Tragedies in our lives often change our lives, for the better or for the worse.
Olympian great, Bob Schul, at the age of 22 figured his track career was done. His grandfather, whom he adored, had been killed in a car accident. Schul went back to school at Miami University of Ohio near his hometown of West Milton, but could not muster the energy to study and get passing grades, and ended up dropping out.
Schul decided it was time to grow up, so he joined the United States Air Force where he studied electronics. Based in Detroit, Michigan, where the lack of track competitions and cold weather gave little incentive for training, Schul wrote in his autobiography, In the Long Run, that “I figured my running career was finished before it had ever begun.”
But only a few months after his time in the cold at Selfridge Air Force Base, his heart warmed when he saw a notice on a bulletin board asking for applicants to a special Air Force track team that, if good enough, could go to the Olympics in Rome. Schul applied, and after anxious weeks of waiting, he got the word that he was in. It was off to sunny and warm California, where he would be based at Oxnard Air Force Base not far north of LA.
Mihaly Igloi, was a very good miler for Hungary, and was on the Hungarian team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While not a champion miler, he eventually became an effective track coach for the Hungarian army track club, Honved Budapest. In the 1950s, Igloi’s runners were commonly breaking world records in various middle and long distance categories, and were heavily favored to break more records and win medals at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
But Igloi’s tragedy was a national tragedy. Over a decade prior to the “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia and subsequent Soviet invasion in 1968, there was the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a time when Hungarians revolted against their government and the Soviet puppet policies they lived under. Student protests led to police retaliation, which led to the forming of resistance militia across the country, which led to the Soviet leadership decision to crush the rebellion, which they did. On November 4, 1956, only 18 days prior to the start of the Melbourne Olympics, Soviet forces poured into Budapest. Over 2,500 Hungarians were killed, and over 200,000 fled their homeland.
Igloi and his track team were in Budapest, and saw the chaos of the Soviet invasion, but were fortunate to leave the country and arrive in Melbourne. Understandably, the Hungarians performed poorly at the Games. After the competition, Igloi, and one of his top runners, Laszlo Tabori, made the fateful decision to forgo their return to Hungary and defect to the United States.
With support from Sports Illustrated, Igloi and Tabori settled into life in the US, finding work in indoor track and meeting promoters, coaches and runners, according to this article in Runners World. Igloi eventually settled into a role as coach at San Joe State University in Northern California.
Max Truex, who finished sixth in the 10,000 meters race at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was in the Air Force. He had been trained by Igloi, who helped Truex to the best finish ever by an American in the 10K. And he happened to be Bob Schul’s commanding officer at Oxnard. Truex recommended that Schul get coached by Igloi. Truex arranged for temporary duty for Airman Schul in San Jose where Igloi was based at the time, so that Schul could train under Igloi in May, 1961.
And thus began a wonderful relationship, one that eventually resulted in Olympic gold.