For some years, Dick Quax had a love-hate relationship with the New
They loved him when he picked up medals at Olympic and Commonwealth Games, when he anchored New Zealand relay teams to world records and, of course, when in 1977 he set the world 5000m world record. But they were turned off by the glitz and hype he brought to the sport, by his brash predictions, and by the times he was unable to run well because of injury.
Quax, along with John Walker and Rod Dixon, was one of New Zealand's three outstanding distance runners of the 1970s. The trio - none of them shrinking violets - set the running tracks of Europe ablaze and were responsible for a resurgence of interest in athletics in New Zealand.
Quax was born in Alkmaar, Holland, and was christened Theodorus Jacobus Leonardus. Not surprisingly that name did not prove nearly as catchy as Dick, which is what everyone has always called him.
The Quax family immigrated to New Zealand in 1954 and Dick grew up in Waikato, where he played a lot of rugby and then discovered he had a particular ability for distance running.
He was inspired by Peter Snell and Murray Halberg and remembers travelling to Auckland to watch them race. He latched on to the Lydiard training methods and by the time he was 16 was running 100 miles a week.
In 1968 he asked John Davies, a Lydiard runner, to coach him, and the two formed a bond that existed until Davies' death in 2003. Quax and Davies co-promoted and organised the international track series for a decade and put together other running events, such as business-house races. They formed a company, Athletics Marketing and Management, which Quax took over after Davies' death.
Quax came to public attention in March 1970 when he ambushed Olympic 1500m champion Kip Keino over a mile in Auckland and thrashed him by 30 metres. Later that year he won the silver medal in the 1500m, behind Keino.
For several years he battled shin splints and it wasn't until a revolutionary operation in 1975 proved successful that he was able to rain and race relatively injury-free. He ran in the 5000m in Munich in 1972, but suffering badly, did not progress past the heats.
The 1976 Montreal Olympic 5000m final, which also included Dixon, was his most famous race. It turned out to be a classic and New Zealanders at home watched a dramatic last lap in which Lasse Viren again proved himself supreme, beating Quax by one stride with Dixon just behind, but deprived of the bronze because of a desperate dive by the German, Hildenbrand.
He had been looking for a 5000m-10,000m double in Montreal, but became very ill soon after arriving. He did not qualify for the 10,000m final and was fortunate he had recovered enough to do himself justice in the shorter race.
Suffering again from injury, he was unable to run up to his ability in the 10,000m at the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games. Then Quax was chosen for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but never got to compete because of the Olympic boycott that year. It was certainly a career of highs and lows.
Late in his career, Quax devoted himself to the marathon, turning in a brilliant debut time of 2h 11min 13s in the big Nike marathon in Eugene. Quax showed what he might have done in the 1980 Olympic marathon when he ran 2h 10min 47s at Eugene in September, 1980. It was the fastest time ever by a New Zealander.
He gradually scaled down his running, though he was still good enough to win the national cross-country title at his first attempt in 1982.
Quax ran with a beautifully clipped stride, and oozed talent. He was tall, lean and economic.
He remained involved in athletics in many ways. In the 1970s he was one of the co-promoters of the South Pacific track series when so many world stars were lured to New Zealand. Later, besides his promotions work with Davies, he coached. Among the better known of his charges have been 1992 Olympic marathon bronze medallist Lorraine Moller and, for several years, distance star Nyla Carroll.
Auckland-based Quax has three children, Tania, Jacob and Theo, and is married to Roxanne.
Quax stood for Parliament as an ACT Party candidate in 1999 and 2002. He became a Manukau City councillor and in 2011 was elected on to the enlarged Auckland super-city council.