Last Updated on October 31, 2015 by Jimson Lee
If you think Jim Thorpe got screwed over by Avery Brundage, then John Tarrant is another person to add to that list.
John Tarrant was banned for life from running because he was paid £17 GBP for expenses as a teenage boxer in the 1950s, thus labeling him as a “professional”.
But his love for running was greater than that. He ran without a bib number (we call them “bandits” nowadays) and he became one of the greatest long-distance runners the world has ever seen.
There are several reviews of his book on the web. The best 2 are here:
Here’s a snippet:
But Tarrant, wearing a rucksack packed with rocks, pounded the Derbyshire hills, growing stronger, faster and more angry with every patronising rejection he received. By the summer of 1956, it was a hell he could no longer live in. Arriving alone in Liverpool on a warm, August Saturday he calmly stepped unannounced into a crack field of international marathon runners, wearing moth-eaten plimsolls and a shirt with no number. For over 20 miles no one could touch him; then, just as suddenly, he was gone.
Within 24 hours, his story was out, and every newspaper wanted a piece of it. The Daily Express tracked him down to Buxton and tagged him “the ghost runner”. “I ran to convince the AAA that I am purely amateur and race for the love of it,” he told them. “I needed to show I had the ability.”
For left-leaning tabloids such as the Daily Mirror, this dour, hard man was manna from heaven; a working-class underdog in a loaded fight against the chinless toffs they had hoped a Labour government would sweep away.For the next two years, “the ghost” gatecrashed races all over Britain, and as security increased to stop him, so did Tarrant’s cunning. Apoplectic officials armed with his photograph would be left fuming when he hopped off the back of his brother’s motor-cycle, slipped out of a crude disguise near the start and hared off after the leading pack, the crowd delightedly urging on the man with no number.
Finally, in 1958 – with one terrible caveat – the administrators caved in. Tarrant would be allowed to run in Britain, but never for Britain. There would be no GB blazer, no parade under the Italian sun. Instead, almost permanently broke, wearied by the battle and steadily weakened by stomach cancer, he took himself to new challenges beyond the reach of the “gentlemen players”. In the 1960s world records would come at 40 miles and then 100 miles (over 12 non-stop hours around a track). In South Africa he tore up the apartheid rulebook, running as the only white in outlawed black races, a “ghost among ghosts”; he is still a hero there today, long after he succumbed to his illness in 1975.