In 1956, John Landy took a spike to the Achilles in the middle of the Australian Mile Championships. He fell to the track, brushed himself off, helped up the young runner who had spiked him, then went on to win the race. Landy, in this ultimate act of sportsmanship, also unwittingly marked the future of Australian champions. The young runner he helped, nineteen year old Ron Clarke, would go on to rewrite the record books and play a fundamental role in the history of Track and Field. 

Taking advice and inspiration from John Landy, Clarke set Australian Junior records in 1955 and 1956, then retired to get a job and start a family. Once settled, he casually returned to running but improved steadily until— to his surprise—he made the Australian team for the 1962 Commonwealth Games. He then won a silver medal in the three mile race. In 1963 he set a world record over ten thousand meters, then in the 1964 Olympics he dashed to the front of both the five and ten thousand meter finals, controlling the paces but getting out-kicked both times. 

In 1965 he took to the track with a vengeance, setting twelve world records over forty four days. In 1966 he won two silvers at the Commonwealth Games, losing twice to Kenyan kicks. In 1967 he won all but one race and set a world record over two miles, and in 1968 he took a five month hiatus from his job to train in the Alps in preparation for the Mexico City Olympics. He descended from altitude a few times, once to race a blustery ten thousand meters, where he came within ten seconds of his world record and lapped the man that would— a few years later— go on to break it. 

Despite his preparation, he blacked out during the Olympic ten thousand meter final but stayed on his feet, covering the last lap in ninety five seconds and placing sixth. He muscled through the five thousand meter final as well but placed fifth. The next year he set a world record over three miles indoors, and the year after he tried one last time for a Commonwealth gold medal but only managed silver in the ten thousand meters. 

Nobody worked harder than Ron Clarke. He trained like he raced: hard and often. He ran three times a day, every day, over hilly courses under the bare Australian sun in a full sweatsuit. He ran fast, often under five minute pace, over dirt, grass and roads, touching the track only to race—usually two or three times a week—or to sharpen his speed— usually once a week, with a few two or four hundred meter repeats. He varied neither his training nor his racing and treated competition as a moral obligation: he stayed fit year round and led every race on principle, never compromising, not even in the Olympics. 

In between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympics, Ron Clarke visited the legendary Emil Zatopek in Czechoslovakia. In a quieter act of sportsmanship, Zatopek secretly bestowed one of his medals to Clarke “not out of friendship, but because [he deserved] it.” Clarke would never win a gold medal of his own, but his relentless front-running blazed the way for other legends: Billy Mills, Bob Schul, Kip Keino all rose to glory by drafting off Clarke’s shoulder.

One young Oregon runner, known everywhere by the first syllable of his last name, so admired Clarke’s bravery that he aggressively emulated the Australian in every race, capturing the imaginations of track fans for generations to come.