Ode to Tim Danielson

For no immediately newsworthy reason, the NYT picked on one of my childhood heroes; a high school legend who inspired me: Tim Danielson.

You’ve probably never heard of him. That’s a name I hadn’t heard in many years. Like every wanna-be miler of my time, I aspired to be like him, to do what he had done on the track… only better.

I’m a staunch believer in personal privacy. I’m intensely private and keep my personal life close to the vest. Its nobody’s business. Besides, it’s boring.

But every once in awhile I see something in the news I find wrong that cannot be fully explained without relating it to my own experience. Such is the case with this story in the New York Times:
After the Mile” – Jeré Longman, New York Times, 3/13/2013

The Magic of the Mile

In high school, Danielson did everything right. He immersed himself 110% into running the mile. So did I. In those days it meant year round training and 100 mile weeks coupled with workouts so intense that such rigorous training has not been matched to this day. Stories of Danielson’s iron workouts graced the pages of Track and Field News.

In the 9th grade, my first year of track, Tim Danielson did what only the great Jim Ryan had done before; he became the 2nd high-schooler in history to run a sub-four minute mile. I trained for it, too. My goal was to beat them both. Ryan went on to set a world record of 3:51.1.

All told there have only been 5 high-school runners world-wide who’ve went under 4. Yet it was done three times in a span of only 4 years from 1964-1967. Marty Liquori did it in a 1967 race where both Danielson and Ryan competed. Alan Webb is the other American to accomplish the amazing feat 34 years later in 2001.

Ryan, Liquori and Webb all went on to international fame and celebrity, but not Danielson.

The scuttlebutt among serious runners back in my time was that Danielson should have become the next Jim Ryan, but that he burned out.

That is roughly like being a test pilot lacking “the right stuff”.

Not much was heard from Danielson after that. He disappeared.


Then, out of nowhere, comes the New York Times with a major 5-page, in-depth exposé on Danielson.

I’ve never met Tim Danielson, but we are as connected as brothers.

I’ve run 10s of thousands of lonely miles, like he has. I’ve ran 100-mile weeks, like he has. I’ve pushed the envelope of human endurance countless times exploring my own limits in the never-ending quest for greatness, like he has. I’ve even ran against many of the same runners he competed against.

Shared experience creates an unbreakable bond.

45 years after his disappearance from the sports world, Danielson murders his ex-wife in 2011. He is in jail awaiting trial. Murder is a horrible, inexcusable thing. Senseless circumstances leading up to it is heart-wrenching. Such things are, indeed, newsworthy; perhaps in the San Diego area where Danielson has lived his whole life.

But why does an obscure California athlete become New York newsworthy today for a tragic crime committed over a year ago? It smacks of contrived sensationalism.

I’m outraged over staining the memory of a long-lost runner for no more reason than an NYT version of a human interest story.

For reasons known only to NYT editors, they pulled his name out of the scrap heap of history. The NYT’s ode to Tim Danielson made me deeply saddened over tragic outcomes and angry at the NYT for exploiting them.


About azleader

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Posted on Mar 16, 2013, in culture, journalism, Life, news, Opinion, Politics, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Robert Wagoner

    Tim Danielson was also a hero of mine, and I was a serious high school and college track athlete, as you were. I agree with a broad interpretation of your point: The news media’s overemphasis on crime stories: ” if it bleeds it leads” – is tiresome. That said, a fair minded discussion of the reasons behind a person’s choice to commit murder can be instructive to people in trying not to make the same mistakes. The points of the story “After the Mile” was that the single-minded focus necessary to become the best in the world might have produced a person without the all-round skills necessary to handle the stresses of life. It also implied that perhaps Danielson interpreted his failure to achieve superstardom as a college and Olympic athlete after being an all-time great in high school as actual failure, despite his otherwise successful professional career. These are not especially novel insights, but they lift the piece well above the standard of “contrived sensationalism” of tabloid journals like the National Enquirer.
    Tim’s defense appears to be that he suffered a psychotic reaction to a smoking cessation drug. I hope that that is true, and that it can be proven to the jury by his showing that he was not violent in his private life before taking the drug.

    • Perhaps you give the New York Times to much credit.

      Danielson’s was a tragic, all-to-common crime of passion driven by a jealously rage and, perhaps, a medication reaction. His running career 40 years earlier appears unrelated to the sad events of that fateful day. No evidence unearthed by the NYT indicates his running had any lasting psychological effects. Did yours with you? Mine did not with me. His college and post college running was not unusual.

      The NYT linking the murder to the 45th anniversary of his HS achievement, to me, smacked of exploitation more so than investigative journalism.

      I can’t remember if Jim Grelle was an Oregonian, but I ran against him in local races there. Dyrol Burleson was an Oregonian and a hero of mine I watched run sub 4s in my HS days. I also competed at Balboa Stadium once in a 10K and thought it was the hardest surface I ever ran on. My last attempt to qualify for the NCAAs my senior year at the University of Arizona was run in Sacramento on the track where Ryan had run his 3:51. I didn’t qualify, though. Dang it!

  2. Wow, sad story as I was looking back at high school track and field marks from the earlier years and wondered what ever happened to those who held the best marks in their event. Especially in the field events like the shotput and discus because of the weight difference between the HS shot and discus and I wondered how some of these star HS athletes adjusted to it. Also in the track event like the 110mm hurdles which I ran when the hurdles were 39″ in HS then 42″ in college. I ran a couple unofficial high hurdle events after high school, one was AAU all comers and I tripped and fell after the fourth hurdle. 3″ doesn’t seem like much, but I’ll tell you what it felt like I was going out for the high jump. I was always young and small in HS and ran the “B” weight class, next class up was “A” class or varsity. It was a good program because it factored in your age and size as to what class you could compete in. I also competed in the 10 lb “B” shot put and being only 135 lbs there was no way as a senior I could handle the 12 pound shot. So I managed the 10 lb enough to be respectable, throwing almost 45′ in my Junior year. Just two weeks before the finals in my senior year I was involved in a HS prank that caused me to loose out on competing in the finals. A finals I was really looking forward to competing in the 70 yard high hurdles, an event I was “ordered” to do by my coach in my Junior year, reluctantly. But after about a month of training I began to really like it and I honestly thought I could take a gold or silver in it in my Senior year. BTW, former Olympic Decathlon Champion Bill Toomey was our part time track coach back then. I remember an event I took first in the high hurdles and posted a pretty good time and Bill came up to me after the meet to tell me he was impressed with the time I posted. He was a great guy.

    I always lived in the shadow of my one year older brother when it came to HS sports, it happens in any family. He was a much better all around athlete than me, made All League in football his varsity year, the only year he ever competed in football because I sustained a bad injury in football my freshman year (body cast for a year) so my parents wouldn’t allow him to compete, but finally did so his last year in HS (he attended a rival HS because our school was just built) He was quite the track star too, a league Decathlon champion. He did the weight events, long jump, relays, again, all around stuff. I still remember some of his marks, 49′ in the 12 lb shot, 151′ in the discus, 21’10” in the long jump, 10.1 in the 100 yard dash, 6′ in the high jump using that weird scissor kick style. He didn’t follow up much in athletics after high school, deciding to concentrate on the books instead, despite interest from colleges in football. If he would have competed two or three years in HS football instead of just one, he would have evolved into one hellava player judging by what he did his only year out and making All League in the process. I always felt he would have made a very good college football player, especially with advanced coaching and weight training, something he really didn’t have in HS back then. Everytime my name was mentioned in the local newspaper they would always preface it with Brother of league Decathlon Champion bla bla bla. My brother rubbed that in over the years more than once, but it was in good humor.

    Track and Field remains my favorite sport, I’m sure there are many ex participants who feel the same way. Talk about a sport that really tests your individual skills and one that offers so much variety in events, both individual and as a team. I watch it as much as I can. Forgot to mention, I did compete a couple times in the California Police Olympics back in the early 80s in the discus, the college discus that is. But by then I was bigger and had been lifting weights and I took a silver medal in the masters division with a throw of 133′. I was happy with that.

    • You realize that it dates us talking in English units because we competed back before metric measurements took over.

      It was a great honor for you to be coached by one of the greatest decathletes of all. In 7th grade I was encouraged to start running by a high school kid named Terry Thompson. He was my junior high gym teacher’s teaching assistant. At the time Thompson was the fastest HS half-miler in the state. He later went on to run a 1:46.1 and qualify for the same 1968 Olympics where Toomey won his gold. Thompson was one of the fastest in the world, but chose commercial fishing over trying out for the Olympics.

      My only track talent was in distance running, nothing in field events. I was best at cross country. The shortest race I ever ran was a quarter mile one time when I anchored a 4X440 yard relay in a college race. I was speedy for a distance runner, but was no quarter miler. The quarter milers thought it a funny joke one time to make a miler their anchor on a last-minute, throw together team. I had about a 4-yard lead when given the baton but got dusted before the end of the first turn! They laughed at my expense as I lost a race they didn’t care about, but I did make a bit of a comeback down the stretch and set my all-time PR of 50.5 for that distance.

      Like you, I followed in the footsteps of a big brother. Going through school I always kept hearing, “Oh, you’re Ken’s little brother”. I never knew what that meant. My brother was a sprinter but I was better at distances.

      A memorable big brother moment for me in high school was when a group of people were discussing who was going to win the district title in cross country just before the race started. My name wasn’t mentioned in the discussion. My brother walked up into the group and announced to them that his little brother was going to win it. I did, by 45 seconds on a 2.5 mile course. I was as happy being defended by my big brother as for winning the race.

      Post college I got into the local 10K racing circuit for years and ran a few marathons. We were never allowed to run marathons in college because coaches felt it hurt you for track.

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