No.8 Paul McCloy

TEN BEST ATHLETES Olympian Paul McCloy had remarkable running career

John Browne
Published on July 5, 2008
Paul McCloy - File photo by The Associated Press

He trained most of his career on the streets of St. John's, running in all sorts of weather and in odd places such as inside Memorial Stadium and in the tunnels under Memorial University.

But Paul McCloy made a name for himself on roads and tracks around the world and that's why he is No. 8 on The Telegram's list of all-time top 10 athletes.

He trained most of his career on the streets of St. John's, running in all sorts of weather and in odd places such as inside Memorial Stadium and in the tunnels under Memorial University.

But Paul McCloy made a name for himself on roads and tracks around the world and that's why he is No. 8 on The Telegram's list of all-time top 10 athletes.

McCloy was a reluctant star who rose to national and international prominence in the mid-1980s, cumulnating with an eighth-place finish at the 1987 world track and field championships and a trip to the Seoul Olympics the following year.

The St. John's native developed a sloppy, distinctive gait and, while his form was far from classic, the pale, lanky athlete quickly became the greatest middle distance runner this province ever produced and some rate him among the very the best in Canadian history.

Some of his mainland competitors nicknamed him "Three-lane McCloy," suggesting opponents had to go all the way out to Lane 3 to get around him.

"It is true that he did not have a classically smooth action, but no matter how it looked, it worked for Paul," said track and field coach Ray Will.

It worked so effectively that by 1986, McCloy was the second fastest 22 year-old 10,000 metre runner in the world. That year, he posted four of the five fastest times at the distance in Canada.

"He seemed to know instinctively what would work for him as far as training was concerned," said Will, "and he needed very little direction in preparing a training program. And in common with other greats, little things like blizzards and wind storms never got in the way of his training."

Chris Pickard's first impression Paul McCloy was a lasting one. Pickard, who met McCloy about 10 days after arriving in the province in 1976, accompanied a Newfoundland team to a junior cross-country championship in Halifax, where McCloy won.

Pickard said he saw something special in McCloy right away, and the track and field coach has remained impressed with the athlete and the man.

"He's the most modest athlete I ever met in my life," Pickard said.

Pickard said McCloy pretty much picked up things up on his own, but he was always open for a advice from others, including his friends.

"He was very coachable. I talked to him about where he should keep his arms when he was running and he said to me one day, 'perhaps I should run with my head' and I just laughed. He generally coached himself," said Pickard. "I think he was born to run."

McCloy would usually run 12 to 15 miles twice a day, once in the morning by himself and once in the evening with his friends. The morning run was the hard work, but when he ran with his friends, he stayed with the group even though he could easily leave them behind if he pushed it.

Occasionally - even in the winter months - he'd run after midnight, "when the traffic wasn't so dense and he had less chance of being knocked down by a car," noted Pickard.

He often ran all over town, a lot of times in the older section of the city, and sometimes he'd just run up and down Bristol Street, where he lived.

Pickard took McCloy and his Memorial University teammates to the national university indoor meet one year in Moncton, N.B., where McCloy opened a lot of eyes by winning the 3,000 metres one day and the 1,500 metres the next.

He recalls coaches from other provinces being completely surprised by McCloy's performance. They had no idea who he was and shook their heads when Pickard said McCloy might win the 3,000 and finish in the top three of 1,500 event.

When the races were over and McCloy had won both, it led to a few coaches asking Pickard if the Newfoundland runner was on steroids. If they were kidding, Pickard didn't share their sense of humour. He basically said he didn't want to talk to any of them again.

In later years, anyone who knew anything about distance running in Canada knew McCloy's name.

"He is not just one of the finest distance runners. He is one of the finest athletes, and I think he is the best runner Canada has ever produced," said Pickard.

"He was self-reliant, there's no question about that," said Art Meaney, another early influence on McCloy.

"His various coaches over the years were more advisers than anything," noted Meaney. "He picked things up very quickly and he trained very hard."

Meaney a former teacher at Gonzaga High School helped McCloy in Grade 10, when the former figure skater first showed interest in distance running at the school. Meaney, a runner himself, encouraged McCloy in the sport.

"He had a lot of things going in his favour. He was one of those athletes who excels in an individual sport. He never found team sports much to his liking. Once he started running he loved it. He had tremendous talent. He had strong focus and was prepared to train very hard and put in the time and effort."

McCloy's key to success is hard to pin down, but Meaney believes one factor can be measured.

Meaney said McCloy's oxygen uptake measurement (BO2 Max test), used to see if athletes can utilize oxygen more efficiently than other people, produced a very high score, "which is very important if you are going to be a successful long distance runner. So he was blessed genetically to begin with. He had a very strong cardiovascular system."

Pickard said while McCloy was a fierce competitor who obviously wanted to win every race he entered, he wasn't into embarrassing his opposition. Never flamboyant, he showed little emotion after a win and it was easier getting blood from a turnip than getting him to talk about himself.

"He's a very quiet guy," said Meaney, who has run a few times with McCloy. "You had to get to know him and spend some time with him before he started to talk very much about his races or himself which he is very reluctant to do. He tended to let his accomplishments speak for him. In the Canadian running community, people still talk about him with a great deal of respect."

Meaney said McCloy was "reasonably injury free" for most of his career. "He did have to run occasionally with some aches and pains, but nothing that interrupted his running career for long. He was a pretty tough, durable guy."

McCloy didn't like to jump out early in his races. He preferred to stay in a pack, close to the leaders, almost lying in wait for his final push. He came from behind to win a lot of his races. One of the three Canadian interuniversity cross-country championships he won was on the snow-covered course at Bally Haly, where he used a tremendous last-lap kick for a come-from-behind victory.

"One of the most impressive features of Paul's running was his devastating finishing kick," said Will.

"I was privileged to see it many times and have seen a crowd rise to its feet in amazement and appreciation as he overcame a seemingly hopeless position to win a race in the final 200 metres of a national championship."

As to McCloy's greatest achievement, Will said, "being selected to to the Olympics must rank up there along with his fourth-place finish in the 1986 Commonwealth Games.

"But I think most experts in the sport of distance running would agree that his eighth-place finish in the world cross-country championships in Warsaw in 1987 must be the single most impressive," said Will. "For a young man from Newfoundland to finish so high in the most competitive event on the athletics calendar for distance runners - an event dominated by African athletes - was truly exceptional."

A teacher, McCloy moved to Calgary in the mid-1990s for work and to continue his training. At 45, he now competes in masters races and last year he was ranked as one of the top over-40 runners in Canada.

"He was single-minded, immensely focused on what he had to do and very, very tough," said Will before adding: "And he was also a very proud Newfoundlander."

Will recalls after a 15-year-old McCloy won the Canadian youth cross-country championship, a CBC reporter was heard to ask another CBC worker who had won the race.

"Some Newf won it," was the reply.

"Paul," said Will, "stepped over the cordon, went over to the guy and said - with great emphasis: 'I won that race.'"


Paul McCloy's achievements include:
Competed in 10,000 metres at 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea
1987 World Track and Field Championships in Rome
1987 World Cross Country Championships placed eighth in 1986, the best performance every by a male Canadian.
16-time world cross-country Canadian team member
Winner of three major American road races - 12K Octoberfest in Chicago, 1986; 10K in California with a Canadian road record time of 27:48 in 1986l; the Milk Run 10K in Boston in 1990.
Seven-time Canadian cross-country championship winner.
Won Canadian 10,000-metre championship in 1985, '86 and '898.
Won the 5,000-metre championship in 1987.
Three time Canadian interuniversity cross-country champion.
Seven-time St. John's Athlete of the year winner (first time in 1979, last time in 1990)
Six-time provincial athlete of the year winner.
Holds Tely 10 record time of 47 minutes, 4 seconds, set in 1985. By the way, that's the equivalent of running 10 consective one-mile races, with an average time of 4:42 for each mile.

Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best athletes Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Seven prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy and John Browne of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Athletes must have been born in Newfoundland and Labrador and spent a large part of their development years within the province. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
John McGrath: A former Newfoundland soccer president, McGrath is chairman of the board of governors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
Brian Brocklehurst: A two-sport star in St. John's during the late 1960s and '70s, Brocklehurst was the 1969 St. John's athlete of the year.
Don Johnson: A former president of both the Canadian and Newfoundland amateur hockey associations, Johnson was also head of the St. John's Senior Men's Softball League and Royal St. John's Regatta Committee. He has served on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council.
Roger Grimes: Otherwise known as a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, those in sports know him as an erstwhile Grand Falls Cataracts senior hockey player and Grand Falls Beothuks senior baseball player.
Terry Hart: Another Grand Falls-Windsor native, Hart has broadcasted local sports for over 30 years. He continues in radio today at VOCM.
Glenn Stanford: He's known most recently as the man who ran the St. John's Maple Leafs for 14 seasons. But before that, Stanford was a two-sport star - basketball and soccer - with Holy Cross and Memorial.
Alan (Tex) Seaborn: Seaborn has had a long-standing involvement with the Corner Brook and Newfoundland baseball associations. He served as vice-chairman and vice-president of sport for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.

Top 10 best athletes

1. TBA -Aug. 23, 2008
2. TBA -Aug. 16, 2008
3. TBA -Aug. 9, 2008
4. TBA -Aug. 2, 2008
5. TBA - July 26, 2008
6. TBA - July 19, 2008
7. TBA - July 12, 2008
8. Paul McCloy
9. Colin Abbott
10. Michael Ryder