© Copyright - 2011 - Athletics Illustrated
Rod Dixon holds court five minutes from downtown Victoria in a rain-soaked, gravel parking lot at the back of the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre. He has an enraptured audience; a handful of early-arrival runners who have come to spend six hours listening to him talk about the finer details of training. He is here as a representative of the Lydiard Foundation, along with co-founder Nobuya, 'Nobby' Hashizume.
On first meeting Rod Dixon at 6:30 a.m., one would be remiss to blame him for being a bleary-eyed guest however, he is anything but that. After all, he is a much traveled Kiwi with an American address or two - he gets around. He is highly engaging, entertaining and perpetually energetic, talking with his hands in smooth, sweeping gestures. He lights up the early morning grayness with his giant, ivory grin; he seems more rock star than running legend.
Rod is tall compared to your typical world-class, long-distance runner and seems younger than his actual age. The group collectively chuckle at his good natured stories. During our subsequent lap of the cedar chip trail, Rod continued to be a story teller, making the run seem shorter than it actually was.
Rod Dixon is often referred to as the most versatile runner ever. Although some could argue this point, any debate comes to a screeching halt when one considers his versatility when also taking into account the longevity of his career.
Dixon is a two-time IAAF World Cross Country Championships medalist and an Olympian with a bronze medal in the 1500m distance. In his very first steeplechase race in 1974, he set a national record with an 8:29. He also ran a 2:08:59 marathon (personal best), with his stunning, 1983 New York City Marathon victory.
I recently watched that marathon in its entirety, which also included Lorraine Moller, Greta Waitz, Alberto Salazar and Geoff Smith.
Watching the 1983 New York City Marathon was not dissimilar to watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. As the race footage rolls along, it covers an unaware leader, Geoff Smith, gradually and methodically being hunted down by Dixon. The pick-off was timely in that over the 26.2 mile race, he catches Smith and slips past him with just a few hundred meters to go. The carnage in the chute: Geoff Smith on his back, splayed prone on the concrete, defeated and exhausted, while Dixon stands with arms raised, heaven-ward.
Rod Dixon is nearly as infamous for his incredible running career as he is for his appreciation of a good brew. Knowing this and having my own appreciation for the occasional wobbly pop, I welcomed Rod to Victoria my way.
We have a local micro brew here called Hermannator, arguably the finest double ice-bock beer in the world. I stole from my cache a red nylon first aid kit, complete with white cross. I replaced the contents with a six pack of said, fine lager. Accompanying the kit was a letter from the RCMP, which stated that, "in accordance with Canadian Immigration and Visitation Laws, all guests to our country are required to familiarize themselves with the Canadian First Aid Kit."
The letter quoted a federal law ordinance number, which contained disguised race numerology like 262208-59-83 which is 26.2 miles, 2:08:59 in 1983; the official letter provided further explicit and legal sounding instruction, requiring the visitor's attention. The hotel staff were accommodating in placing said kit on his bed, in plain view, so he would not miss it. A wanton tact, but functional in it's effect.
Later, when I arrived to escort the gentlemen to a popular local eatery, I was greeted in the hotel lobby with the happiest Rod Dixon, I could possibly anticipate. "Cheers mate, you had me going with that one, then when I opened the first aid kit I sat down and drank two straight up."