunteered as an athletics coach. [1] He participated in the 2009 Summer Universiade in Belgrade as an athletic referee. [24]


See also

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Preceded by
Andrija Otenheimer
Bernard Vukas
Yugoslav Sportsman of the Year
1956, 1957
Succeeded by
Perica Vlašić
Stanko Lorger
Preceded by
Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg The Best Athlete of Yugoslavia
Succeeded by
Svetozar Gligorić