Friday, 10 August 2012

Professional Runners of Yesteryear - The Bunioneers

Running for their Lives  Mark Whitaker  - Yellow Jersey Press

We are now used to the concept of the professional runner, both in terms of the athlete's approach to his sport and his funding. Mark Whitaker's book harks back to an era, not that long ago, when amateurism was king and the professional athlete, the man who earned his living from running, was shunned by the athletics establishment. This is the story of two men, the middle class Arthur Newton who had gone out to South Africa and in particular Natal to seek his fortune and Peter Gavuzzi a ship's steward who wanted to travel.

Newton's notoriety as a long distance runner only began after his fortieth birthday. He took up ultra running in an attempt to make a political point in Natal, but it was to become his means of earning a living. He and Gavuzzi became friends during the first Transcontinental race across America in 1928 and this friendship developed into a business partnership as endurance athletes. Despite their undoubted friendship, Newton was always the leader and Gavuzzi the follower. The latter always referred to his middle class friend as, "Mr Newton."

Neither man made a fortune from their racing and their sponsorship deals and the professional/amateur split meant that they could not openly pass on their knowledge and coaching skills. Both men eked out rather impecunious and lonely old ages with little acknowledgement for their athletic achievements.

Running and runners gives the structure and background for this book but it is not just a book for the avid fan of athletics. There is an element of social documentary. It deals with class divisions and aspects of colonial rule in Africa. It deals with men who were running for their lives.

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