Gordon Pirie

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Gordon Pirie
Gordon Pirie 1956.jpg
Pirie in 1956
Personal information
Full nameDouglas Alistair Gordon Pirie
Born10 February 1931
Leeds, England[1]
Died7 December 1991 (aged 60)
Lymington, England[1]
Height1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight65 kg (143 lb)
ClubSouth London Harriers
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)5000 m – 13:36.8 (1956)
10000 m – 29:15.49 (1960)[1]

Douglas Alistair Gordon Pirie (10 February 1931 – 7 December 1991) was an English long-distance runner. He competed in the 5000 m and 10,000 m events at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics and won a silver medal in the 5000 m in 1956, placing fourth in 1952. Born in Leeds, Pirie grew up in Coulsdon, Surrey, and ran for the South London Harriers. He died of cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) in Lymington, Hampshire.


Gordon Pirie in Oslo in 1953

Early career[edit]

In 1955 Pirie won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. During that year he had beaten Emil Zátopek the triple gold medallist in distance running at the 1952 Olympics.[1] Pirie was an exceptional cross-country runner, winning the English Championship three times.

Pirie broke five world records in the course of his career, his annus mirabilis being 1956, when on 19 June in Bergen, Norway, he ran 13:36.8 for 5,000 m, beating Vladimir Kuts (USSR), and knocking 25 seconds from his own personal best. On 22 June in Trondheim, Norway, he beat the world 3000 metres record with 7:55.5, and on 14 September, in Malmö, Sweden, he set a new record with 7:52.7.

Melbourne Olympics 1956[edit]

In the Olympics, held in Melbourne later that year, Pirie ran against Kuts in the 10,000 metres and despite the tactics of Kuts, an aggressive front runner whose bursts of speed were particularly damaging to a long-striding runner like Pirie, he stayed with him into the last mile when every other competitor had dropped well back. Kuts surrendered the lead for a short while, then made a sprint which Pirie could not match and he dropped back. Kuts said that if Pirie had stayed with him on that last sprint he would have dropped out of the race.[2]

In the 5,000 metres Pirie took second place behind Kuts. Christopher Chataway, another British runner, had been selected on past performance. He had not competed at top level for more than a year as he was pursuing a media career. With Pirie and Derek Ibbotson, the third British runner, he was tracking Kuts and had moved ahead of them as they went into a bend. The Soviet runner was setting a much faster pace than Chataway had ever run. Chataway suffered an attack of stomach cramp which caused him to slow down, and as Pirie and Ibbotson came out of the bend they found that Kuts had opened a gap. Pirie and Ibbotson ran round Chataway but Kuts was able to exploit his advantage and won the race with a margin of 11 seconds, the largest ever for this event in Olympic history. For the latter stages of the race Pirie was running what was virtually a front race, as Kuts had broken away, but he was still strong enough to hold off a late challenge by Ibbotson.[3]

Between the Olympics[edit]

Pirie competed for England at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games and finished fourth in the 1-mile and 3-mile events.[1]

Rome Olympics 1960[edit]

The 1960 Rome Olympics were held in the height of the summer and Pirie and other leading British contestants asked to go on ahead of the main party, at their own expense, so that they might acclimatise to the heat. They were refused permission, on the grounds that "we travel as a team". Pirie and his fellow 5,000 metres contestants were eliminated in the heats, leaving Pirie's only chance of a gold medal the 10,000 metres held later in the games. Pirie followed the favourite, Murray Halberg of New Zealand.

Halberg had won his major championships by making a tactical burst in the last mile and holding on to the lead – he had won the 5,000 metres at Rome by that tactic and Pirie's plan was to stay with him as he went forward. Halberg was probably suffering from his effort in the earlier race and as the race went on he failed to stay with the leaders. Pirie realised that he and Halberg had lost contact with them.

Post-Olympic career[edit]

For some years, after he had criticised them, sections of the press ran a campaign against Pirie particularly after the Olympics. In a radio interview with Eamonn Andrews soon after the games, the Australian runner Herb Elliott, referred to Pirie and Ibbotson who, having broken the world record for the mile in 1957, had never regained the same form and was not selected for Rome. Elliott said, "The British Press is the most vicious in the world. Their attitude to people like Pirie and Ibbotson is 'That bloke's on his way down, I'm going to kick him down and keep him there.'" In 1960 Pirie ran a sub-four minute mile in Dublin, clocking 3:59.9.[4]

Pirie won the British Orienteering Championships in its first two years, 1967 and 1968,[5] and won the first edition of the JK Orienteering Festival. He also represented UK at the 1966 World Orienteering Championships,[6] and again at the 1968 World Orienteering Championships.[7]

The 1998 edition of The Guinness Book of Records lists Gordon Pirie under the "Greatest Mileage" entry, stating that he had run a total distance of 347,600 km (216,000 mi) in 40 years to 1981.[8]

Running Fast and Injury Free[edit]

In his book Running Fast and Injury Free[9] Pirie advocates running with initially making ground contact with the midfoot (as opposed to the usual style of long steps with landing on heels), 3–5 steps per second to reduce fatigue, damage to feet, and wasting of energy on vertical movement of body. He also describes his collaboration with Adolf Dassler on designing running shoes with stronger toes (instead of the usual design with stronger heels) for better durability with his advocated running style.


  1. ^ a b c d e Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Gordon Pirie". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009.
  2. ^ Gordon Pirie "Running Wild", W.H. Allen 1961
  3. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Athletics at the 1956 Melbourne Games: Men's 5000 metres". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  4. ^ SCAA – All-time T&F Rankings. Surreyathletics.org.uk (20 February 2014). Retrieved on 10 April 2014.
  5. ^ British Champions. British Orienteering. Retrieved on 10 April 2014.
  6. ^ "World Orienteering Championships 1966". International Orienteering Federation. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  7. ^ "World Orienteering Championships 1968". International Orienteering Federation. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  8. ^ Running Fast and Injury Free-Gordon Pirie Book by John Gilbody. Runnersweb.com. Retrieved on 10 April 2014.
  9. ^ Pirie, Gordon; Gilbody, John S. (1996–2002). "Running Fast and Injury Free" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2010.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Men's world record holder in the 3000 metres
22 June 1956 – 27 June 1962
Succeeded by
Preceded by
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
Succeeded by