About Rod Dixon
Rod Dixon was for two decades one of the world’s great athletes.
He grew up in Nelson, New Zealand, where he was coached by his older brother John, who was a New Zealand Champion athlete himself. “I was inspired by Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, and the other runners of that era, and I remember standing for hours outside their hotel in Nelson waiting to get their autograph,” Dixon recalls. “However, my brother John was my hero – someone who I admired and was prepared to train very hard to please.”
He received his big chance at the 1972 New Zealand 1500m final when, after John Dixon had paced the race perfectly, Rod chased Tony Polhill down the final straight. A few weeks later (with his brother pacing again in the Olympic trials), Rod won the race and earned a selection for the Munich Olympics. At the Olympic Games, he improved throughout each of his heats, and raced to a bronze medal behind Pekka Vasala of Finland and Kip Keino of Kenya. On the podium, the young Dixon cried tears of joy.
Although known as a middle-distance track athlete, he was probably at his most dominant over cross country, where his strength on the hills made him someone to be feared. “He was the best cross country runner I ever saw,” John Walker said. “He’d lose me on the hills whenever he wanted. He was so strong.”
In addition to his Olympic Bronze and stunning 1983 NYC Marathon victory, Dixon’s athletic triumphs include: winning the national 1500m titles of New Zealand, France, U.S.A, and Great Britan; running the fifth fastest 1500m of all time (3:33.89) in 1974 at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games; a fourth-place finish in the 5000m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, behind the unmatchable Lasse Viren; victories at the Philadelphia Distance Classic in 1980 and 1981 in course record times; victories at the prestigious Examiner Bay to Breakers Road Race in San Francisco in 1982 and 1983 in course record time; and a 10th place finish in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics marathon.
Over his career, Dixon beat all the greats – Steve Prefontaine, John Walker, Lasse Viren, Henry Rono, Ben Jipcho, Brendan Foster, Dick Quax, Emil Puttemans, and many other world-class runners.
He was undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the sport, helping lead the world athletics transition from the stone-age amateur days into the modern professional era. He helped pioneer the business of earning a living from running. He grasped the trust fund concept early and, with the assistance of good legal representation, was able to keep prize money from races on the United States road racing circuit while others still anguished about whether they could accept prize money.
In addition to his running, for three years he was race director of Auckland’s Round the Bays run, which boasts some 80,000 runners, and was appointed as the coach for the Fijian Olympic team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Reflecting on his life of running, Dixon nominates two moments as being most memorable – the Olympic medal and the New York City Marathon victory.
Even after all these years, he has never lost his passion for running, and seeks to share his passion with the next generation. He still runs regularly, and also enjoys mountain biking and kayaking. Rod believes, “As you get older, your body is your life. If your body stays in good shape, you can lead a much fuller and more energetic life.”