OMAC Cup Named For John Conner

Your reach can exceed your grasp if you’re in shape
Mike Bottini said John Conner, above, had definitely been “a world-class runner.” Jack Graves

The Old Montauk Athletic Club’s Montauk Mile cup, which was introduced to that revived race from the train station to Lions Field last year, is hereafter to be known as the Montauk Mile John F. Conner Cup in honor of the 83-year-old former mile and half-mile world record-holder, who, because of a stroke, walks with difficulty now.

“We want to acknowledge him,” said Mike Bottini, whose idea it was, “because when it comes to the mile he’s the guy.”

In an interview in these pages a few years ago, Conner, who has continued to mentor and follow the progress of young runners here, said, “Glenn Cunningham, a great miler of the ’40s, once said, ‘Running is you against yourself . . . the cruelest of competitors.’ ”

“To make a runner takes five years, sometimes longer. I tell the kids who come to my workouts that I’m not out to make them faster, I’m out to make them stronger so that they can get more glucose and oxygen to their muscles. . . . You want to get into as much stress as you can handle and then equalize things so you have enough oxygen to remove the lactic acid, which is what makes you tired. If you’re in shape, you can, in the shorter distances, continue at your pace despite oxygen debt . . . you can win that struggle against yourself.”

“Before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, everyone was saying it never could be done, that it would take too much energy, create too much lactic acid, and that the body couldn’t do it. Bannister knew he could do three laps in three minutes and he told himself not to think about the fourth. In that fourth lap he was beyond the physical, in a different realm, a spiritual realm if you will.”

Kevin Barry, who made the presentation, as Conner sat in a high-backed wicker chair amid a number of well-wishers, including his wife, Henrika, recited some of his feats, first and foremost his 55-to-59-year-old world-record times of 2 minutes and 10.62 seconds in the 800 and 4:53.3 in the mile set in 1990, and the age-group world record in the 1,500 that he ran in Reno in 1995. At 50, he ran New York’s Fifth Avenue Mile in 4:40.1.

At the turn of the millennium, Conner’s running career was cut short when a truck struck him from behind as he was cycling in East Hampton Village.

Undaunted by a shattered hip, which was put back together with screws and flanges by one of the country’s best orthopedic surgeons, he went on to become a top age-group triathlete, and, as aforesaid, to mentor runners young and old here.

“When I was 50, I asked him if he could get me down to a sub-5,” said Bottini. “I was just coming off training for Ironman, which is a completely different thing. I didn’t get it, but it was no fault of John’s that I’d lost my fast-twitch muscles. . . . Definitely, he was a world-class runner.”

The Montauk Mile is to be contested, rain or shine, on Sunday, June 10, with the women’s race to begin at 10:30 a.m. and the men’s to follow at 11. Prospective entrants can register by emailing entry fee is $25 for those over 21 and $15 for those under 21. Those fees will be $30 and $20 on race day. The winners’ names are to be engraved on the cup. The proceeds are to help underwrite an East Hampton High School boys and girls cross-country team trip to a competitive invitational meet next fall.

Henrika Conner and Sharon McCobb, OMAC’s president, said, moreover, that a scholarship for a senior high school swimmer is to be established by the club in the memory of the late Bill O’Donnell, who died, at the age of 65, on April 23.

“Swimming was Billy’s passion at the end,” said McCobb.

“We’re going to try to give the first one at the high school’s senior athletes banquet” on June 7, Henrika Conner said.