It is one of the great mysteries left in Canadian sport. How is it, in this day and age, when athletes are full-timeprofessionals with substantial financial and scientific resourcesat their disposal, that a Canadian marathon record set more than 36years ago can still stand? That is the puzzle that 67-year-old Jerome Drayton presents. He came to our CBC studios the other day to talk about the recordhe set in Fukuoka, Japan, at the unofficial world championship, onDecember 7, 1975. The time was a then sparkling 2:10:08.4. It's about seven minutesslower than the current world mark, which is held by Kenya'sPatrick Makau. |
Still, over the years Canadian men have not beenable to come within half a minute of Drayton's time, making it theoldest athletics record still on the books in this country. "In my day it was strictly amateur rules," Drayton recalled. "Youcouldn't make money off the sport. I had a full-time job, so I hadto do my training before and after work at six in the morning andsix at night for a total of four hours a day. It got to the pointwhere I was running 10 miles before my job then doing another 17 or18 after." Indeed, when he was building to a big race, Drayton logged about190 miles a week.
That was considered a massive amount of effort atthe time, and observers still marvel at Drayton's work ethic, notto mention his single mindedness. Drayton was a three-time champion at Fukuoka, and he won thecoveted Boston Marathon title in 1977. He also finished sixth atthe Montreal Olympics in 1976 despite fighting a chest coldcontracted the day before the biggest race of his life. For a timein the mid-1970s he was ranked as the top marathoner in the world,ahead of iconic runners like Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers of theUnited States.
But, in speaking with him that day, it appeared Drayton derivedlittle joy from the actual running of the races. Each seemed morelike a mountain to conquer. "You don't talk in a marathon to somebody else like it's a socialrun," Drayton said. "It's just 100 per cent concentration on themarathon itself. To explain the agony of the marathon to someonewho has never run it is like trying to explain colours to someonewho was born blind.
You've got to experience it." Drayton himself can be elusive. We offered him a lift to the studio to conduct the interview, buthe politely insisted on taking public transit. He arrived sharplyon time, dressed in Team Canada athletic garb and wearing runningshoes. He relied on a cane, the result of advancing arthritis inhis knees. It's a common affliction for runners who have traveledas far on foot as he has.
Drayton came with a little card in a plastic cover. It had all ofhis statistics and achievements listed on it. He never showed it tous, but rather left it under his chair as he went to do aninterview with my colleague Teddy Katz of CBC Radio in the nextroom. We returned the card to Drayton when he had finished his visit.Maybe he was too shy to foist it upon us.
Perhaps he used it as areminder of all that he had accomplished over the course of hiscareer. In any case, it is an amazing resume, revealing his status as alegendary figure in Canadian sport; a man who was born in Germanyat the end of WWII as Peter Buniak and who immigrated to Canada tobecome a distance runner. He chose a new name for himself and is thought to have taken itfrom two sprinters he admired: Olympic medallists Harry Jerome ofCanada and Paul Drayton of the United States. He often competedwhile wearing dark, aviator-style sunglasses and revealed verylittle to his rivals.
Jerome Drayton was a fierce competitor, and he remains immenselyproud of his record. For the first time since 1996 and the AtlantaGames, three Canadian men - Reid Coosaet, Eric Gillis and DylanWykes - are entered in the Olympic marathon. It presents the veryreal possibility that the oldest Canadian athletics record willfinally come down. This is a record that Jerome Drayton has personally held sinceAugust of 1968, when he acquired it in the Detroit Marathon. Thatmeans he has owned the Canadian standard in one of the Olympics'iconic events for more than two generations.
"Yes, it's good," he said when asked about the current group ofrunners knocking on the door of his record. "It's unfortunate thatit took such a long time. I wouldn't be surprised if a Kenyan or anEthiopian would win the Olympic marathon, but I hope they get amedal out of it. Get my record too.
Hey, that's fine!" Drayton chuckled at his final words. He donned his baseball cap, shook hands and thanked us for theinterview. He made his way back to the streetcar and headed forhome. The mystery of his marathon mark remains. End of Story Content Back to accessibility links.
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