Tom Bernhard takes over Masters Hall of Fame from Norm Green

Tom Bernhard

Norm Green, a world-class distance runner, stepped down as USATF Masters Hall of Fame czar last year amid health problems. His successor is another top-flight runner: Tom Bernhard, an M60 gent. National chair Gary Snyder’s column in the April issue of National Masters News mentions Phil Byrne as a possible Hall of Fame chair, but Tom confirmed his role today, writing me: “When you take over from a legend like Norm Green, who worked diligently for so many years to see that outstanding athletes and other contributors to Master Athletics got the recognition they so richly deserved, it is very humbling. My goal as his successor is to build upon his work and to make sure the Masters Hall of Fame Committee has all the tools and information necessary to nominate and induct the most worthy individuals into the Masters Hall of Fame.” 

Tom may himself join the Hall, since he has amazing credits. He won the M60 5000 last summer at Berea nationals in a time 4 seconds short of an American record, and better than the winning time for M55. Tom charts his marks here.

Here’s a great story on Tom from before Sacto worlds, where he took seventh in both the M55 1500 and 5000 despite having turned 60 during the meet:

Tom Bernhard was excited when he heard that the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships would be held in Sacramento, just up the road from his Castro Valley home. The distance standout would be racing in his first world meet as a 60-year-old, one of the youngest guns in his new age group.

Imagine his dismay when he learned that the dates for the WMA Championships were July 6-16. His 60th birthday falls on July 9, and the rules state that an athlete’s age at the beginning of the competition determines his age group. Thus, when Bernhard toes the line in Sacramento for the 5,000 meters on his birthday, he’ll be competing in the men’s 55-59 age classification.

“I thought things were lining up perfectly for me,” Bernhard said. “But when I heard the date of the meet, I thought it was cruel and unusual punishment. We finally get the meet in the U.S. and it starts two days before my birthday?”

Coming off an injury-shortened 2010 season in which he was forced to skip the USA Masters Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Bernhard entered a road race in San Ramon and clocked a sizzling 17:01 for 5,000 meters.

“I had no expectations for that race – I figured I’d run 17:30 or 17:40,” Bernhard said. “I was really surprised to run a 17:01. I had been running really slow in my track workouts and didn’t think my fitness level was very good.”

The men’s 60-64 record for 5,000 meters on the track is 17:19.0, set by Clive Davies back in 1980. That’s the record he hoped to break in Sacramento.

The good news is, he still can. While he’ll be running against younger men, he’s eligible to set a national record in the men’s 60-64 division.

“I’ve reconciled myself to it,” Bernhard said. “By having to run against younger age-group guys, it will be a better opportunity for me to latch on to someone running a fast pace. I know a bunch of 55-year-olds who are really fast.

“And from a priority standpoint, what would be important to me, winning or setting a national record? A national record would be more meaningful.”

Bernhard won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at both the 2006, 2007 and 2009 USA Masters Outdoor Championships. In 2009, he was prepared to break 17 minutes in the 5,000, but had no competition to speak of, finishing 44 seconds ahead of the runner-up in 17:06.84.

The 5,000 mark isn’t the only U.S. record Bernhard has his sights set on. The listed U.S. mile record for M60-64 is 4:58.2. Bernhard’s personal best from 2007 is 4:55, and he also clocked a 4:57 in 2009.

The national record in the 1,500 is 4:31.93, set by Nolan Shaheed in 2001. He was undecided in mid-April as to whether he’d add either the 1,500 or 10,000 to his schedule at the WMA Championships.

“I have the experience at 5,000 meters, but when I look at comparative times, I’m more competitive in the 1,500 and the mile,” Bernhard said. “I ran a 4:55 mile on long-distance training. I feel I can do better now.

“It’s just that I’ve never considered myself a miler before. I started competing as a road runner. I don’t have a lot of experience with the middle distances.”

Bernhard didn’t begin running competitively until he was in his mid-40s. Growing up in eastern Ohio, he had no idea that he had talent. A chance encounter with a treadmill at a health club got his running career off to a belated start.

Having battled injuries off an on for much of his masters career, Bernhard, a retired computer designer who is married and has two grown children, is taking a cautious approach to his 2011 season. He experienced some back pain in the early spring but is trying to work around it.

He trains once a week on the track, alternating between Pleasanton High School and Stanford University.

“This year, I basically geared my training around running well in July and in the fall,” Bernhard said. “I’m trying to take a slow, methodical approach. My track workouts have been going very well. If I can get over this back problem I’ve had the last couple of weeks, I’m on schedule.”

And the schedule that he initially viewed as a cruel joke could win up working in his favor come July 9.

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April 8, 2012

5 Responses

  1. peter taylor - April 9, 2012

    Excellent choice. Tom is very knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and will be completely fair.

  2. MikeF - April 9, 2012

    Good luck Tom!

  3. Tom Bernhard - April 10, 2012

    Thanks for the kind words Peter. Hope you are feeling better and looking forward to touching base at Nationals.


  4. peter taylor - April 10, 2012

    Thank you, Tom. Well, Nationals are not far away (in time) — August 2, as I recall. Let’s see how things look. Right now I could not announce more than a couple of minutes and am not working out at all except to do lifts with 3.4-kg dumbbells to strengthen my left arm.

    Well, the physical therapist wanted me to start with a light weight !*!!*.

  5. Ken Stone - April 10, 2012

    Gary Snyder, just back from Finland, sends this clarification:

    Tom is leading the LDR selections only. MTF will select its own candidates (for the Hall of Fame).

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