Pioneering world champ Bill Andberg dies at 96
Bill Andberg was the master of distances 800 to 26.2.
Minnesota and masters track are mourning the loss of pioneering masters runner Bill Andberg, who died Tuesday at age 96. Known as the “Gray Ghost” of the Halloween city of Anoka, northwest of Minneapolis, Bill won titles from the 800 to the marathon, including golds at the first USA masters nationals in 1968 (marathon) and the first world masters championships in Toronto in 1975 (M60 1500 and 3000). He was on David Pain’s legendary track tour of Europe in 1972. His obituary appears several places, including the Star-Tribune and the Pioneer-Press.
A local track blog also salutes Bill, whose motto reputedly was “live long but die fast.” One story in 2004 reported: He’s also run 35 marathons, even though he never liked them much. “Dick Beardsley says he can remember every mile,” Andberg said. “I can only remember when I started, when I finished and when I vomited.”
A recent photo shows him in a golf cart, with signage.
Bill, who once ran a world-record 4:59 mile at age 65, was inducted into the USATF Masters Hall of Fame in 2000.
Several people shared the word of Bill’s passing, including his friend and fellow Minnesotan Tom Langenfeld, who wrote:
Bill Andberg (was) the premier 60+ distance runner (800 through marathon) when I first got involved in masters track in the mid-1970s. . . . I got to know Bill quite well -â€“ we traveled together in Germany for the world meet in Hanover in 1979. He won the M65 800 in that meet in one of the most remarkable races Iâ€™ve ever seen in any age group.
At 68 he may have been the oldest runner in the final and also the favorite. Iâ€™m not sure if it was planned or not, but European runners had him thoroughly boxed on the final turn while a couple of other runners broke free and opened up a huge lead.
Bill finally slowed abruptlyâ€”almost stoppedâ€”giving him a little opening to his right. He sort of ran sideways to clear himself, then turned it on. I donâ€™t think anyone thought he had a chance at that point, but he had strong kick and a lot left.
He ran down the leaders with some to spare in one of the great finishes at Hanover. Bill told me once that his best event at the University of New Hampshire was the pole vault. The distance running came much later.
The two of us spent a few days visiting some places of interest in and around Cologne, including a charming little town named Langenfeld, before rejoining one of Helen Painâ€™s groups for the flight from Brussels to New York. I think we had a couple of ex-Olympians in the group, but when we went through customs, it was Bill who was asked for an autograph by one of the customs inspectors. The inspector was a road runner and recognized Bill immediately.
Bill pretty much gave up competitive running after a particularly nasty bout with Lyme disease some time in his 80s. But he didnâ€™t give up much else. A Star Tribune story on Bill in 2004 reported that he had celebrated his 92nd birthday by playing 18 holes of golf (without a cart), bowling 11 games and walking three miles.
A memorial service for Bill is at 3 p.m. today at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900 Mount Curve Avenue.
Here’s the best obituary I found:
Bill ‘Gray Ghost of Anoka’ Andberg dies; ageless running wonder
William Andberg was a championship athlete and a veterinarian who lived his life with a “deep, abiding passion.”
By PAUL LEVY and PAUL WALSH, Star Tribune
Last update: December 14, 2007 – 9:43 PM
Thirty years ago, as Anoka masters runner William Andberg shattered one world record after another, he was nicknamed “Bullet Bill” and “The Flying Finn.” But after being seen running through an Anoka cemetery in a gray sweatsuit, he will forever be known at the “Gray Ghost.”
Andberg, 96, a longtime Anoka veterinarian, died Tuesday of prostate cancer. Stoic throughout his ordeal, he told family members in October that he planned to attend Anoka’s annual Halloween Gray Ghost 5K run, as he always had. It wasn’t until the morning of the race that it was decided that his struggles to get proper sleep would keep him away from the race for the first time in three decades.
Andberg set more than 30 national and world running records for ages 50 to 90, but the Halloween run was one he treasured, his daughter, Wendy Andberg of Ham Lake, said in October.
According to his daughter, Andberg took the cemetery route to avoid annoying dogs. But the two women who spotted him thought he was running in his underwear and called police, Wendy Andberg said.
“They thought I was an escapee from the state hospital,” Andberg was quoted after that 1971 run.
An athlete in high school and college, Andberg found in adulthood that golf, hunting and fishing weren’t enough to keep an unwanted 20 pounds off his 5-foot-7 frame. At 55, he took up running. At 60, the Marathon Handbook named him the fastest man of his age in the world. He has been inducted into the USA Track & Field Masters Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Track & Field Hall of Fame and the University of New Hampshire Athletics Hall of Fame.
He also was a top-level competitor in masters’ cross-country skiing.
At age 64, he turned in a 5:18.8-minute mile during a Minnesota race, setting a state record that remained for 23 years. At 65, he set a masters’ world record of 4:59 for the mile at a national meet in Los Angeles, where he also established a world record 5K time of 18:33. During one European masters tour, he ran 11 races in 23 days, winning 10 of them.
He also ran 35 marathons, even though he never liked them much.
“Dick Beardsley says he can remember every mile,” Andberg said in 2004. “I can only remember when I started, when I finished and when I vomited.”
When Andberg started the Gray Ghost 5K in the mid 1970s, he donated his own trophies, with new inscriptions for the race winners in various age categories, his daughter said. Through last year, he acted as the race’s official starter and award giver.
His daughter called him an “amazing” violinist and singer, who composed music after he graduated from veterinary school.
“Deep, abiding passion persisted throughout his life: running, the violin and fishing,” she said.
Ruth, his wife of 61 years, died in 2000.
In addition to daughter Wendy, he is survived by his other daughters, Chris Gorham of Blaine, and Julie Andberg of Minneapolis; son Paul of Clermont, Fla.; seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A memorial service for Andberg will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900 Mount Curve Av.
Staff writer Ben Cohen contributed to this report.