A chat with… Bill Martin, former Olympic Trials track athlete
NEW CANAAN — Bill Martin wanted to play basketball when he was in Catholic Memorial School in his native Boston.
He didn’t make the third cut and so instead he went to the track team.
Over a decade later, he had qualified to three Olympic Trials and competed all over the world against the best runners in the 800 and 1000 meters.
Martin, 61, is currently the New Canaan High School track and cross country coach in addition to coaching the team he founded in 2012, the New Canaan Blazers.
A: I started running in high school, at Catholic Memorial High School, my freshman year. We only had two sports: football and cross country.
The freshman team only ran 1.8 miles, the same distance as our novice race here at Waveny. I could barely make it around the field, but by the end of the season myself and one other boy were first or second all the time but I had started out eighth or ninth at the beginning.
A: I ran cross country and got better at the end of it. Winter comes along and I go for basketball and after making the second cut, I see the basketball coach talking to the track coach. I didn’t make the last cut so I ended up going to track.
Freshman year I set the national record for the 1000 yards, scored fourth in the varsity state meet and won the state championship. You have to look at things and wonder — I could have pursued something else but you also have to have people interested. My coach knew I could run and by the end of my freshman year, I had beaten the national freshman champ in the mile, running a 4:34 and 1:51 in the 880 yards.
A: In college, I was an All American Division I, the junior national champion in the 800 and the 10th fastest 800-meter runner in the country and qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1976 in Eugene, Ore.
A: I found out the night before the finals. I was running for the New York Athletic Club at the time. I was exactly 23 years old, just hitting my prime.
They told us. This was the same year the hockey team had beat Russia — those players were under the same cloud we were under (or possibly not going to the Olympics). They were an 11th-hour decision to go compete; we were just the opposite.
A: I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I woke up at five o’clock that morning, probably slept four or five hours and went on a run to the fields practically in tears. The Trials are just that, they mean nothing. You don’t get a medal for winning. It’s just one of those things where it’s soul-crushing.
A: I did. I wanted to keep running and I kept running after 1980. I had a great career, don’t get me wrong. I won the national championship in 1978, 1980 and 1981. I won the Millrose Games in 1980.
I was well known in Europe. I was in some great races and I was in the race with Sebastian Coe when he broke the world record for 1000 meters in 1981 — I was right behind him. He was the No. 1-ranked runner in the world.
A: I coached at Boston University, then head of cross country at Iona College and was also at Norwalk.
You can’t coach yourself. I could not coach myself, as much as I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t. You can give yourself quality workouts and lay out the best plans for yourself but when it boils down to it, you really need someone over you.