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Running Man

Running Man

As hopes build for the latest crop of New Zealand athletes, one of the stars of a golden era for the black singlet is still running — and still has stories to tell.

By Dylan Cleaver

When he was four years old,

Rodney Dixon snuck out the gate to his home and ran two kilometres to Stoke School to join his brother John.

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He hasn’t stopped running.

“I was born to run,” says Rod Dixon from his home in Nelson. “I played rugby, cricket, hockey and soccer, but I never got the same feeling as I did when I was just running. On the day I turned 12 I joined my local running club and that was it.”

Dixon loved the purity of a running race: you turned up to the start line, somebody shouted “Go!” and you ran like the clappers to a fixed finishing point.

A fidgety, easily distracted kid, Dixon benefited from an understanding teacher, Graham Leversedge, at Tāhunanui School who recognised his pupil’s kinetic energy and would send him off on frequent, and possibly pointless, jobs delivering notes to classrooms on the other side of the school.

Dixon loved the portability of running: you just needed a pair of shoes to attach to a pair of legs (and sometimes, when you lived near the beach like he did, you didn’t even need shoes).

He grew to love the lineal aspects of New Zealand middle-distance running. Talk to Dixon — and when you sit down to talk with him you need to be prepared to do a lot of listening — and he delights in drawing straight lines between Jack Lovelock and Geordie Beamish, New Zealand’s latest track star. It’s a line that passes through, among others Harold Nelson, Murray Halberg, Peter Snell, John Davies, Marise Chamberlain, Dick Quax, Dick Tayler, John Walker, Anne Audain, Lorraine Moller and Nick Willis. Each name can divert him onto another branch of running’s family tree.

While he didn’t even care about the prizes when he was younger, once he started hitting that line first, he got a taste for winning. Yes, he loved that, too.

Dixon, who will turn 74 just in time for the lighting of the flame for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris, won races at a high level over distances from 800m to the marathon, on the track and road and in cross-country. He is widely regarded as the country’s most versatile runner and, arguably, the most talented.