Chicago Marathon Owes Sir Steve Jones the Keys to the City

It’s Now Sir Steve Jones (From the NER July/August 2019 edition “Intervals” section)


Steve Jones setting a world record at the 1984 Chicago Marathon. Photo by VictahSailer/PhotoRun

Welshman and former world marathon record holder Steve Jones, now residing in Colorado with frequent visits to New England, was recently awarded the prestigious Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II.

Not much was written about this in the British press other than the honor had been awarded for “service to the sport.”

So let us step in and suggest that it is long overdue that Jones should be awarded the keys to the Windy City, the CMLAA (Chicago Marathon Lifetime Achievement Award), a deep dish pizza, Chicago style hot dog, an ice fishing hut on Lake Michigan, and whatever else “Chicagoan” is on hand.

When Jones ran a world record 2:08:05 at Chicago in 1984 he put the event on the map. Chicago was just in its 8th year and trying to make a splash with energetic race director Bob Bright and the deep pockets of sponsor Beatrice Foods. London was only four years old. The huge marathon magnet for top talent resided in the East: Boston and New York.

Scouting the European track circuit for marathon potential, Bright lured Jones to Chicago in 1983 for a $1,500 fee. Past halfway, Jones stepped in a pothole, stepped to the side of the road and it was good-bye Chicago, hello 1984 Olympics.

Jones and Bob Hodge, members of the Eliot Lounge Loungers Relay team at the 2007 Cape Cod Marathon.

Jones would place 8th in the L.A. Olympic 10,000m and return to Chicago to join marathon gold medalist Carlos Lopes of Portugal, 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia, Boston Marathon champion Geoff Smith and a host of Kenyans led by defending champion Joseph Nzau.

The weather was lousy, 44˚ with wind and rain. The Olympics were in the rear-view mirror, however, and there was nothing to lose. To be gained by the winner was $250,000 in “Athletic Funds.” The first two miles into the wind were barely covered at sub-5 pace in 9:58, the next 10K with a tailwind in 29:54 (4:48 pace).

A chasm formed behind the lead pack. Approaching halfway into a headwind, the pace slowed into the 5:01 to 5:06 range. The swirling wind would soon subside, the rain lessen and then vanish over the remainder of the course, but the early fast pace and cold conditions had already been a welcome mat for attrition and fatigue. At 30K, Smith clipped Kamau who went down hard; Jones kept Smith from falling. Jones had wanted to get out ahead before, but held back, until this collision and the confidence of five weeks of altitude training were all the preamble needed.

With a four-mile stretch of miles from 4:47 to 4:41, the race was for second by the 22-mile mark. Jones ran the final 10K in 29:38 to lower Rob de Castella’s world record by 13 seconds. Lopes would take second a tad over a minute behind Jones in 2:09:06 with Deek arriving 3-ticks behind Lopes.

This marked the final year that pacemakers weren’t employed by various major marathons. The following year, 38 year-old Lopes would break the world record at the Rotterdam Marathon with the use of pacemakers.

Steve Jones and NER’s Michelle LeBrun at the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by FitzFoto/NERunner

We asked Jones what he thought about this and were surprised at how nonplussed he was about it, “I have no regrets, it’s how the sport changed…but I did it without any pacemakers,” he said with a wink and it occurs that our question came after an illustrious career that left little room for regrets.

The year following his world record in Chicago, Jones would win the London Marathon in 2:08:16; that August he’d set a half marathon world record of 1:01:14 and then return to win Chicago in a PR 2:07:13. In 1986 he captured bronze at the Commonwealth Games 10,000. Returning to the marathon distance, he won New York in 1988 (2:08:20) and Toronto in 1992 (2:10:06).






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