1964 – Basil Heatley

Source: Long Hard Road – Part One: Nearly to the top by Ron Hill

13-Jun-1964 – Polytechnic Marathon – 2:13:55 – Gola running shoes
Date of birth: 25-Dec-1933 (died 3-Aug-2019 – aged 85)
Nationality: English
World Record Duration: 4 months, 8 days

The athlete:                
Basil Heatley dabbled in marathon running earlier in his career, but much preferred cross country running where he won multiple titles at home before conquering the International Cross Country Championship in 1961. It was that same year that he set the new world record in the 10 mile distance.

He had previously missed selection for the 1960 Olympics, and set his sights for the 1964 event. Heatley believed his best bet was in the marathon, so he shifted his training accordingly. At his peak, Heatley was putting in 125 miles each week. He took every opportunity for training, Heatley even running to and from work to build his mileage. In 1964, he lined up for the Polytechnic Marathon, the key qualification test for the Olympics. As you can read more about in this article here, it was one of the most significant marathons in Europe, the course based on that used at the 1908 Olympics and where the standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards was first implemented.

Starting gently, Heatley soon found himself climbing up the standings. He caught the leader, Ron Hill, with five miles to go. The pair fought over the lead, but with half-a-mile left, Heatley started sprinting, and took the win. His time was an incredible 2:13:55, the first man ever beneath 2:14. It was more than enough to get Heatley into the Olympics. He faced weather on race day that was extremely humid and warm by marathon standards. Heatley developed a stitch soon after starting, and took the first half at an easy pace. He would soon find pace, running with countryman Brian Kilby as the two made their way up the field.

Nearing the finish, Heatley could see he was gaining on Kōkichi Tsuburaya. Sensationally, he started sprinting just as he had at the Polytechnic Marathon and snatched second place inside the stadium itself. He was four minutes behind the legendary Abebe Bikila, and while acknowledging his own achievement Heatley still believed he was outclassed. Heatley would retire from competitive running when he got home, but his silver still stands as the highest finish for Great Britain in the men’s marathon.

The shoes:                   

I had initially struggled to even find clear photographs of Heatley from the day of the 1964 Polytechnic Marathon to see the shoes he wore. Thankfully, my searches paid off and eventually I was able to come across the images here, and in the archives of the University of Westminster I found yet another angle of the shoes which you can see here.

They had distinctive stripes, with one down the front of the shoe and two spaced some distance apart on the midfoot complete with one final stripe rising diagonally to the back. They did not initially resemble any of the major brands at the time, except one. The Spartan_Harriers page on Instagram was of enormous help, suggesting that the shoes were by English manufacturer Gola. They were more known for their football boots during this era, but dabbled in other types of athletic footwear.

Their stripe pattern changed in the years after Heatley set the world record to the design most would now be familiar with, but from the catalogue photo of the track spikes provided by Gola themselves, and the photo from Spartan_Harriers, they did use a stripe pattern for some period of time that closely resembles what Heatley wore. I was provided with further information about Gola by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery including some further catalogue images. Until a more definitive identification can be made, I’m quite comfortable saying that he wore Gola running shoes to set the marathon world record.

I had previously thought that Heatley wore modified Adidas 9.9 track spikes, which he had bought several of for shorter distance races. As they started wearing down, he would eventually take them to a local cobbler who replaced the sole, put on new rubber and added extra cushion. Interestingly, Adidas released in limited numbers a version of the 1956 Melbourne track spike, from which the 9.9 was developed, in similar form in 2003.

On the day of the 1964 Polytechnic Marathon however, Heatley recalled that “my feet were happy to be in a pair of lightweight racing shoes rather than the conventional worn-out track spikes which I used for most of my training” which rules out the converted track spikes, noting that there was no reason that in replacing the sole the cobbler would have removed the third Adidas stripe. After his brief dalliance with Gola, Heatley laced up the Onitsuka Tiger Super Marup that for the 1964 Olympics, that had their own distinctive appearance. You can read about them here in my article on Toru Terasawa.