Chris – unbeaten in 50 years!

JUNE 2018: At Brighton’s Withdean Stadium in 1968, Chris Carter ran 800m in 1:47.5, setting a stadium record.

At the recent Phoenix Open meeting, 30th May 2018, despite a talented field in the ‘A’ race, the 1968 time could not be beaten.

Chris’s record has now stood for 50 years.

Two years before setting the record at Withdean, he had finished 4th at the European Championships, Budapest, setting a new British record… 1:46.3.

These are just a couple of examples of Chris’s awesome achievements over the years.

I met up with him shortly after the recent Phoenix meeting.

Chris, where did it all begin?

I played football at school and was also a member of Steyning Athletics Club.

In 1961, I decided to give up football and just run track and cross-country races, but I was also doing discus and triple jump (my best field event) in various competitions.

In 1962, I gave up the field events to concentrate on running.

I went on to join Hove Athletics Club. That was back when there were two separate clubs – Hove AC and Brighton AC – which later merged to form what is now Brighton & Hove AC.

Leaving school, I joined the police. I worked shifts, which meant I could train at different times of day.

In October ’62, I ran 880 yards in the County Championships, which led to me being invited to compete in a match between England and the rest of the world! I ran 1:55 and came 6th out of six. That was the final match before the England team went to the Commonwealth Games.

I vowed to myself that, the following year, none of the runners in that race would beat me. I went on to beat them all.

I imagine it must have been difficult to find suitable training partners with a similar ability to yourself? Who did you train with?

Actually, at the track back in the 1960s, there were several good local runners, such as Ray Roseman, who ran a 3:59 mile, Frank Milton, who ran 1:53 for 800m and Ian Wilson from Plumpton, who ran 1:51.

So, I had other runners to train with; although, I did other sessions on my own during the daytime, owing to my shift work.

And you would have raced against some household names?

One of the most notable names was John Boulter, who I ran with in the British 800m team for about five years – he and I repeatedly broke each other’s British record.

But I also beat Ralph Doubell, who later went on to win the Olympics and break the world record!

Can you give an example of a typical training week? And I understand this had to fit around a full-time job in the police force?

Just looking at my 1966 training diary, and the build-up to the AAA Championships, the week’s training was as follows:

On the Saturday, I didn’t train, as I was working at the Brighton Carnival.

Sunday was on the grass at Preston Park Velodrome, where I did 4 x 300m (46, 44, 41, 39) with 1-minute recoveries; then 4 x 200m (29, 28, 27, 26) with 2-minute recoveries.

Monday was a similar session, but faster, as it was on the track at Withdean. I did 4 x 300m (39, 38, 39, 39); then 4 x 200m (23, 24, 24, 24); then finished with 4 x 100m fast strides on the grass.

Tuesday was 8 x 200m in Preston Park, all in 26 seconds, with 1-minute recoveries, followed by 6 x 150m, flat out!

On the Wednesday, I did a steady run in Steyning school fields, finishing with 6 x 150m strides.

Thursday was an easy run.

Then, on the Friday, it was the heats for the AAA Champs, where I ran 1:48.6.

In the finals, the next day, I ran 1:47.7 and finished 2nd to the Irishman Noel Carroll.

That was a big year for me; not only did I run the AAA Champs, but also the European Champs, the European Police Champs and the Commonwealth Games.

One of the key highlights of your running career would have been your 4th place in the Budapest European Champs, not just with your all-time best of 1:46.3, but also breaking the British record. But there must have been other significant memorable moments?

In fact, in June that year, I ran in a match on the cinder track at Crystal Palace, between Oxford & Cambridge and Cornell & Pennsylvania. There were just two invitation races – a 5000m race and a 4 x 880yds relay. I was in the relay team and we won – with a new world record!

But, unfortunately, it didn’t count. There was a strict rule that only cumulative times were to be shouted out, each lap. The British coach had been shouting out our individual lap times and, for that reason, our world record was declared invalid!

Actually, the most significant highlight for me was when I ran 1:47.2 for 880 yards (1:46.5 for 800m) at the Inter-Counties Champs at White City, in June 1968. Not only did I secure the Inter-Counties Champs record for 800m, but also the White City, British National Native, British All-Comers and European record. And that ranked me 8th in the world prior to the Mexico Olympics, but I got injured prior to running in the heats, so unfortunately didn’t make the final.

But I was 4th in the 1964 Olympic semi-final.

Over the years, you would have seen many changes in the sport, in areas such as shoe technology, nutrition awareness, athlete sponsorship, TV coverage of events, scientific studies & laboratory testing, and so on. What aspect of development do you think has had the most significant impact on performance?

I think money has made a huge difference – in a negative way, from a performance point of view. In my day, all our time was absorbed in either running or working, which I think helped with the focus on running, whereas nowadays there seems to be quite a few distractions in leisure time.

But with much more awareness and development in areas such as nutrition and physiology, I think that has had a positive impact on performance.

So, why do you think it is that, five decades later, others have struggled to run faster than you did in the 1960s?

Well, thinking about my Withdean record, which has now stood for 50 years, there are plenty of top runners who could break it. But most of the runners at that level simply won’t show up at the lower level events now.

In my day, we ran all the local club events, but that just doesn’t happen anymore. We would race on the track for about 7 months of the year, but nowadays the best track runners only have a race season of around 3 to 4 months, as they compete in just a few select events.

At the tail end of your running career, it must have been exciting and rewarding to watch your son Richard follow in your footsteps, becoming English Schools Cross Country Champion. What do you recall of those days? Did you enjoy coaching him?

I think the first occasion that Richard surprised my wife, Elaine, and me, was when we were in the car, supporting a walking race from Brighton to Steyning. Richard was about nine or ten years old. With three or four miles to go, he asked if he could get out and run the rest of the way.

We drove on ahead to the next checkpoint and began to worry because he never came by. It transpired he’d already finished, well ahead of us!

For several years, I led the running coaching for Brighton & Hove Albion. In the early days of that, Richard once asked if he could join one of our four-mile cross-country time trials. Amongst about 25 professional football players, Richard finished 9th. That was when Albion was in one of the lower divisions, but we did it again about four years later when we were in the first division… Richard came 2nd!

In the early 1980s, when I was coaching Brighton & Hove AC’s elite running group at Withdean, although there were approximately 20 runners in total, I don’t think they ever realised that I set all the sessions to revolve around what Richard was focussing on at the time.

Since you retired from running and coaching, I know you’ve remained close to the sport. Are there any significant memories from the latter years?

I’ve been fortunate enough to take on a number of roles since I stopped running.

I’ve been on the committee of AAA, and I was Secretary of both the Track & Field Commission and South of England Athletic Association. I also spent four years administering the out-of-competition drug testing for the British Athletics Federation.

And, in 2006, I went to the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, as Chair of the England Commonwealth Games Selectors. As you know, Mike, that was a difficult decision for me to go to Australia then, as it coincided with when Richard was in hospital with cancer, but Elaine persuaded me that I should go, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there was nothing I could do back at home.

Aside from all those great experiences, it’s always nice when I get well known people in the athletics world recognise me, like when Seb Coe spotted me in 2009 at the World Champs in Berlin and came over to say hello.

And, last year, whilst we were watching Brighton versus Man Utd at the Amex, it was a rather special moment to witness my other son, Andrew’s surprise when football legend Alan Mullery, in front of us, was signing autographs… I shouted to a fan “Do you want my signature?” He replied “Got it two years ago, Chris!”

Chris, you’re an absolute inspiration! Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved in running over the years, and on the many ways you’ve contributed to the sport since your own running days.

By Mike Bannister

Chris is 366 in the photo