Shorter, Frank Charles

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SHORTER, Frank Charles

(b. 31 October 1947 in Munich, Germany), long-distance runner who won the gold medal in the Olympic marathon in the 1972 Munich Games and the silver medal in 1976 in Montreal, and who was credited with popularizing recreational running in the United States.

Shorter was one of eleven children of Samuel Sanford Shorter, a physician, and Katherine Chappell Shorter, an artist. Shorter was born in Munich while his father served as a doctor for the armed forces in postwar Germany. The family returned to the United States in 1948 and eventually settled in Middletown, New York, in 1951. Shorter was successful in athletics at an early age. The realization that he could excel at running led him to cross-country and track at the Mount Hermon School for boys (now known as Northfield Mount Hermon School), a preparatory school in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts. In his senior year he was undefeated in cross-country, breaking records on every course he ran.

In autumn 1965 Shorter enrolled at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, where he trained under the guidance of Bob Giegengack, who had coached at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Balancing running with academics, Shorter was a steady if not spectacular runner during his first three years at Yale, blossoming as a senior. In summer 1967 Shorter's father became a missionary doctor in Taos, New Mexico, and the family moved there from Middletown. The move was a boon to Shorter's running, permitting him to train at a 7,000-foot altitude during the summers away from Yale in 1967 and 1968, when the oxygen-thin air improved his conditioning.

In August 1968 Shorter traveled to Alamosa, Colorado, to take part in the Olympic marathon trials. Because he could not afford racing shoes, he borrowed a pair from Ambrose "Amby" Burfoot, a Wesleyan College runner against whom Shorter had competed, and the winner of the Boston Marathon four months before. Although Burfoot's generosity to a potential rival was large, his shoes were a half size too small, and while Shorter ran well in the heat and altitude, blistered and bleeding feet forced him to quit three-fifths of the way through. The experience was nevertheless valuable, since it revealed to Shorter that he was not far behind the country's elite runners, and could be even better with added training.

Shorter's summers of running at high altitude and his increased devotion to training resulted in All-America honors in his senior year at Yale. He improved from nineteenth place at the six-mile distance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cross-country championship in November 1968 to first place at the same distance in the NCAA track championship the following June. Graduating with a B.A. in psychology from Yale in 1969, Shorter devoted himself completely to running. He trained winters in Florida and summers in Colorado. He entered medical school at the University of New Mexico in 1969 but dropped out after only six weeks for lack of funds and time. In the spring of 1971 he began attending law school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, but did so only when it did not interfere with training.

Although Shorter competed in the 10,000 meters, by the end of 1971 he determined that his best event was the marathon. In June 1971 he finished second in the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) marathon championship in Eugene, Oregon, with a time of 2:17:45, and in August he won the event in 2:22:40 at the Pan-American Games in Cali, Colombia. Shorter's breakthrough came in December at the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan, a prestigious race limited by invitation to 100 elite world runners. Shorter won in 2:12:51, his best time by nearly five minutes, proving that he could prevail over a world-class field in the marathon. Shorter was determined to direct his training to peak during the following summer, with an eye on a possible medal in the Olympics. His efforts qualified him for both the 10,000 meters and the marathon.

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian members of the Black September movement. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) determined that the games would go on. Shorter was devastated by the turn of events and felt genuine fear that there could be other attacks. Still, the tragedy put his own competition into perspective. The ultimate sacrifice made by the Israelis inspired him when the marathon race got tough. The result was a historic performance. No American had won the marathon since Johnny Hayes in 1908. Shorter's competition included the Australian world record holder Derek Clayton, the defending Olympic champion Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, and the renowned British runner Ron Hill.

Shorter bided his time for the first nine miles of the race, choosing to run behind the leaders, but staying in close contact. At fifteen kilometers (9.3 miles), the pace slowed when the course took a 180-degree turn, and Shorter broke away from the lead pack. The aggressiveness of the move was risky, perhaps even reckless, since there were nearly seventeen miles left in the marathon. Nevertheless, he continued to press the lead, increasing it over the next three miles. With eight miles left, he had a sixty-second lead, which swelled to a minute and a half over the next three to four miles. His time of 2:12:19 was two minutes ahead of the silver medalist.

Shorter's victory had far-reaching effects. The 1972 marathon was the first to receive featured national television coverage, which included commentary by Erich Segal, the popular author of the popular novel Love Story (1970) and a marathon runner. As a professor at Yale, Segal knew Shorter, and provided the audience with a personal description of both the runner and the marathon as an event. The ruggedly handsome Shorter, with his thick dark hair and moustache, wore the attention well. The ensuing spotlight, including Shorter's picture on the cover of Life magazine, made him a pioneer in what became a boom in recreational running.

Shorter won the Fukuoka Marathon three more times (1972–1974), and the U.S. Olympic marathon trial in 1976. He was the national champion in the 10,000 meters five times (1971, 1973–1975, 1977). However, at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada, he was unable to repeat his Munich victory. When Shorter attempted a midrace surge as he had in Munich, he was followed by Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany. Later, at twenty miles, Shorter could not match a similar surge by Cierpinski, who completed the race in a then-Olympic record of 2:09:55. Finishing second for the silver medal, Shorter realized that his independent method of training would no longer be sufficient against the scientific methods employed by the East Germans.

Years later, with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the opening of previously secret East German records, Cierpinski's name appeared on a list of athletes given illegal performance-enhancing substances. Although Shorter hoped to claim the 1976 marathon gold medal, an IOC rule set a three-year limitations period for revoking medals. Shorter became an advocate in the battle against illegal drug use in sports. In April 2000 he was appointed as the chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the organization in charge of Olympic drug testing in the United States.

Shorter popularized running in the United States, in part through his intense rivalry with Bill Rodgers, the four-time winner of the Boston and New York marathons. "Bill and I showed people that if you really focused on a goal and could withstand social pressure long enough, you could achieve something," Shorter reflected. "It was easy for people to identify with us. Then researchers began studying runners and showing how fitness reduced the risk of heart disease. This further validated what we did."

By age thirty-five Shorter realized that he could no longer compete at a world-class level. However, he continued to race in master's series events in his forties and fifties. After his career as an elite runner ended, he earned a law degree from the University of Florida in 1974. Admitted to the Colorado bar in 1975, he was briefly associated with the Boulder, Colorado, firm of French and Stone, but did not commence a career as an attorney. Rather, he remained active in the racing community and began a career as a television commentator for track and field events. His 1970 marriage to Louise Gilliland ended in divorce in 1985. On 23 May 1986 he married Patricia Walford, but the marriage ended in divorce in 2000. He fathered seven children. In 1991, while participating in a race to benefit victims of child abuse, Shorter revealed that he had suffered from such abuse.

Shorter was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame (1984), National Track and Field Hall of Fame (1989), and National Distance Running Hall of Fame (1998). With his Olympic success and his work as a television track and field commentator, Shorter has been the seminal figure in the American running boom.

Shorter's autobiography, written with Marc Bloom, is Olympic Gold: A Runner's Life and Times (1984). Useful articles include Shorter, "Through a Child's Eyes," Runner's World (Aug. 1996); John Meyer, "Run for the Ages: Shorter's Golden Moment in Munich Touched Millions," Rocky Mountain News (25 May 1997); and Marc Bloom, "Frankly Speaking," Runner's World (Sept. 1997).

Dennis Watson