72 | Sir John Walker - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

72 | Sir John Walker - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

Greatest Kiwi Of All Time: No. 72 - Sir John Walker (Down 10 from 62 last year)

It was the 12th July, 1975.  The venue, Gothenburg, Sweden.  

John Walker, a 23-year-old runner from Papakura in Auckland, was the first person on the planet to run a mile in under three minutes fifty.  His record would last for four years until it was lowered by Briton Sebastian Coe.

A year later - Montreal, 1976.  The 1500 metre final.  Like Peter Snell, 33 years before him, he puts his foot down with three hundred metres to go.

John Walker would become an athletics superstar in New Zealand, a hero of the track.  Born in 1952, Walker had an inauspicious start to his running career, losing his first-ever race, aged about seven. 

Fortunately, within a couple of years, he discovered that running was something he could do pretty well. He won most of his races at intermediate and high school despite concentrating more on tennis. 

At age 19 he began to take running more seriously.  Running coach Arch Jelley put Walker on his first real training programme.  Within a couple of seasons, he’d won his first national title, which he successfully defended the following year too.  He would race in the European circuit with fellow New Zealanders Dick Quax and Rod Dixon.  But soon his first major test would come - the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch.    

We’d watch it all play out on the flash new colour TV.  Filbert Bayi would win gold that day for Kenya, setting a world record.  Walker would get silver.

Walker would run in the 1982, 86 and 1990 Commonwealth Games and 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.  He’d be the first man in history to run one hundred sub-4-minute miles.  He aimed to be the first man over 40 to run a sub-4-minuter, but injury prevented the attempt.

At the end of his running career, the now Sir John Walker would take an active role in local body politics in both the Manukau and Auckland councils.

But he will be forever remembered for setting a new world record and winning gold at the Olympic Games.  We have a proud world athletic record and right at the top of the tree, is Sir John Walker - one of Today FM’s Greatest Kiwis of All Time.