They would drive back to LA again on Tuesday afternoon, leaving at 4:30 pm, work out with Igloi and the LATC Tuesday evening, again in the predawn hours Wednesday morning, before driving back to Oxnard early in the morning.
Bob certainly wasn’t the best of the group initially – that distinction belonged to the charismatic Jim Beatty, who was undoubtedly the best American distance runner in ’61, ’62 and ’63, and Jim Grelle, a superb miler. In four years under Igloi, Beatty became the first sub-four-minute miler indoors (3 minutes, 58.9 seconds in 1962) and he ran 3:55.0 outdoors in 1963.
However, Bob continued to work hard and was steadily getting stronger and better. In 1962 he ran well indoors at two miles, with only one American, Jim Beatty, running faster. The next winter Bob became the US indoor champion for three miles, running 13:39.3. A few weeks later he ran the third fastest indoor two miles ever, 8:37.5, although he lost to Beatty, who set a world record of 8:30.7.
In December of ’62 Bob left the Air Force and moved into an apartment with teammate Joe Douglas in Los Angeles. That’s where Bob met Sharon Hervey, his future wife, who lived in the same building. Bob trained assiduously with Igloi that winter, spring and summer, then in August Bob and Sharon, now married, moved back to Ohio so he could resume and complete his education at Miami of Ohio. He would prepare for the upcoming Olympics on his own, using the Igloi training methods he had learned so well, that they’d all learned so well.
“After working with him for two years,” Bob says, “I was confident that I knew enough that I could do it on my own. In fact, Igloi encouraged us to train on our own once we understood his system, and the better athletes trained by themselves – Beatty did, I did, Max did, Jim Grelle did, Bobby Seaman did. Most of us ran separately. Because no matter how good a coach is, he can’t know how the athlete feels better than the athlete himself, especially if the athlete is very experienced. Igloi knew that.”
Training at Miami of Ohio that winter, Bob had to contend with a much harsher climate than the one he’d grown used to in southern California. The only place he had to train indoors was under the stands at the football stadium, a very crampt area, and very cold.
Given the circumstances, he decided he’d run a bunch of indoor races –“just to keep me in racing form, running everything tactical, nothing all out.” So through January, February and the first week of March, he competed in 13 indoor races in nine weeks! Several times during that stretch he raced on both Saturday and Sunday.
Eight times he raced against the Canadian distance sensation Bruce Kidd. They each won four times. Twice he beat Ron Clarke at two miles indoors. And in one of his races he set an American indoor record for three miles of 13:31.4, then the second fastest indoor three mile ever run. If this wasn’t running all out, how fast could Bob Schul go when he was running all out?
“Those races were part of my training,” he says in reflecting on that winter. “I never raced Bruce Kidd the way I’d race him to beat him. The way to run against him to beat him was to set a very strong pace.”
The now 26-year-old, seasoned competitor from Ohio was clearly cooking up something special for the outdoor season. Perhaps he himself would not have suspected he would not lose a race outdoors all year long!
When spring arrived, he was already in excellent basic shape from all the racing he’d done indoors, and to build upon that, he went into a serious training mode – the most serious of his life! – using what he’d learned from Mihaly Igloi.
Bob found a large grassy field on the university campus where he could run as far as a quarter mile in one direction, and day in, day out, he would do Igloi-style interval workouts, typically twice a day. Understand, Igloi wasn’t directing or sending Bob the workouts, but his philosophy and approach were reflected in everything Bob did – and what Bob was doing was focused on winning the 5000 in Tokyo!
“Most of my workouts were 300s, 200s, 150s and 100s,” Bob says, “and I started shortening my rest periods. Instead of a 50-yard jog after repeats, I’d finish whatever distance I was running, walk 10 yards, turn and walk back, then immediately start another one, going back and forth, back and forth.
“This field was at Miami University. It doesn’t exist anymore. They’ve constructed buildings where that field used to be.”
Bob was quoted as saying, after that flawless year of ’64 was history, “I ran 5000 miles in training last year – and I never ran farther than 440 yards at any time.” Today he confirms that he did indeed say that – and when you press him with the question whether he did any long runs at all in his training, he replies emphatically, “None! Zero!”
He elaborates that every day he’d run on the grass, every workout without fail was some form of interval training – at a variety of short distances, different speeds, different combinations, keeping the rest intervals very short.
“I didn’t have a workout per se, but what I would normally do is run 72 times the distance, no more than 14 times anything in a set.”
He might start with 10 x 100, choose the next set based on the way he felt, e.g., 10 x 200, varying the pace based on his energy level, running some 200s faster, some slower. Then he might do 6 x 150, hard. If he was tiring, he might go back to doing a set of repeats at a slower speed. Adding sets, varying the speed, running as he felt. None of this would be timed. It was all on grass. Playing with the different distances, different speeds, keeping the rest intervals short. Until he had done 72 repeats, at which time the workout was over!
Typically, he says, he’d do 72 x shorter repeats (100s, 150s, 200s) in the mornings, 72 x longer repeats (including 150s, 200s, 300s and 400s) in the evenings. Each workout would last 1½ hours. That’s how Bob Schul trained for Tokyo – and Mihaly Igloi, who once said, “Hard work must make,” in quaintly fractured English, would have certainly approved.
“I’d never plan the workout ahead of time,” Bob says. “All I’d do is decide beforehand whether it was going to be a hard day, a medium day or an easy day. You couldn’t go hard every day. Your body would just break down. That’s why I didn’t make up the workout ahead of time, because you get halfway through the workout and you may be feeling tired. Or you may be feeling better than you expected. That was the nice thing about doing it by yourself. You know better than anyone else how you feel.”
To those who might argue that Bob’s training lacked the long runs many believe you need to build a strong cardiovascular base, Bob is quick to point out that a well-known Portuguese coach, Antonio Cabral, has analyzed Bob’s training and concluded that the way Bob was training was very similar to doing a long run, because by taking very short breaks between repeats, his heart rate didn’t fall that much. When Bob did 400-meter repeats, for example, he’d walk 50 yards right afterwards, turn and walk back 50 yards to the starting point, then go again, running the next 400. So his heart rate didn’t drop too much during the rest break because the rest break was so short.
Or as Bob explains, “Whether you walk or jog a bit between repeats is not important. It’s what your heart is doing. That’s why I got so darned strong. I could do that much better (elevate my heart rate and keep it elevated) with intervals and short rest breaks than I could with a long run.”
How strong and fast he became is illustrated by the fact that he says in 1964 he could run 20 x 400 against a watch in 60 seconds each, dipping down to 58 seconds on every fourth one, and running 54 point something on his 20th and last one!
“I don’t think anyone else in the world could do that at that time,” he reflects today.
After this training buildup, Bob went into the outdoor racing season, winning race after race after race, with performances that included the 13:38 US record for the 5000 (in Compton, Calif.). He experienced some asthma problems at the US Championships and again at the US Olympic trials held in the New York-New Jersey area in the spring, but he won the 5000 easily enough in both meets.
Bob’s finishing speed was never more evident than in the US-USSR dual meet in Los Angeles in late July – the same meet in which 18-year-old Gerry Lindgren outdistanced the Russians. Bob Schul and Bill Dellinger represented the US in the 5000 against the Russian pair, which included Pyotr Bolotnikov, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000. In a slow race, the Americans started their finishing sprint with 300 meters to go – as they had planned beforehand. Dellinger jumped first, but Bob quickly passed him – and he ran the last lap in 54.4 to finish almost two seconds ahead of Dellinger. Bob was proving he wasn’t a good guy to tangle with in a finishing sprint.
In August he ran the 3:58.7 mile (at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif, a suburb of Los Angeles), beating none other than Jim Grelle, who had been the best man at Bob and Sharon’s wedding. The next weekend Bob set the world record for two miles, 8:26.4, also at Pierce College. He competed in the second US Olympic trials in September, which were compulsory for all the US Olympians, who had qualified from the earlier trials, to prove they had retained their fitness level. Yes, Bob Schul’s fitness level was just fine, thank you! Then in October it was off to Tokyo where, thankfully, given the time of year, pollen would not be a problem as it had been at the US Championships and the Olympic trials in the spring.
The 5000-meter qualifying heats in Tokyo were held on October 16. Bob qualified for the final (“The heats felt like a jog”), as did Bill Dellinger, competing in his third and last Olympics – and hopeful of getting a medal, any medal.
The final of the 5000 meters was held two days later, on October 18, and Mother Nature threw the competitors a curveball. The weather was awful. Worst storm of the Tokyo Olympics. If the 5000 had been a baseball game, it would have been called off on account of rain. This wasn’t baseball, however, and the best 5000-meter runners in the world would have to cover 12½ laps of a cinder track that had been soaked by rain – as they would be, too, in running the race! Singin’ in the Rain is a nice song, but this wasn’t nice.
To make matters worse, the runners were ridiculously confined to a small holding area for what seemed like an eternity before the race.
Bob explains, “We were held in a room beneath the stands for 20 minutes before the race, so we weren’t properly warmed up when we were finally escorted to the track. Besides, we were wearing spikes, the room had a concrete floor, so we couldn’t jog around in there even if we wanted. So we’re finally called out to the track, it’s 51 degrees outside and when that cold rain hits your skin, your muscles stiffen up even more. It took about two laps before we felt warmed up, so that made it a different type of race right away. Clarke didn’t even take the lead until the third lap.”
Ron Clarke of Australia had set a world record for the 10,000 meters in 1963 (28:15.6), and it was expected he would have been the one pushing a hard pace if he had any hope of winning. But inexplicably he didn’t do so, something Bob cannot understand to this day (“I never understood Clarke. As a runner you use your strongest suit – and he didn’t do it.”). Could it be that the Australian had lost his fighting spirit because he had been beaten in the 10,000 earlier in the Games?
The way the race was run – relatively slow pace, all the main contenders still in contention coming into the crucial final laps (“It was slow,” Bob says, “I wasn’t even tired with a lap to go”) -- it was obviously going to be a sprint finish at the end. This suited Bob just fine. Indeed, with his speed, he couldn’t have asked for anything more. But he made some tactical errors from 450 to 300 meters out that could very easily have cost him the race, and, in fact, he thought they had.
As the runners had proceeded around the track, lap after lap, Clarke of Australia, Jazy of France and Norpoth of Germany were at or near the front while the two Americans, Schul and Dellinger, laid back in sixth and seventh place, staying on the curb and safely away from any jostling.
Approaching the final bend of the next to last lap, with just over 600 meters to go, Bob finally moved out of the first lane and started to move up. Just at that moment Dellinger, coming from behind, surged past everyone and went into the lead. But it quickly became evident he wasn’t trying to break away as much as he was putting himself in a better position for the final finishing sprint that was sure to come.
Coming down the homestraight approaching the bell lap, Michel Jazy of France was back in the lead, Bill Dellinger was right behind him, with Harald Norpoth of Germany on Dellinger’s shoulder. Bob, now running in the inside lane again, started picking up his pace and moving away from the curb so he’d be in a better attacking position as they rounded the curve heading into the backstretch the final time. But just as that instant Nikolai Dutov, the Soviet runner, made his move from the outside. Bob glanced over to his right and seeing Dutov get position on him, silently chastised himself, “How stupid of you!”
Last lap! Around the turn they went. It was Jazy leading, Dutov now second, Dellinger right behind Dutov, Norpoth on Dutov’s shoulder, with Bob boxed in behind Dellinger by the lone Kenyan in the race, Kip Keino, running to Bob’s right just behind Norpoth. With each stride around the turn – the pace was now fast and hard! – Bob started to edge further to the outside, forcing Keino wider and wider, so Bob would have a clear path ahead, unimpeded by anyone in front of him, when the attack came – as he knew it would.
Suddenly, as they came to the head of the backstraight, all hell broke loose! Jazy, who would set a world record in the mile the next year (3:53.6!), sprinted as if he’d been shot from a cannon, immediately opening daylight on the rest of the field – a gap which would quickly widen to three, five, maybe 8-10 yards on the backstretch.
The moment Jazy burst into his all-out sprint, Dutov and Dellinger immediately fell back, Norpoth, on the outside, went after the Frenchman, albeit after allowing Jazy’s move to open a significant and now increasing lead, and Bob Schul, finally out of the box he’d been in coming around the turn, lit out after Norpoth, who never got more than a stride or two ahead of him.
“I could see Jazy up ahead,” Bob recalls, “and he looked good! I remember thinking to myself, ‘You’ve blown it!’ Then I thought, ‘Just run as hard as you can. See what happens.’ “
Sprinting for all he was worth, though not quite all out, not just yet, Bob caught Norpoth by the top of the last bend and went by him decisively. Now there was only Jazy ahead…
“One thing I did that other distance runners didn’t do at the end of a race,” Bob says, “is I’d switch over from being a distance runner to being a 400-meter runner. In other words, I’d switch from being a distance runner to being a sprinter. I used to run the 400 meters in college – I ran the 4 x 400 relay, also the 4 x 200. In college I ran a 48.8 in the 400 on a relay.
“When I passed Norpoth and I could focus on Jazy, I realized, ‘He’s hurting. He isn’t running as smoothly as he had been on the backstretch. His shoulders are getting tight.’ I knew then I was going to catch him. I wasn’t worried about Norpoth because he didn’t sprint. He just ran faster in the same style.”
On the final bend, while Jazy was still holding his form, more or less, and sprinting strongly, Bob’s powerful strides devoured the distance between them. By the end of the final curve he was on Jazy’s shoulder. The French champion was now in trouble and he knew it. Several times he had looked back desperately on the turn to see where his pursuers were, and now his head was bobbing from side to side as he fought to maintain his speed and hold off the American.
It was no use! Looking for all intents and purposes like a quarter-miler bringing the baton home to victory in the 4 X 400 relay, Bob moved out from behind Jazy and just blasted down the straightaway. He hit the finish line at least five yards clear of Germany’s Norpoth, who had also passed Jazy down the homestraight. And as Jazy struggled and slowed in those final, desperate 20-25 meters, Bill Dellinger came back on him so they hit the finish line almost simultaneously, it seemed, but Dellinger would ultimately get the bronze medal.
The broad smile that settled on Bob’s rain-soaked face as he hit the finish line – winning time: 13:48.8 -- seemed the picture of complete satisfaction, perhaps tinged with the slightest sense of relief. Even though all had momentarily seemed lost, he had come back to win, and in reality it hadn’t really been that close. He hadn’t expected it to be, but then you never know…
“I thought I could outkick those people. The only person I was concerned about was Jazy, because he had a faster mile than me (Editor’s Note: Jazy, silver medalist in the 1500 at the 1960 Olympics, had run a 3:57.9 mile just before the Tokyo Games). So I thought I needed to be with him when the finishing sprint began, which I wasn’t.”
That smile on Bob’s face at the finish perhaps embodied something else – it spoke of the ultimate reward for all the training over the years, for all those times he and Max Truex had commuted from Oxnard to LA, when they and the rest of Mihaly Igloi’s dedicated band of runners would climb the fence outside Dorsey High School’s track before the sun came out so they could train on the grass inside the track because the track was so bad, training at such an ungodly hour because they knew they had to be off that field by 6:15 a.m.!
“I can tell you one thing,” Bob says today, “fifty percent of today’s pro runners would never do what we did. We were all very dedicated, we wanted to get better, and we all thought Igloi was the way!”
Many years have passed, the times have changed. Bob Schul, who’s now 76 and lives in Fairborn, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, has been a successful coach, teacher, businessman, administrator and author since he retired from big-time competition in 1968 after the US Olympic trials for the Mexico Olympics. A great champion finally laid low by injury and the asthma which had flared up again in the dusty mountain environment in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where those trials were held. He and his wife Sharon divorced in 1981; their daughter, Robin, is now 43 and lives in Boise, Idaho. Bob remarried, but he and Janie, a runner, divorced in 1998.
Janie Krumholtz still trains with Bob, and is a very good Masters runner. Bob also keeps in constant touch with Sharon and they remain lifelong friends in spite of their divorce. His parents are gone now – his mother, Katherine, died of cancer in 1983 and his father, Willard, died during surgery for a blood clot in 1990. Bob’s brothers, Norman, Larry and David, are all comfortably retired. In his 40s and 50s, Bob was a highly successful Masters runner, but in 2008 he had his right hip replaced – not because of his running, mind you, but due to an injury sustained when he went out for football as a skinny, 135-pound kid at West Milton High School. Little Max Truex, who helped and influenced Bob so much, is gone; sadly, he passed away of Parkinson’s disease in 1991 when he was only 55. Bob’s respected coach Mihaly Igloi died in Budapest on Jan. 4, 1998 at the age of 89.
One thing hasn’t changed! Bob Schul will always remain an Olympic champion – after that 38.7-second sprint to glory over the last 300 in the 5000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics. In winning the gold medal in Tokyo, Bob not only did himself and his family and his country proud, he made his mentor, Mihaly Igloi, proud. Of all the great athletes Igloi coached on two continents, Bob Schul is the only one who ever won an Olympic gold medal!
Answer to the earlier question: The four Americans who have won Olympic gold medals in distance events 1500 meters or longer in the last 100 years are: Horace Ashenfelter, 1952, 3000-meter steeplechase; Billy Mills, 1964, 10,000 meters; Bob Schul, 1964, 5000 meters; Frank Shorter, 1972, marathon. A very small, select group. America’s Mt. Rushmore of distance running!