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The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop

by Bill Jones

Pub Date: March 13th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60598-413-1
Publisher: Pegasus

The lonely fight of a long-distance runner.

A brief, failed career in boxing earned John Tarrant (1932–1975) £17. In the middle of the 20th century, that paltry sum meant that he was no longer an amateur in the minds of the world’s sporting hierarchy. Documentary filmmaker Jones uncovers Tarrant’s star-crossed fight against those authorities in his quest to pursue competitive long-distance running, his true love. Tarrant was obsessive. He doggedly and even admirably fought capricious and seemingly vindictive British amateur sporting officialdom in his quest to have his amateurism restored—something they fully had the capacity to do. In many ways, Tarrant is a sympathetic figure. His lifelong struggle to run legally—his willingness to run unsanctioned in official races earned him fame and respect from fans and competitors alike and garnered him the nickname “The Ghost Runner”—was sandwiched around a childhood spent in a Dickensian children’s home and an early and tragic death from cancer. But his obsession also made him a lousy employee and a selfish husband and father. Except for a few occasions when he gets in his own way, Jones tells the story well, albeit in a British idiom that may occasionally ring odd to American readers. His book serves not only to uncover Tarrant’s largely forgotten story, but also to remind readers that the amateur model of sport was oftentimes a hypocritical morass that victimized poor and working-class athletes while protecting a privileged class of sportsmen.

John Tarrant fought against a sporting establishment that held him hostage in what could have been one of the great international ultra-distance-running careers. Jones restores his legend while revealing his very human frailties.