Home' Greymouth Star : April 15th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
Saturday, April 15, 2017 - 7
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Saturday, April 15, 2017 - 7
Greymouth runner Dave McKenzie shocked everyone
but himself in winning the Boston Marathon 50 years
ago on Wednesday. Yet, as GREG LAUTENSLAGER
reports, the triumph did little to change this humble
former printer. The famous Coaster and Olympian
is currently back in Boston at the invitation of the
organisers of the world’s oldest marathon, to celebrate
and carried 42km from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Boston on that
wet, freezing afternoon of April 19, 1967 did not stand for ‘Greece,’ as a
reporter asked after his record run 50 years ago.
It didn’t stand for ‘Ginger,’ as the diminutive red-head was called on his two-
hour runs up and down the winding West Coast roads with his running mates. The
‘G’ stood for the Greymouth Athletic Club, from an area he rarely wanted to leave
and couldn’t wait to return to after the 60 or so international reporters ceased asking
questions and photographers stopped taking pictures of the 1967 Boston Marathon
Within minutes the announcement came over the wire to the Greymouth
Evening Star where McKenzie worked, and to newspapers all over the world:
“Boston, April 19, AAP — David C McKenzie of New Zealand today won the
71st Boston Marathon in the (race) record time of 2hrs 15min 45sec.”
The words also rang out over the teleprinter at the Nelson Evening Mail, where
George McKenzie, Dave’s oldest brother and also a runner, was working as a printer.
“Gordon Hay (a sub editor) came over and said, “Your brother’s won the Boston
Marathon.’ I was over the moon.’’
By the next evening almost every newspaper in New Zealand told of McKenzie’s
triumph. Many had photos of the 24-year-old crossing the finish line with his white
gloves at his side and long-sleeve t-shirt tucked under his singlet or smiling with a
victorious laurel wreath atop his head.
He shared a champagne toast with US Ambassador John Henning upon his
arrival in Auckland and was greeted by about a thousand citizens at a civic reception
outside the Greymouth Borough Council chambers. A newspaper photo shows him
shaking hands with a man in the gallery. The words from McKenzie underneath the
photo read, ‘I was very pleased to win in the Greymouth colours — it was a great
thrill winning for the Coast’.
Then he returned to his parents’ home in nearby Dunollie and to a life that had
not changed a bit.
McKenzie was born in a maternity home down the block from his parents’
house. His mother later carried him 50m to their house on Inverness Street, and he
never moved out until he got married in his early 30s. He bought a house across the
same street, 40m from his parents’ house, and has lived there ever since.
“It’s a good quality life, why would I want to change?’’ he said.
McKenzie, 74, started work as a machine print operator at the Grey River Argus
after leaving school at age 15, and then spent 38 years up the road at the Greymouth
Evening Star, before retiring a few years ago.
His first running competition came when his brothers and mates raced home
from the movie theatre 1500m away or on a 700m loop around their street. They
pretended they were racehorses and gave each other names like Van Dieman, Johnny
Globe, and Highland Fling.
McKenzie starred in rugby league and won the intermediate mile race at high
school in 5:10 at age 14.
“I was having him on at the dinner table that night, saying that I had run faster
when I was his age,’’ George McKenzie said.
Dave said, “One day I am going to run 26 miles at that pace.”
It was the exact pace he would run to win the Boston Marathon.
McKenzie joined the Greymouth Athletic Club at age 15. He and another
Greymouth runner, Eddie Gray, started winning races on the track and the road and
made names for themselves outside Greymouth. At age 16, McKenzie ran the fastest
of all competitors on the Richmond to Tahunanui leg in the Motueka to Nelson
Relay. He also won track races at Trafalgar Park and at the Mahar Cup meets.
McKenzie ran his first marathon in Greymouth at age 19 but pulled out at
18 miles with stomach cramps. He returned the next year, in 1963, to the Great
Westland Marathon and won in 2hrs 39min. He improved to 2hrs 23min in 1964,
despite having to step between the cars of a train that had been parked on the
railroad tracks 15 miles into the race, and finished fourth in the New Zealand
Marathon Championships a few months later.
Later in 1965 he battled Bill Baillie, the then world record holder in the 20km
and one-hour run, into the final two miles of a hot, windy New Zealand 10-mile road
championships, only to fall 10 seconds behind in 48min 35sec.
“If I would have gone hard at halfway, I would have beaten him,’’ McKenzie told
his brother George.
By the end of 1966 McKenzie had won four straight marathons, including the
New Zealand Championships in 2hrs 16min 59sec and was named the West Coast’s
sportsman of the year. He had to withdraw from the New Zealand Empire Games
team to Jamaica because of a leg injury but was gearing up for a sensational 1967
January 19, 1967, exactly three months before the Boston Marathon, is a day
McKenzie — or any other Coaster — will never forget.
Shortly after 10am a fireball from an explosion ripped through a section in the
Strongman Mine, 11km north-east of Greymouth, killing 19 of the 240 men who
were working that day. One of the fatalities was Hector McKenzie, Dave’s brother.
Another was Harry van Looy, a training mate.
Dave’s father, also a coalminer, had been called away from that section and
survived the blast.
George McKenzie wondered how the tragedy would affect Dave or if he would
even run the Canterbury Marathon Championships the next week. But there he was,
at 15 miles, storming ahead of the field and off to another victory.
Jim McKenzie, Dave’s younger brother, turned to George as they watched him
go by. “I think he’s running this one for Hec,” Jim said.
Perhaps somewhere deep in Dave’s inward soul, Hec’s spirit drove him to victory
in a personal best 2hrs 16min 2 secs.
But McKenzie said he was simply running.
“It’s a race, and you have to put everything else out of your mind and stay
McKenzie had all the tools to be a great marathoner. He was compact at 1.6m,
55kg and had an efficient, rolling style. He lived a simple life at his parents’ home
and ate his mother’s cooking. He had no distractions and could concentrate for long
periods of time. He also was willing train as hard as anyone.
McKenzie coached himself, often reading running books by Lydiard and other
coaches, and experimented with training to find the best method to prepare for a
marathon. His custom-made running shoes had a leather upper and a sole made
from jandals. He ran 10km to work and back every day and the hilly coastal roads
George McKenzie remembered Dave one Saturday running 40km along the
gravel undulating roads to Barrytown and a 16km club run in the afternoon. Dave
would train up to 250km in a week.
“You could really see Ginger’s strength coming through (in early 1967),’’ s aid
Eddie Gray, who would finish third in the World Cross-Country Championships in
“You could tell he was ready for Boston.’’
A trip to Boston was the prize for winning the New Zealand Marathon
championship on March 11. “I didn’t know much about it other than it was a big
race,’’ McKenzie said.
On April 7, McKenzie left his home for his first trip overseas without a thought
of where the journey might lead him — other than back to Greymouth.
Helicopters hovered over the starting line of the 71st Boston Marathon.
Spectators lined up, five deep in some places, along the course and others stood
atop buildings and apartment balconies waiting for a glimpse of the more than 700
runners. Photographers and reporters jammed into pace vehicles as the world’s best
marathoners toed the line in Hopkinton.
The route to Boston is hallowed ground, where Clarence DeMar and Johnny
Kelley etched their names into the race’s storied history and where it would one day
make Bill Rodgers and many other winners running legends. It didn’t mean much
to the freckled face lad from Greymouth.
“It was just another race,’’ McKenzie said. “Just like running to Barrytown and
McKenzie had more difficulty getting to the starting line than to the finish line.
His flight from Greymouth to Nelson was cancelled due to mist and drizzle, and he
had to take a taxi. The 41⁄2 hour drive was followed by flights to Auckland, Tahiti,
Los Angeles, and Boston.
He woke up race day to an icy drizzle and winds up to 20kph. The roads were
wet and there was snow on the ground alongside the course.
“I was coming from the summer in Greymouth, so I wasn’t used to these
McKenzie was less daunted by his competitors, which included a Japanese
contingent that held the first six places in 1965 and the top four in 1966. He ran in
the lead pack of 14 runners through the first half of the race through Wellesley. The
pack whittled down to seven after a series of hills in Newton, leading to Heartbreak
Hill at the 32km mark. The route wasn’t much different from the West Coast roads,
and McKenzie likened Heartbreak to his Ten-Mile Hill back home.
McKenzie surged up the hill and put 15m on a Japanese and an Italian. By the
time he reached the Boston City line 2km later, he had lengthened his lead and had
more than 400m on runner-up Tom Laris of the United States at the finish line.
A race report read that McKenzie “took a jog around the finishing area before
wrapping himself in a blanket and going inside”.
When the adulation died down after his Boston victory, McKenzie returned
to his normal life as a machine print operator. He finished third at the Fukuoka
Marathon the following December in 2hr 12min 25sec and never ran faster. He
competed in the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympic Games but did not
contend for a medal.
After Munich, he married and raised his two sons and a daughter. He eased
back on the training and did mostly club runs. He was invited to run a marathon
in Rotorua at age 35, and on half the training he did in his glory years, he finished
second in 2hrs 22min.
McKenzie ran until a few years ago, when he hurt his knee in an accident. He
still shows up at the Anzac Park track for meets and coached Josh Komen, a middle
distance runner from Greymouth who lowered his 800m best from 2min 3sec to
He watches horse races, plays with his grandchildren, and travels to Nelson
and Christchurch. But he always comes back home to Inverness Street, and is well
known in the community for his past achievements.
“I had bit of success, and that was part of life. Enjoying life is the main thing,
with no stress.’’
Fifteen years after McKenzie’s triumph, prizemoney was offered at the Boston
Marathon. Winners today make six-figures in prize, appearance, and bonus
structures. They live all over the world in mansions and drive fancy cars. Had
McKenzie won during this era, George McKenzie was asked if his brother’s life
would be different
“No, I don’t think so. He’d just be Dave.’’
Greg Lautenslager is coach and director at the National
Academy of Distance Running in Nelson. He is a former world-
class runner whose Nelson-based athletes have collected 205
national medals and many New Zealand individual and team
titles. His article previously appeared in the Nelson Mail.
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made names for themselves outside Greymouth. At age 16, McKeKenzn iei rann the fastest
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