Speed in Reverse

While scanning the letsrun.com home page a couple of days ago, a link filed under “Random News” caught my eye. The link pointed to an article in Ireland’s Evening Herald newspaper, “Irishman is World Champion retro runner.”

Calling him the “Usain Bolt of ‘retro running,’ the article reports on the world-beating performances of Garret Doherty, a Dublin man who won three gold medals at the Retro Running World Championships held in Italy over the last two weeks.

I did a little Googling, and Doherty is all you could hope for in a champion of a fringe sport. He’s colorful and engaging, talks seriously about his crusade to getting backwards running into the Olympics, and espouses the benefits of “naturism” (i.e., clothing optional living).

He’s also pretty fast moving in reverse. He won the 200, 400, and 1500 at the Retro WC’s with times of 32.3, 70.6, and 5:54.8 (over a minute ahead of second place). With that kind of range, he’s not the Usain Bolt of anything — more like the Jim Ryun of retrograde motion.

Here’s a video of Doherty winning the 400m:

I wouldn’t care about any of this except that it took me back many years and the time I saw Ferdie Adoboe run backwards. Adoboe was a native of Ghana who attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, my home town.

Back in the early 80’s, when I was a has-been high school runner home from college for the summer, I saw Adoboe run 100 meters backwards at a local track meet. Most people look like idiots running backward. Even fast retro runners, like Doherty, look inefficient and eventually, just annoying. By contrast, Adoboe — a skilled soccer player, as well as track and field athlete — made running backward beautiful. Thanks to YouTube, you can see for yourself.

Several years later, in 1991, Adoboe would run 13.6 for 100m backwards (hand-timed at a local track meet). That time has been equaled but never beaten.

Over the years, I’ve seen a very small number of runners that I would describe as “unforgettable.” John Ngugi winning the World XC Championship in Boston and Joan Benoit winning the Boston Marathon in 1983 come to mind.

Ferdie Adoboe makes my short list.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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