2011 World XC Interview: Bill Rodgers

By  XCNation.com
March 17, 2011


Editor's Note :Part two of a four part series leading to the World Cross Country Championships to be held March 20, 2011 in Punta Umbria, Spain by XCNation.com reprinted with permission..

Part 1: Interviews with Andrew Bumbalough, Molly Huddle, Ammar Moussa, Hannah Valenzuela, Craig Lutz, and Blake Russell Before 2011 World XC
Part 2: Interviews with Brent Vaughn, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Erik Olson, Molly Grabill, Justin Vilhauer, Ryan Poland, Scott Bauhs, Chris Barnicle and A Cuffe
Part 3: Legends Craig Virgin, Thom Hunt, Greg Meyer, Ed Eyestone, Steve Plasencia, George Malley
Part 4: Bill Rodgers

Part Four: A Sweet Spot in Time

"I was sitting on the plane with Olympians and world cross country team members Frank Shorter and Jeff Galloway. I was remarking that I was looking for a new pair of shoes for the Boston Marathon. Frank said he knew someone at Nike. I later received a package in the mail with a new pair of shoes and a letter of congratulation on my third place Bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships handwritten from Steve Prefontaine...I went on to win my first Boston Marathon in those shoes, he gave me some luck." ~Bill Rodgers

Before he was called Boston Billy he was simply Bill Rodgers. Before he would be known as America's greatest marathon champion he was a cross country runner. In 1975 Bill Rodgers made his mark on the world and began an assault on history. He began that journey towards greatness and running immortality at the third annual World Cross Country Championships held in Rabat, Morrocco. In that race he would finish 3rd 8-seconds behind Ian Stewart of Scotland and Mariano Hero of Spain to claim the Bronze medal and the first American to ever medal at the World Cross Country Championships. (Photo courtesy Bill Rodgers)

In perhaps one of the great showdowns of the worlds best of the time, Bill Rodgers made a decision to be great and siezed his moment. It has been said that the World Cross Country Championships is the greatest event for the distance runner in the world. No where else can the best miler to the best marathoner stand toe to toe on the starting line. The 1975 World Cross Country Championships would be no exception. Featuring future 1976 Olympic 1500 meter Gold medalist and world mile record holder John Walker from New Zealand, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold medalist Frank Shorter from the United States, 1972 Olympic 5000 meter bronze medalist Ian Stewart of Great Britain, 1972 Olympic 10000 meter 4th place finisher Mariano Haro from Spain and 1974 Boston Marathon champion Neil Cusack from Ireland. It could be argued the race would be loaded with the finest collection of champions from across the globe vying for one title, the greatest distance runner in the world.

"The 1975 World Cross Country Championships was one of the first large international competitions I ever ran in. Held in Morocco it was a perfect 70 degrees, sunny and dry. The race was run on a horse track and I remember we had to jump hurdles. With Gold medalist Frank Shorter, Jeff Galloway and so many top runners in the world in the race I knew it would be difficult. It was one month before I ran the Boston marathon. In the trial for our team I was tied for fourth. I was coming off the flu but I was fully recovered in Morocco. I think it was the best race I ever ran in my life. I never felt tired, I felt great. It was a day made for running and very exciting to be there. I had "sun" in a few races internationally, world cross country was the big deal, to be there with Frank, he was the top distance runner in the world was a big deal to me. Suddenly I knew and I felt cross country was very exciting. To be a part of this team of top notch guys.  Jeff Galloway was a former college teammate and I I remember just having a lot of fun with that team. I remember I forgot my shoes so Gary Tuttle loaned me his spikes and they fit perfectly. For me, to finish third in this race, that moment was a sweet spot in time. Every rare once in a while it comes together. I have had a few, NY in 76' 2:10.10 and definitly the 1975 World Cross Country Championships. About once every few years we get one of those. When I left with a bronze medal I thought I could race with anyone."

"Cross country is very much like the marathon in that nothing is guaranteed, you run up and down and through so many individual and course obstacles. You are challenged as a runner. I was an underdog in 1975. People like John Walker from New Zealand and a whole slew of top runners including the 1974 Boston winner were there. The 1974 Boston marathon winner Neil Cusack of Ireland had beaten me a few weeks earlier in a 20k. But on that day in 1975 I could not be stopped and the feeling I had finishing third in the world against the finest competition in the world, I still hold that medal valuable to me today and the prize I won a gold candlestick is still sitting on my fireplace to this day."

For me, to finish third in this race, that moment was a sweet spot in time. Every rare once in a while it comes together. I have had a few, NY in 76' 2:10.10 and definitly the 1975 World Cross Country Championships. About once every few years we get one of those. When I left with a bronze medal I thought I could race with anyone."

(XC Nation) Tell me about what it meant for you to be a member of Team USA at World Cross?

(BR) "There is a power in cross country. Being a member of team USA in 1975, it was huge, I remember getting my uniform in the mail. To make it to this level is huge, to me American International athletes are some of the best ambassadors in our country. We have always done well in the World Championships but in the way the athletes conduct themselves shines brightly for their country. I am patriotic to a certain sense and that is a big part, I think the international side of running is huge and should be our ultimate strength. Before money we lived to compete just to run in the race and wear the uniform."

(XC Nation) What do you feel will happen to the American distance runner when we do win a World Cross Gold medal?

(BR) "It lifts people up, it lifts the younger generation up. All of us motivate each other, when I was in high school I saw Bill Mills, Gerry Lindgren, Jim Ryun and Bob Schul. I was inspired by them and their victories made me want to become a runner. You become a fan of the sport when you start improving.

To win internationally is a cool thing. To do well and be on the podium is a cool thing. In 1975 we had winners in the Juniors with Bobby Thomas and Julie Brown winning the World Junior Championships.  What I love about World Cross is the team scoring, with the Kenyans and Ethiopians throwing everything they have at the World Championships our greatest ally is the team scoring. In the US where we have so many sports it is more complex. There is a certain dilution of focus that can occur as many of our best are spread across multiple sports. At the same time we have a Chris Solinsky and so many of top talent competing with the worlds best. We are a country filled with breakthrough moments, like when Alberto Salazar ran a world record in 1981 in New York or when Craig Virgin won in 1980 or Shorter in 1972. We always have these talents.

Team USA, I am cheering for you. I am on your side. I know what a thrill and an honor it is to represent your country at the World Cross Country Championships. This is like the Olympic Games, this is not a notch below, if you made the team this is the ultimate and perhaps the most challenging sport in the world. Do your best and be honored to represent your country."

Bill Rodgers would go on to win his first Boston Marathon one month following the World Cross Country Championships. He claims after leaving Morocco as the bronze medalist, "I felt I could run with anyone in the world". Rodgers would represent the USA in the 1976 Olympic Marathon. In 1978 Bill Rodger's would help lead the United States of America to a first-ever World Cross Country team medal, they claimed Silver by less than 5 points. One month following the 1978 World Cross Country Championships, like in 1975, Bill Rodgers would claim victory in the Boston Marathon and hold the crown for three consecutive years.


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