News Archive

News Archive

Living to run

by Heinz Florian Oertel (73), more than 40 years sport correspondent for East

German TV and radio, reporter at 17 Olympic Games, 8 Football World

Championships and other big sporting events

Living to run? Yes! Because running means living. And quite honestly,

running is a method of survival! Anyone who thinks that is going a bit too far

only needs to take the advice of some important people from the past. To name

just two: Goethes theory in "Reineke Fuchs", that "Running is

better than being lazy", and Herder in his

"Palmenblättern", more than 200 years ago: "Somebody who

never runs will never reach his goal".

As a lifelong admirer of long-distance running, it is not difficult for me

to quote such principles. Of course, I am not prejudiced in any way, more

"enlightened", since I came to these conclusions the long way round -

from ardent admirer, though purely platonically, to realist. Kolehmainen,

Nurmi, Zatopek and many others helped me on my way. And this is a way of

thanking them.

In 1952 I was sitting in the stands at the Olympics in Helsinki. I was

numbed by everything I saw. But it was the long-distance running that really

shook me. I will never forget Emil Zatopeks triple victory. As a reporter, I

tried to describe the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races, and then his glorious

victory in the marathon. Later, whenever I heard my commentary, I was ashamed.

Compared to the fighting spirit and skills of Zatopek, Mimoun, Chataway,

Schade, Anufriew ... my words seemed lamentable. Later still I heard that even

a reporter like Rolf Warnicke, who was commentator at the 1936 Olympic Games,

had problems to describe what he was seeing. Oh well.

I have never forgotten the experience of Helsinki. Nor the interviews I had

with the Finns Hannes Kolehmainen and Paovo Nurmi. Both of them were chosen to

light the Olympic Flame in the stadium and that encouraged me to recapitulate

on their experiences in long-distance running. Kolehmainen was a competitor

already at the Stockholm Games in 1912 where he won a medal, and he was still

there - or back again - in 1920 in Antwerp, when Nurmi began his fantastic

career. Enough - I could fill a whole article just with their story.

I saw Emil Zatopek again in Melbourne in 1956. But the new long-distance

star dominating those games was Wladimir Kuz. He had learnt from Emils

torturous training programme and will to win, and he gave other great names

such as Pirie and Kovacs no chance. Emils 6th place in the marathon marked the

end of ten magnificent years in competitive sport. I often saw him again later

- in Prague, his home town, in Berlin, at various other races here and there,

where he was constantly at the start as guest of honour and fascinated so many

people with his love of life and very special humour, right up until his death

in 2000. It is to him, above all, that I owe the step I took from passive

admirer to participant. At school I hated any races longer than one lap of the

stadium: 1,000 metres was obligatory, and I ran it in about 3.20 min., which

was really not a fantastic time for a 16-year-old. And later, during the

dreadful wartime, I once had to run 3,000 m. In the barracks I learnt to cheat.

Every time half the company had turned the curve, four or five of us dropped

out exhausted and waited behind a bush to join in again the next lap. In this

way I managed just about 2,000 metres, but in a surprisingly good time ... but

thats all in the past.

Emils gasps, Schades relative elegance, Piries ascetic style, and ..... all

of these helped me much later to finally attempt long-distance running myself.

From commentator to active participant. That gave me a different perspective as

reporter, and finally also a new and better quality of life. Consequently I owe

my luck to all the "matadors" I was lucky enough to get to know.

One of those who helped me was Hans Grodotzki. Born in Thüringen, he

has lived the past 45 years in Potsdam, and on 4.4.2001 celebrated his 65th

birthday - reason enough to congratulate him and to say thank-you. His silver

medals in Rome in 1960, where he was second to Halberg over 5,000 m and to

Bolotnikow over 10,000 m, drove me as a reporter into ecstasy! Hans achieved

the best result ever for a German long-distance runner, after Schades third

place in Helsinki. His style was exemplary. Best of all, he has always remained


I could name many more. From Bikila Abebe and Lasse Viren to Waldemar

Cierpinski, Katrin Dörre and Jörg Peter. I admire them all. And now,

before the next BERLIN-MARATHON is the right time to tell this story. Because

it has been proved over and over again: The BERLIN-MARATHON has become one of

the best running events in the world. Even though the world of runners has

changed - not always for the best - in past years since Helsinki, Melbourne and

Rome. Money has become the top drug and doping a suicidal disease. But sport as

a whole and long-distance running will survive. Events like Berlin prove


Every running event brings people closer together and will hopefully always

continue to do so. In 1990 after the Wall came down, there was a

record-breaking field in Berlin. I was lucky enough to be part of this

experience, in a joint radio transmission by SFB and Berliner Rundfunk who I

worked for for more than 40 years. This was one of the most unforgettable

moments in my private and running life.

Dr. Heinz Florian Oertel