The Consummate Front Runner
By Gary Corbitt
One of America"�s gr
eatest runners Gordon McKenzie passed on Friday, July 19th. Gordon"�s range of athletic achievements was phenomenal. He competed at a world class level from one mile to the marathon.
Early in his career he had visions of a sub 4 minute mile, and was influenced by the Swedish runners Gunder Hagg, Arne Anderson, and American Gil Dodds. These were the preeminent milers of the 1940s. In 1953 he placed 4th in the Millrose Wannamaker Mile in 4:12.9 after setting the pace. His tendency to be a front runner stemmed from his desire to always achieve personal best times instead of just going for the win. He always competed with a watch and termed himself a pace runner with a time goal in mind for each race. Gordon was a student of the sport seeking out literature on how the Europeans trained. He felt the Europeans were way ahead of the Americans in both training and racing methods.
Gordon was a two time Olympian 1956 (10K) and 1960 (Marathon). He was in the famous 1956 Olympic 10,000 meters battle between Vladimir Kuts and Gordon Pirie. He was U.S. AAU Cross-Country Champion in 1953 a race that featured the Ashenfelter brothers and Browning Ross. In the 1956 he set American Records at 6 miles (29:18.6) and 10K (30:23). He is a member of the RRCA Hall of Fame (1985)
He moved up to the marathon in 1960 and pushed John J. Kelly to a course record during their classic duel in the Olympic Marathon trial race at Yonkers. He was second at the Boston Marathon in 1960 in a time of 2:22:18. Ted Corbitt felt his teammate had the potential to run a 2:15 world record time in the marathon.
Gordon represented the racially integrated New York Pioneer Club (NYPC) his entire running career. He wanted to join the New York Athletic Club who had all the top milers in the country, but wasn"�t welcomed due to his inexperience. On the other hand, NYPC welcomed all runners of all abilities. Gordon loved the camaraderie and democracy of the club. He cited Coach Joe Yancey as a gentleman with an engaging personality.
In the early 1960s, Gordon with his engineering background was helpful to John Sterner and Ted Corbitt in their efforts to develop a system
of accurately measuring road race courses in the United States.
Gordon credits his wife Christine (Chris) with his many successes. She inspired him in training and racing. Chris was an accomplished runner on the track in the 1950s. She was part of a British team Selsonia Ladies AC that set a world record in the 3 X 880 Yard Relay. Chris competed in the seminal 1961 Manchester Road Race in which Julia Chase Brand and Dianne Lechausse became the first women in the United States to participate in a major distance road race.