Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Track & Field News co-founder Cordner Nelson passes away...

The track and field world lost a pioneer of the sport on October 26th with the passing of Track & Field News co-founder Cordner Nelson at the age of 91 after a long battle against cancer.

Nelson, along with his brother Bert, started Track & Field News in 1948, and his reporting and editing helped earn the magazine the soubriquet, "The Bible of the Sport", according to his biography listed on the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame page, an honor that he earned in 1988.

He covered every Olympics from 1952 to 2000, along with countless Olympic Trials, US national championships, and NCAA championship meets.

Nelson, along with numerous contributors over the years, helped establish the annual world and national ranking procedures that are widely accepted as the most authentic method of sorting out the best track & field athletes in a given time period.

Beyond the rankings and the stories published in his magazine, he also found the passion to research the training techniques used by the world's best athletes and coaches, which led to the founding of "Track Technique" in 1960, a quarterly publication which today is still relevant among serious students of the sport.

A book that he wrote in the 1960s was a key contributor to my involvement in the sport.

Nelson wrote The Jim Ryun Story (jacket cover above), a biography of the great American middle distance runner from Kansas who captivated the country by being the first high schooler to break four minutes in the mile, and set world records in the 1500 and mile.

Like many high schoolers who ran distances in the 1970s, I checked out the book from the Franklin High School library (if that book is still in the FHS library, I wouldn't be surprised if the card inside still has my name on it) and read and re-read that book nights before a big race as a source of inspiration.

The picture that Nelson painted of Ryun as he ran his workouts and races, and the way he got Ryun to open up, made the reader feel that if one were willing to endure the pain and monotony of training, trust the coaches' judgment, and suck it up, you could achieve anything.

In the pre-DyeStat, LetsRun, RunnerSpace, Flotrack world of track & field, if you wanted to know who the fastest high school kids in the country were, you looked to Track & Field News.

In my day, you knew about guys like Thom Hunt from San Diego, Alberto Salazar from Wayland, Massachusetts, Billy McChesney from South Eugene, Rudy Chapa and Carey Pinkowski from Hammond, Indiana, because the magazine, under Nelson's watch, chronicled what they were doing.

While the internet, with its penchant for delivering news instantaneously, has cut into the print media substantially, I feel that publications like Track & Field News have set the standards in the way blogs and web sites that cover this sport conducts itself. The media may be different, but the journalistic principles remain the same.

Here's a link to an interview written by Jon Hendershott & Sieg Lindstrom of Track & Field News in 1998 celebrating the magazine's 50th anniversary.

Thanks for all you've done for the sport, and for inspiring numerous athletes, coaches, and journalists of the sport, Cordner!

1 comment:

abelisle said...

Nicely done, Paul. His magazine was and is an inspiration for many. I couldn't wait to get the Jan "Athlete of the Year" edition every year. Loved poring over all the stats.


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