Stretch is Never-Say-Die attitude

Further to our theme ‘Stretch’, here’s an inspirational story on how a famous athlete stretched himself to develop a ‘Never-Say-Die’ attitude. Hope you enjoy it.

A crash tackle from behind during a rugby game left Murray Halberg, a 17-year-old New Zealander, with a dislocated shoulder and an injured arm. The doctors saved his life but could not heal his withering left arm. He was advised to resign himself to handicap. The year was 1950. An atrophied left arm meant that all contact sports were out. But Halberg could still run.

Murray Halberg approached Arthur Lydiard, the man who laid the foundation of New Zealand’s middle and long-distance industry. Lydiard did not bring up the question of the arm. Instead, he took Halberg on a cross country run over the toughest available route. Halberg last the ordeal.

Halberg religiously went through Lydiard’s 100-mile-a-week training. Won national colours for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Finished 11th in 1,500 m. Lydiard kept the spirit up: they were preparing for the 1960 Olympics.

The pay-off began when in 1958 Halberg won the 5,000 m at the Commonwealth Games. Instead of keeping to the strategy that won them this race, coach and protégé decided to make a critical switch. The plan was to open up a sizeable lead before the last lap, when runners dig into their reserves for the final effort. And then keep with it.

On a sweltering day in Rome, Halberg started his race for the 5,000 m gold slowly. He was last after 1,000 m. He was fifth after the next 1,000 m. With a little over three laps to the finish, Halberg suddenly tore away from the rest. This confused the others: Why was he blowing up the last traces of his stamina? By the time they could respond, Halberg had completed the lap in 61.1 sec, opening up a lead of 20 metres.

In the final lap, the lead shrunk to 15 m, 10 m and then to less than 10 m. But that was it. Halberg breasted the tape eight metres ahead of the East German. His last lap was an extremely slow 73 sec. More important: his strategy had paid off and he had won. He clocked 13 min 43.4 sec – and collapsed on the track. He was still clutching the finish tape with his one good hand.

Remarkable achievement for a man who had been advised to resign himself to his handicap – for life.