Neil Featherby: One of the great runners I've always looked up to

Rod Dixon world class runner

Rod Dixon - a world class runner from 800m to the marathon. - Credit: Kids Marathon Foundation

I really must be getting old.  

In fact I know I am, but even when I was in my prime years, I always knew who the running stars of yesteryear were. 

This week our Sportlink TV Podcast guest is none other than Rod Dixon.  

Whilst we have had some tremendous guests be it locally or legends like Jo Pavey, I have been gobsmacked by how many people have said to me ‘Rod who?’   

‘Seriously you have never heard of Rod Dixon?’ I have almost demanded. 

During the 1960s and 1970s, New Zealand produced so many world class athletes with Rod Dixon being one of them. 

Apart from finishing third and taking the bronze medal in the 1500 metres final at the 1972 Olympics and just missing out on another bronze at the 1976 Olympics this time in the 5,000 metres, he also took third place in the World Cross Country Championships in 1982. 

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However, and amongst all his other amazing achievements, it is the New York Marathon of 1983 which stands out most in my memory.  

Liverpool’s Geoff Smith was well clear of the rest of the field during the closing stages and all set to win. But as he tired, instead of following the blue line (the shortest and measured route) Rod slowly but surely tracked him down and caught him just after 26 miles with 300 metres to go, winning in 2:08:59.  

The photograph of Rod with his arms in the air having just crossed the finish line with Geoff laying flat on his back really is one of the great running pics of all time. 

Rod had pre-set his pace and split calculations prior to the marathon for which he stayed patient and you could say ran the perfect race. He could see that Geoff was not following the line and whilst he knew it wasn’t going to be a case of speeding up, he did know that if he stuck to following the shortest route then he would catch him as long as he could maintain his own pace before the finish. 

Like lots of old-time runners, he worked his way through the various racing distances with an amazing range of PBs from 800 metres in 1:47.6 though to his winning time in the New York Marathon. 

I seriously am very proud of the way our Sportlink podcasts have evolved since starting them in early 2020, but this one really has left me a little starstruck.  

Incidentally, Rod competed in a third Olympics Games in 1984 when finishing 10th in the marathon although it would have been his fourth Games if it hadn’t of been for the boycott by several nations which included New Zealand in Moscow 1980.