John Walker (runner)

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Sir John Walker
John Walker runner 1975.jpg
Walker in 1975
Personal information
Birth nameJohn George Walker
Born (1952-01-12) 12 January 1952 (age 69) [1]
Papakura, New Zealand [1]
Height183 cm (6 ft 0 in) [1]
Weight74 kg (163 lb) [1]
CountryNew Zealand
Event(s)800–5000 m
Coached by Arch Jelley
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)800 m – 1:44.92 (1974)
1500 m – 3:32.4 (1975)
Mile – 3:49.08 (1982)
5000 m – 13:19.28 (1986) [1] [2]

Sir John George Walker, KNZM , CBE (born 12 January 1952) is a former middle-distance runner from New Zealand who won the 1500 m event at the 1976 Olympics. He was also the first person to run the mile in under 3:50. In more recent years, Walker has been active in local government, as an Auckland Councillor and representing the Manurewa-Papakura ward.


1974 Commonwealth Games

Walker achieved world prominence in 1974 when he ran second to Filbert Bayi in the 1500 metre run at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand. In one of the greatest 1500 m races held to that time, Walker and Bayi both broke the existing world record, and others in the race recorded the fourth, fifth, and seventh fastest performances ever. Additionally, Walker won the bronze medal in the 800 metres in 1:44.92, his lifetime best for the distance, and still the second-fastest New Zealander ever, behind Peter Snell.

Throughout his career as a world-class miler Walker was coached by Arch Jelley, a school principal, and a middle distance runner himself, whose work with runners has been typified by meticulous training programmes on a scientific basis and effective communications in person.

World record breaking runs

Walker broke the World Record in the mile run with a time of 3:49.4 minutes set at Göteborg, Sweden, on 12 August 1975, bettering the previous time of 3:51.0 set earlier that year by Filbert Bayi. It was the first time that the three minutes and 50 seconds time had been broken, and it was a full 10 seconds faster than Roger Bannister's historic sub-Four-Minute Mile of 3:59.4 that was run twenty-one years previously. He was named Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News the same year. In the 1976 New Year Honours, Walker was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to athletics, especially as the first person to run the mile in less than 3 minutes 50 seconds. [3]

Walker's new record lasted until 17 July 1979, when it was lowered by the Briton Sebastian Coe.

The following year Walker broke the world record for the 2000 metres, running 4:51.4 in Oslo, Norway, on 30 June 1976. He smashed the existing ten-year-old record held by Michel Jazy by nearly five seconds; Walker regarded this run as the best he ever ran. Steve Cram broke the record on 4 August 1985, running 4:51.39 at Budapest, Hungary. [4] Indoors, Walker broke the 1500 metre world record with a time of 3:37.4 in 1979.

1976 Montreal Olympic Games

In the 800 metres Walker failed to advance to the semi-finals missing the top two qualifying spots in his heat running a time of 1:47.63.

However Walker was a favourite to win the 1500 metres due to the African boycott of the Games weakening the field. The 1500 metres final started at a slow pace going through 800 metres in 2:03. The race would come down to a fast finish. In a bid to out-sprint runners who were quicker over 800 metres, Walker started his finishing sprint 300 metres from the finish, fading in the last 20 metres but holding out Ivo Van Damme and Paul-Heinz Wellmann to win the gold medal. [5] Although it seemed that the boycott denied Bayi (who was Walker's main rival) the opportunity to challenge for the 1500 metre title, Bayi likely would not have competed because of an attack of malaria. In 1977 Walker saw his position as the world's top miler challenged by Steve Ovett, who beat him in the IAAF World Cup 1500m.

New Zealand records

During 1981 he set a New Zealand all-comers' mile record of 3:50.6 in Auckland.

In 1982 in Oslo, Norway, Steve Scott (3:47.69), John Walker (3:49.08), and Ray Flynn (3:49.77) took the top three spots in The Dream Mile, establishing American, New Zealand, and Irish national records for the mile in the same race. All three national records stood for 25 years until 21 July 2007, when Alan Webb broke Scott's American record. Walker and Flynn's times remain national records.

Running twilight

At the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane he won the silver medal in the 1500 metres finishing behind Steve Cram. He moved up to the 5000 metres distance for both the 1984 Olympic Games and the 1986 Commonwealth Games with limited success. He raced at the 1990 Commonwealth Games competing in both the 800 and 1500 metres, where he was tripped early on in the latter.

Walker became the first man in history to run 100 sub-4 minute miles in 1985, achieving that feat just before fellow miler Steve Scott of the United States. There was some controversy around this as Scott claimed there was an agreement that the two would race each other, with the winner being the first to claim 100 sub-4 minute miles. Walker denied such an agreement existed.

As his career wore on, leg injuries and stomach cramps started to affect his training. In the early 1990s he aimed to be the first runner aged over 40 to run a mile under four minutes, but his attempts failed due to a leg injury. At this point his international career had shown unusual longevity – spanning almost two decades. Walker ended his racing career with 135 sub-four-minute miles.

Walker was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for services to athletics, [6] and in 1996 the Olympic Committee awarded him with the Olympic Bronze Order.

After running

Auckland Council
2010 2013Manurewa-PapakuraIndependent
2013 2016Manurewa-PapakuraIndependent
2016 2019 Manurewa-PapakuraIndependent

In 1996, Walker announced that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He now operates an equestrian shop in Newmarket in Auckland with his wife, Helen. He was a Manukau City Councillor, and then a councillor for the merged Auckland Council. [7] In 2016, Walker was reelected in the Manurewa-Papakura ward for a third consecutive term. [8] He retired from public life at the 2019 local government elections. [9]

Walker and his wife have four children.

In the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours, Walker was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to sport and the community. [10]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "John Walker". Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  2. John Walker.
  3. "No. 46778". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 5 June 1964. p. 36.
  4. "UK National Records and Best Performances". Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  5. "John Walker". New Zealand Olympic Committee. Archived from the original on 21 October 2008. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
  6. "No. 52953". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 13 June 1992. p. 30.
  7. Morgan, Scott (16 October 2013). "Familiar faces back on council". Papakura Courier. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  8. Taylor, PJ (11 October 2016). "New councillors join new city leader". Eastern Courier. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  9. Truebridge, Nick (26 September 2019). "Olympic gold medalist and Auckland councillor Sir John Walker calls it a day". Stuff. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  10. "Queen's Birthday honours list 2009". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
Video links
Preceded by
Flag of Tanzania.svg Filbert Bayi
Men's Mile World Record Holder
12 August 1975 – 17 July 1979
Succeeded by
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sebastian Coe
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Flag of the United States.svg Rick Wohlhuter
Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Flag of Cuba.svg Alberto Juantorena
Preceded by
Dick Tayler
Lonsdale Cup of the New Zealand Olympic Committee
Succeeded by
Dick Quax