(Collage from Gerhard Gellinger)

A few days ago I found two interesting articles about lifespans in athletes, and how the victory can affect lifespan. One of them compared longevity in gold and silver Olympic medallists in track and field disciplines, while the other focused on United States Olympic medallists in all disciplines.

When comparing gold and silver medallist, the first study focused on Olympic medallists from 1896 to 1948, when athletes were amateur, and doping use was scarce. It was found that on average winners died more than one year earlier than their silver contenders. It contradicts previous studies where achievements improved life expectancy, as for example after winning a Nobel Prize (1-2 extra years), or Oscar Award winners against nominees (4 years longer lives). Obviously there are differences, as these achievement are more subjective, and attained much later in life, especially when talking about the Nobel prizes.

It is suggested that maybe the gold medallists were less motivated later in life, affecting their career choices, as their income was significantly lower than the one from silver, or even bronze medallists. Another explanation could be that their victories would make them famous, and get them to a riskier lifestyle. Maybe those early achievements would increase the stress levels, as they would try to succeed in every future activity. Conclusions are limited, as there is no information about athletes’ lifestyles after retirement, or any influence of tobacco and alcohol. It is not clear if winning is a stimulus or a deterrent.

The second article focuses on life expectancies of a broader range of athletes, not only track and field, but using only athletes from the United States between 1904 and 1948. It includes gold, silver and bronze medallists, although the 1896 and 1900 Olympics were excluded because no silver or bronze medals were awarded.

This study assumes that a better prize allows a better socioeconomic status later in life. It also assumes similar health status in all medallists at the time of competition. Regarding happiness levels, winner is happy with his victory, while bronze medallist finds his third place as an achievement when comparing with the fourth classified, that doesn´t get any reward. On the contrary, silver medallist keeps thinking about how close was the victory, valuing the silver medal as a gold medal lost.

From 600 gold medallists, and nearly 400 silver and other 400 bronze medallists it was found that silver medallists lived on average 3 years less than medallists from the other two groups. Between gold and bronze medallists there we no differences in life expectancy. Worth noting that life expectancies of all medallists was higher than in the general population:


  • Population                        67.7
  • Bronze                               74.8
  • Silver                                  70.8
  • Gold                                   73.2

An explanation suggested is that winning silver is seeing with dissatisfaction, leading to an increase of stress hormones. This physiological alteration would extend for long time periods, compromising their health and affect their life expectancy.

As the article point out, individual mental health support should be facilitated when needed.

So remember: if you are not going to win a race, you may well try to finish happy, or alternatively go for the third place.



The effects of competition outcomes on health: Evidence from the lifespans of U.S. Olympic medalists.

Kalwij A.

Econ Hum Biol. 2018.


Dying to win? Olympic Gold medals and longevity.

Leive A.

J Health Econ. 2018.


Sohn Kee-Chung (1936)

“The human body can do so much. Then your heart and spirit must take over”.

S. Kee-Chung.

Helmet offered to Kee-Chung as a gift for his victory. Copy of a Greek helmet from century VI BC

Berlin was selected to host the 1936 Olympic Games over Barcelona, two years before the Nazi party got to power in Germany. Hitler saw them as an ideal opportunity to promote his ideas about racial supremacy and antisemitism. Some countries threatened to boycott the Games, when it was said that Jews athletes wouldn´t be allowed to participate. Nonetheless, concessions made from the German side decided the United States to finally compete, with more countries following suit. These concessions were not fruitful, as Germany was able to avoid his Jewish athletes from competition, and most other countries decided to apart them, trying no to offend the regime.

The 1936 Olympics would be the first figuring the torch relay, with the torch ignited in the temple of Hera in ancient Olympia, tradition that has survived almost exactly until our days. There were also the first Games to have live television coverage, although uniquely in certain locations. Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned to film the Games, with the film “Olympia” as a result.

During the opening ceremony and heading the Greek delegation was none other than Spiridon Louis, to mark the 40th anniversary of his marathon victory in Athens, in 1896. He was escorted to Hitler´s presence to offer him an olive branch from the Sacred Grove of Zeus in Olympia. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, and already in failing health, couldn´t enjoy the moment.

Sohn was born in Sinuiju, North Korea, in 1912, at a time where the Korean peninsula was under Japanese occupation. In the school it soon became obvious that he was talented for running and sent to Seoul to continue with his training and studies. He started competing in short distances, running his first marathon at 17. He would like the distance, running a total of 12 marathons over the next 5 years, and winning 9 of them. In November 1935 in Tokyo he managed to win the marathon in 2.26.42, a world record which would stay in place until 1947, and 5 minutes faster than the time used by Zabala to win the gold medal in the Olympics of 1932.

As mentioned earlier Korea was under Japanese occupation, so Sohn was only able to go to the Olympics defending the Japanese flag and using an iteration of his own name in Japanese, Son Kitei. It was the same case for the other two members of the Japanese marathon team.

On August 9th there were 59 athletes ready for the race. The Argentinian Zabala, one of the main favourites and defending champion, went strongly from start, abandoning the Olympic Stadium in first place. After 3 miles Sohn was 90 seconds behind Zabala, accompanied by the English Ernest Harper, who knowing of the early impetus of Zabala appeased Sohn to take things easy. As predicted by Harper, Zabala after 19 miles fell exhausted, with Sohn and Harper passing him.

Harper started having problems with blisters on his feet, giving Sohn an unexpected advantage and the lead. At mile 20 he had 25 seconds over Harper, with a group of 3 athletes more than 3 minutes behind. Recovering positions was other of the Korean-Japanese, Nam Sung-yong (under his Japanese name of Nan Shoryu).

Entering into the Olympic Stadium, with over 100 thousand spectators, Sohn won the race in 2.29.19, setting a new Olympic record and winning the first gold medal for Japan in an Olympic Game. It is the only time that a marathon world-record holder wins also the Olympic marathon. Harper was able to defend his second place, and win the silver 2 minutes later, with Nam claiming the third place shortly afterwards, after moving from a 33th place at the 10k marker.

During the medals ceremony both Korean bowed their heads during the Japanese anthem, to show politely their shame of having their nation under Japanese occupancy.

Sohn retired after the Olympics, at 24, becoming coach of the Korean marathon team after the war, and leading the first athletes ever to wear the Korean flag in their kit.

His career as coach was also very successful. He trained Suh Yun-bok, who won the Boston marathon in 1947 breaking his own world record in the process (2.25.39), and the team that got the top three places in the same marathon in 1950.

In the Olympics of 1988 he was honoured carrying the Olympic flame into the stadium in Seoul. This would not be his last honour. Still coaching, during the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, his protégé Hwang Young-jo won the second Korean Olympic gold in marathon.

Sohn Kee-chung, a marathon legend, as athlete and coach.



“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.

Sohn Kee-chung and Ernie Harper (1936)

INTERMITTENT DIETING (2/2): use in athletes and general recommendations

Many studies show that the refeeding periods are important to keep resting energy expenditure levels “active” and avoid some of the adaptations linked to most usual diets. Therefore the weight loss may be more effective, although most of the studies have been performed in obese/overweight people and not in athletes.

Athletes are individuals with high levels of physical activity and energy requirements, and they may like to reduce body weight in order to improve performance. Their approach to dieting should be careful to avoid unwanted effects on performance or health. A moderate strategy should involve weight losses of 0.5-1% of body weight per week (a maximum of 35% restriction in daily needs).

Intermittent dieting may be an alternative way of reducing energy intake while avoiding compensatory effects of long diets, as mentioned previously, although its effects on athletes have not been extensively studied.

Individuals with high protein diet (30% energy intake) had lower energy intake than those using a lower protein diet (15% energy intake), because of the satiating effects of proteins. Additionally high protein diets maintained muscles growth and restoration, while reducing fat free mass losses associated with diet. In resistance athletes a protein intake of 2-3g of proteins per kg of body weight maintained the fat free mass, while only 1g was insufficient.

Although it is usually assumed that a low level of carbohydrates is good for losing weight, a recent meta-analysis has shown that they low carbohydrates diets are not more efficient than low fat diets. 

Carbohydrates are a versatile source of energy that can be used for aerobic or anaerobic activities, with more efficiency than fat. A lower availability, because an emptying of glycogen stores or reduced blood glucose levels can affect performance, muscle fatigue and effort perception. It is usually recommended a quantity of 6-10g of carbohydrates per kg of weight per day for endurance athletes.

The key factors in losing weight seem to be the amounts of energy and proteins in the diet. During energy restriction stages it may be difficult to keep then energy intake low while maintaining carbohydrates and proteins ingestion at adequate levels.

During intermittent dieting it looks like carbohydrates should be preferentially chosen during the refeeding periods over proteins or fat.

A series of final recommendations:

  • Avoid fast weight loss and severe intermittent dieting to maintain fat free mass levels.
  • Combine resistance exercise with the diet, as it attenuates free mass loss and improve fat loss efficiency, while maintaining resting energy expenditure.
  • Maintain a high protein intake during the energy restriction, and increase the carbohydrates during the refeeding periods
  • Although there is no much information about the duration of each phase during intermittent dieting, for athletes would be reasonable to intercalate 2 weeks of energy restriction with 2 weeks of normal energy intake, which should coincide with the higher training volumes or better outcomes.



Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete.

Peos JJ, Norton LE, Helms ER, Galpin AJ, Fournier P.

Sports (Basel). 2019 Jan 16;7(1). pii: E22. doi: 10.3390/sports7010022.

INTERMITTENT DIETING (1/2): more effective than other diets?

Food pyramid of the US Department of Agriculture

Dieting has been extensively used by athletes, in order to lose body weight or fat prior to competition, especially in some sports with weight classes. Athletes, in opposition to overweight people, are usually interested in diets that maintain their fat free mass levels, in order to keep training levels and performance, and usually combine nutritional and exercise interventions.

The most used dieting strategies involve a continuous caloric restriction, although there are strong evidences suggesting that intermittent caloric restriction could be even more effective in losing weight. Continuous caloric restriction with high training levels could decrease performance, by a reduction in muscle strength, depletion of glycogen stores and increased irritability. These symptoms could be accompanied with chronic fatigue, a higher risk of injuries and an impaired immune system.

One of the approaches to achieve fast losses of body weight is the dehydration, restricting fluids intake and pursuing sweat, which is known to affect adversely the performance. Nevertheless this is not the only dubious technique, as there are many diets around nowadays, with most of them lacking any scientific fundament.

Intermittent dieting comprises “feed” and “fasting” periods. The feeding periods are thought to break the body fasting rhythm, as the body adapts to dieting via metabolic and hormonal changes that make more difficult to keep losing weight after the initial period.

Besides the fact that less weight means also less energy expenditure, there is a metabolic adaptation called “adaptive thermogenesis”, which explains why most obese individuals are unable to keep a 10% weight reduction over 12 months.  6 months of diet with 50% of the energy requirements in a group of individuals caused a 40% decrease in the baseline energy expenditure (25% from the weight loss and 15% from the adaptive thermogenesis).

Hormones are also important. Energy restriction procedures reduce the levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), leading to a decrease in resting energy expenditure and an increase in body fat levels. Leptin and ghrelin, working in opposition, are hormones regulating appetite. Low levels of leptin increase appetite. Their levels could be against further weight losses, by altering appetite or reducing energy expenditure, and they could be used as indicators of the metabolic adaption to energy restriction.

Adipocytes are cells working as fat storages, which adapt to energy restriction by reducing their size, which is accompanied by a reduction in the levels of leptin released. The decrease in size could be accompanied by a higher capacity of fat storage, making more difficult the continuous body weight. Additionally it has been shown in rodents that after a dieting period the number of adipocytes may increase, explaining the “rebound” effect of some diet procedures, where the final weight may be even higher than at the initial stage.

There are many variations of intermittent energy restriction. Some of them use short cycles:

  • Daily 16/8 method: days are composed of 16h energy restriction + 8h normal eating. All energy intake is concentrated in a 8-10 hours period (dinner and breakfast for example).
  • Alternate-day fasting: 24h partial/complete energy intake restriction + 24h normal eating.
  • The 5:2 method: two days severe energy restriction + 5 days normal eating.

While there are studies using longer cycles. For example:

  • 11 days of restriction (55% energy requirements) + 3 days normal eating. Over 6 weeks in obese women and compared with continuous dieting (45% energy requirements) it showed a greater weight loss four weeks after completion, with higher levels of resting energy requirements in the intermittent diet group.
  • “Matador” study, with 8 periods of 2 weeks of energy restriction (67% energy requirements) + 2 weeks of normal eating. After 16 weeks in obese men and compared with continuous dieting (67% energy requirements) it showed greater weight and fat losses, and a better maintenance of lost weight after six months in the intermittently dieting group.

In the next entry we will focus on intermittent dieting and athletes.

LISBON Eco MARATHON (05/05/19 – 80)

Race headquarters, and start/finish area (Eduardo VII Park)

Pros: faultless organisation; trail scenery; start/finish line in central Lisbon.

Cons: none I can think of.

Marathon start

Back again for the fourth time to this marathon, once it looks stable in the calendar. I went for a very early registration, almost one year in advance, getting a reduced-price tag of 24€.

As I described in last year report, the whole race is in the Monsanto Park in Lisbon, an uncommon chance of running a trail marathon without leaving the town. Course is one lap, and although some sections are followed twice, it doesn´t feel repetitive.

This year, and besides the half marathon and 12k race, is also offered a 3.5k walk, in collaboration with the ReFood organization, which tries to avoid food waste in cities, giving a second chance to still perfectly usable food to be consumed by people in need.

With only one week to rest from last weekend marathon, I went for a recovery week, with one swimming session on Wednesday and one light running (7k) on Thursday. On Saturday I got a soothing Chinese traditional massage to get into competition mood again.

Race starts at 8.30 at the top of the Eduardo VII park, with a warm morning ahead. The first section is downhill following a bike lane as we head towards Monsanto. Once we enter the park, most of the race will alternate between roads and unpaved tracks, undulating continuously. Abundant trees offer a helpful cover of the sun in most sections, and a relaxing view.

Carrying my own backpack and isotonic drink, I skip the first water stations. Later, I will alternate drinks, as the one liter I carry is not enough to get me to the finish line. All stations are well marshalled and have water and isotonic drink. More into the race they also offer fruits and energy gels. We cross some roads with traffic, but they are well controlled and there is no need to stop.

The recovery week seems to have done well for me, as I don´t feel as tired as last weekend. A trail marathon requires a different approach to a road one. Course may be more difficult, but there is not the same pressure of a road marathon, where you usually feel the need of achievement. In road marathons are usually important times, and how you pace yourself for a personal best, a season best, or get under that barrier. In a trail marathon is about achievement, enjoyment and obviously also finishing.

Race goes on swiftly, and I start recovering places from halfway onwards. Once in the bike lane for the last three kilometers to the finish line there is still a last uphill section, which I walked last year, and I can run today. Legs are tired, but not as punished as in other road races by this point.

I cross the finish line in a 4.24.13 and 41 position of 123 finishers. Not my PB on this race, but a good result to make me happy. If you got here, thanks for reading and see you soon.

Medal and running number

MARATONA DA EUROPA (Aveiro, PT) (28/04/19 – 79)

Natural Reserve of Dunas de São Jacinto

Pros: one lap course; same location for start, finish and running expo; support in locations; generous running bag.

Cons: pacers misplaced in the start area; confusing course variations between half and full marathon; small area for running expo in Congress Centre; not enough sea views, course could go to the Costa Nova area and avoid the first small loop around Aveiro.

Extra: successful proposal, especially for a first edition, is sure to become another date to consider in the running calendar. A pity its date coincidence with the highly popular Rock’n Roll Madrid marathon.

Marathon course and altimetry
Arrangements in the start/finish area on Saturday

First marathon organised in the town of Aveiro and the only one in continental Portugal besides the more popular of Lisbon and Porto. Aveiro is located in central Portugal, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and popular because of its channels and salt flats, being dubbed as the “Portuguese Venice”.

Race headquarter is in Aveiro Congress Centre, while the start and finish area are located in the channel area just in front of it. I arrive to pick my running kit on Saturday afternoon. It has a t-shirt, a bottle of wine, a deodorant and a cereal bar. I also get some force readings measured on my feet, as they were looking for volunteers to have them recorded before and after marathon completion.

In the evening we take the ferry to the Natural Reserve of the Dunas of San Jacinto. Maybe because the time of the day, walking into the empty beach with strong wind gusts, one get mentally transported to the desert. After enjoying the short detour, time to get back to Aveiro following the road, as the ferry services are not very frequent, for dinner and sleep.

With the marathon, there are also a half marathon and 10k races available, all scheduled for an 8.30 start. After breakfast, a short walk get me to the start with time to do some stretching. Temperature is ideal and humidity high because of the fog. There are starting boxes and race pacers, although they are all located just in the front line.

Training sessions during the week were light, trying to get a full recovery from 2 weeks ago, although I felt quite tired during each one of them. When we go, it takes me 1 kilometre to get to 4.30 group, another one for the 4.15, and a few more to get pass the 4.00 group. The first miles we surround Aveiro, before getting back and head towards the seaside. The marathon course is 1 lap long, so once we abandon Aveiro we are not coming back until aiming for the finish line.

We follow main roads, and cross some neighbourhoods, in our way to the Atlantic shore near Barra beach. Although the sections following the roads are a bit boring, they are compensated by the enthusiastic supporters when we arrive to populated areas. Course is not as flat as it could appear, as we cross some bridges in the highways. Additionally we don´t get much occasion to enjoy sea views, because of the course and the persistent fog, which stays in place until near midday.

As for myself, I never find my ideal pace and the 3.45 group is not going to be on reach. Crossing the half marathon shy of the 2 hour barriers, and predictably slowing down in the second half, I decide to take things easy. With the temperature rising I try to drink enough in every station. By mile 20 I also have some discomfort in my left foot. Today I had changed my racing shoes for my training shoes, heavier and not as comfy for a marathon run.

I finish in 4.03.27, in 675 position out of 1122 finishers in the marathon distance, receiving a nice medal and a finisher t-shirt. Time to recover for next week event in Lisbon, which will make for number 80.


1K+ Racing AWARD

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Celebrating today the first year of the Onekmore blog initiative we want to give something back to the running community.

Therefore we have established the first “1K+ Racing Award” to help a lucky person run his/her future objective race, covering/helping with the registration fee.

Tell us your story or motivation for a future race, or the one from that person you know have economic difficulty to afford race registration, and we may get it happening.

Share this initiative with your contacts using your social networks and spread the word.

You may contact us using our email, or sending a private message using our social networks (Facebook, Whatsapp +447972836711, Instagram #onekmore, or our webpage

Thanks for being there, and be part of the 1K+ community.

Deadline: 08/06/2019

Winner to be announced: 15/06/2019


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From A Coruña after running its marathon we head towards Asturias. There is time enough to do a short stop in Lugo to appreciate its old quarters, surrounded by a roman wall perimeter in very good shape, and World Heritage by UNESCO.

Route day 1
Tower of Hercules (A Coruña)
Roman wall (Lugo)

Entering to Asturias by Ribadeo, we follow national roads with plenty of peaceful beaches to stroll around. Not to miss the beautiful village of Cudillero, which welcome us with unpleasant weather.


After spending the night, next day we visit Oviedo and Gijón, two of the main cities in Asturias, as we follow the coastal road eastwards. Abandoning the main road, we head towards Cangas de Onís, and from there to the “Picos de Europa” National Park, and Covadonga, where we will spend the next couple of nights.

Route day 2
Oviedo Cathedral
Typical cahopo with cider (Cangas de Onís)
Gijón seaside

Covadonga is one of the main entrances to the Picos de Europa National Park. It is a small village with restricted car access in top season and famous because of its Sanctuary celebrating the first victory of Christian Spain against the Muslim army that conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula in the VIII century.  It is an ideal base to visit the famous Lakes of Covadonga, Enol and Ercina, 8 miles from here, and accessible by public bus, or sometimes by private car. The lakes can be visited walking, using a short or long route, from the Enol, or using a taxi.

Map of the "Lagos de Covadonga" area
Enol Lake
Ercina Lake

If visiting a National Park is a good idea to idea to do some walking and immerse in the surroundings. We spend the morning doing so, driving up to the Enol lake, and then walking the long route towards Ercina, crossing the old mining sites and the Palomberu forest.

Palomberu Forest
Buferrera mining site

After a picnic lunch and back in the car we head towards Cabrales to visit its cheese museum. Cabrales is a blue cheese, maturated in caves, typical of the area. The museum explains the production process and offers a tasting of cider and cheese. Before sunset we get to Poncebos, finishing point of the “Ruta del Cares”, one of the most popular treks in Picos de Europa, where we can appreciate the scenery before returning home and get dinner.

A special mention to the food, as every lunch is an occasion to taste some of the culinary specialities, such as cachopo, fabada, cabrito and the many cheeses. The meat quality is excellent, from animals grown in freedom and fed on green natural pastures. An ideal combination of good food quality and affordable prices.

"Denominación de Origen" Cabrales cheese

Last day is time to get back home, although there is still time to visit some spots despite the rainy weather. In Covadonga before leaving we visit the cave dedicated to the Virgin. Already on the way back we stop in the beautiful village of Potes, with its popular monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, where we get to taste a traditional “cocido lebaniego”.

View to Covadonga Monastery
Chapel of the Virgin of Covadonga
Cocido lebaniego

Leaving the National Park areas and their green setting seems as a good conclusion to a worthy holiday break.

View of National Park "Picos de Europa"



Pros: cheap registration (25€); well provided drink stations; finish line in the Town Hall main square.

Cons: 3-laps course; long unfriendly section (about 2 miles) in the port area; shuttle bus to the start arriving too close to the start time.

Finish area (Maria Pita Square)
C42K course
Running number

First race in Galicia, where I have never competed before. It was the only marathon in Galicia until this year, which saw also the first edition of Vigo’s marathon on the previous weekend. Not very good timing for both races that could do better more separated in the calendar.

Organised just starting my Easter holiday break I arrive on Friday, with a whole weekend to take things easy. On Saturday I collect my running number and t-shirt in the sports section of a big commercial centre. The rest of the day I walk around town to get a sight of the most touristic spots, as the Tower of Hercules, the oldest lighthouse still working in the world, and declared World Heritage by Unesco.

On race day, I take the free shuttle bus to the start offered by the organisation, saving a 30-minutes walk, and arriving to the finish area and cloakrooms at 8.10. With marathon starting at 8.30 there is just enough time to leave my bag, and walk towards the start line, a short walk away. We are about 500 runners for the marathon, and more than 1000 for the 10k race scheduled at 8.45.

Ideal conditions for running with cloudy sky and about 14-15°C I decide to tag with the 3.30 group, as in the last marathon. Although not feeling so strong, if things go according to plan I should be able to finish with the 3.45 group. We start and follow the seaside as we run towards the old town area, with the only uphill section of the course, compensated as we head back following the same road. After only 2 miles the 3.30 group is already distancing itself.

All drinking stations have water and isotonic drinks, plus bananas and oranges. We never coincide with the 10k runners, and is easy to follow marathon development and positions. Going into the port area, that is indicated with an arch saying “Welcome to hell”, and with some “demons” cheering the runners, there is a 2 miles section, with tarmac in bad conditions and totally absent of any attraction.

Near the finish line we start the second lap. I cross the half marathon in 1.50.14, slightly slower than Badajoz, with the 3.45 group getting closer, and the first three runners lapping me. Entering the third lap, clouds break and temperature gets warmer. I tag with the 3.45 group for a couple miles, but a sudden speed change leaves most of the runners in the small group behind. Luckily there are no more laps left.

I cross the finish line in 3.48.39, just 4 second slower than in the Badajoz marathon, where I run the first half more than 4 minutes faster. I was better able to keep my pace at the second half this time around and finish 325 out of 492.

Now a short rest, as in 2 weeks I will be heading to Aveiro, in Portugal, to run its first marathon, and a week later to Lisbon, once again for its Eco marathon.

Marathon runners in the start area


Juan C Zabala in 1932

“In spirit, in heart, and in endurance, Juan C. Zabala, a slim young son of Argentina, was the modern reincarnation of Pheidippides of old”.

Los Angeles Examiner, after his Olympic victory.

Los Angeles was selected as the Olympic host of the 1932 meeting, as it was the only city candidate. Celebrated during the Great Depression the number of athletes in these Games was smaller than in Stockholm 1928.  It was the first time an Olympic village was built to allocate the athletes (only the males, as females were distributed among hotels in the city), and the first time a podium was used to give the medals.

Early on 1932 the great favourite for the marathon was the Finnish Paavo Nurmi, even when he had never completed a full marathon. In the Finnish trials he retired after 40k, having managed an astonishing time of 2 hours and 22 minutes. Having travelled to Los Angeles, he was excluded by the IAAF three days before the Olympics for violating the amateur rules after receiving some money in one of his running tours. With Nurmi out of the scope, and no clear favourite, British Sam Ferris and Duncan McLeod, and Finnish trial winner Armas Toivonen, looked as the top contenders for the marathon victory.

Juan Carlos Zabala, nicknamed the “Ñandu criollo”, was born in 1912. Orphan since very young his childhood was not easy, growing in an orphanage. He started running early, and among other victories in shorter distances, he had already won the Kosice marathon in 1931 and competed in two of the North-American trials, after moving to the United States to acclimate for the Olympics. At the time it was illegal to compete in the Olympic marathon to athletes younger than 20, so the Chilean president allowed him to change his date of birth to 1911 to compete in Los Angeles.

Race started on August 7th at 15.38, with 29 runners from 15 countries. Argentina, Finland, Japan, Canada and the United States entered 3 athletes each. It was the marathon with less runners since the opening Games of 1896. The Olympic stadium had 80 thousand spectators to enjoy the last day of track and field events.

Zabala took the lead early, being the first out of the stadium. The course toured the city, with 7 intermediate control stations that allowed spectators in the stadium know about the race development. By the second station (4.5 miles) Zabala was still in the lead, followed by the Mexican Pomposo just seconds behind him, and a group of 7 runners later.

By the fourth station (14.5 miles) Zabala was still in the lead, with a 1-minute advantage over Finland´s Virtaner, and Toivonen in third place. Virtaner managed to get in the lead, although his hard effort would be pointless, as he started losing positions, retiring at 23 miles. McLeod, according to his plan of attacking in mile 20 was the leader at the sixth station (22 miles), followed by Zabala, Toivonen, and Japanese Tsuuda, one minute behind each, and Ferris in fifth place.

McLeod leadership was short-lived, and by the last control station (24 miles) Zabala was again in the lead, although struggling. Ferris, still fresh, started rapidly climbing positions from behind. It looked that he would manage to close the gap and claim victory. Entering the stadium for the last lap, Zabala hold his place and managed to win the gold medal in 2.31.37, with Ferris entering just 19s behind, and Toivonen closing the medal positions a further 17s behind. McLeod would finish fourth, 29s after Toivonen, for the most contended marathon until then.

Zabala became a celebrity, living in the United States for some time, and competing all over Europe. This would not be the last Olympic appearance for Zabala, as he tried to revalidate his title in Berlin four years later, having bettered the 20k world record only a few months earlier. He was the flag bearer for Argentina in the opening ceremony and managed to finish sixth in the 10000 metres. In the marathon he took an early lead again, but around the 30k abandoned the race, and retired from athletics shortly afterwards, being only 25.

Zabala was an inconsistent marathon runner, as he competed in five marathons but only was able to finish the two he won. Later in his life he was accused of having Nazi links, as he was running partner of Heinrich Himmler, SS leader, while in Germany. He rejected these theories alleging that was later rejected entry in Germany because of helping some Jewish to escape to Denmark.

An Argentinian movie based on his life, “Campeón a la Fuerza”, premiered in 1950. In 1980 he was named best Argentinian athlete of the century, dying in 1983.



“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.

"El Gráfico", 26/09/1931
"El Gráfico", 02/04/1932
"El Gráfico", 27/08/1932