By TV Hagenah
TUCUMCARI — When most people turn on their televisions this week to tune into to the 2004 Olympics from Athens, they see little more than a gathering of athletes competing for awards and recognition. For oneformer ENMU student, however, watching the Olympics is different.
It is different because he represented his country at the Olympics and was considered one of the top distance runners at the time. Rex Maddaford, now Tucumcari High School Assistant Principal, was a teenager a little over three decades ago who traveled to Mexico City to represent New Zealand in the 1968 Olympics. “It was incredible,” said the then internationally acclaimed distance runner. “You can’t appreciate what it was like to be that young and representing your country in the Olympics.”
In fact, in the late 1960s because of innovations introduced and modified by New Zealand coaches, the small island nation was considered the distance running capital of the world. And Maddaford who set world records at as young an age as 15 was at the forefront of the running revolution that New Zealand was creating. “It was something else, I can tell you.,” said Maddaford who while still in his teens was running over 100 miles a week near his hometown of Auckland thus honing himself to be ready for international competition such as the Olympics. “It was a different time,” said Maddaford about the 1968 Summer Olympics. “We we truly amateur athletes – not like it is now.”
The first world record in distance running came for Maddaford when he was 15 one of his acquaintances asked him to act as “rabbit” for them on their attempt at a world record for the two mile. A rabbit goes out fast in order to set the pace for another runner then once the main runner decides to make his move usually about half way through the distance, the rabbit drops off his pace having established the momentum.
The young Maddaford went out at what he thought was a good pace and held it for a mile expecting the other runners to come by him at any minute, then lap after lap came and went and the other two had not passed the 15 year old yet. Then on the final lap nearing the finish line, the two other runners broke by the young high school boy and did in fact set a world record. But in the pacing, Maddaford finished in just over nine minutes himself and in so doing broke the two mile world record for 15 year olds.
It was a couple of years and a number of records later that the New Zealander headed to Mexico City to compete at the Olympics. He had by that time become one of the premier runners in the world training in the Lydiard technique under world famous New Zealand Coach Peter Snell against such notables as Jim Ryan and Steve Prefontaine.
He said that the Mexico City Olympics was not to be his chance to bring home the gold. It was not the political unrest that was rampant during the games in Mexico City that stopped he and his countrymen. It was something more elemental. It was the mile-high altitude of Mexico City was too much for any of the sea-level trained Kiwi’s to overcome.
He went on to other glories in distance running both representing New Zealand and in running for Eastern New Mexico University, but every four years Maddaford can be found watching the Olympics and sharing the joys and disappointments of the athletes from around the world.
Superintendent of Tucumcari Schools William Reents said that to know a person of Maddaford’s caliber is “very special” but to work with him and realize all that he has accomplished “is an honor.” Reents said he realized that it was a different time, but said the high school assistant principal was definitely someone the students and young people in general “should look to as an example.”