Story: Lydiard, Arthur Leslie

Page 3: Overseas success

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Lydiard, Arthur Leslie


Runner and running coach

This biography, written by David Green, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.

By the time Murray Halberg, Peter Snell and John Davies (third in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics 1,500 metres) retired, coaches like Arch Jelley were training the next generation on Lydiard lines. Lydiard sought a change of scene, going to Mexico in 1966 to prepare a squad for the 1968 Olympics. Soon offside with Mexican officials, he moved to Finland to lay the foundations for that country’s stunning distance-running successes at the 1972 Olympics. Here he met Eira Marita Lehtonen, the translator and former Olympic gymnast who was to become his second wife in 1977. He and Jean had separated around 1970.

Lydiard also coached in Denmark, Venezuela, Australia and Turkey before returning to New Zealand in 1972. He accepted a position with the construction company Winstones which also gave him time to mentor coaches and athletes. He coached New Zealand teams at the 1974 and 1990 Commonwealth Games, and continued to lecture frequently around the world.

Coaching women runners

At Eira’s instigation, Lydiard trained Auckland schoolgirls from the late 1970s, encouraging a boom in women’s running that rivalled that among men and brought New Zealand women almost equal success.

Lydiard’s training principles were applied to kayaking, swimming, and even horse racing: horse-trainer Ken Browne’s jumpers worked over hills to build stamina.

Motivational skill

Lydiard’s success was partly due to his ability to train with his athletes, both assessing and motivating them. At 61 he could still break three hours for the marathon.

Eira died of cancer in 1984, aged 45, and on 20 September 1997 in Auckland Lydiard married Joelyne Gaye Van Der Togt, a runner 48 years his junior.


In his 80s and unable to run after suffering a stroke, Lydiard still exercised on a rowing machine. In 1990 he became a member of the Order of New Zealand and an inaugural member of the Sports Hall of Fame. American running experts called him the distance coach of the 20th century and the individual who had most influenced running in the second half of the century. He was made a life member of Athletics New Zealand in 2003.

Arthur Lydiard died of a heart attack in Houston, Texas, on 11 December 2004, aged 87, during a lecture tour. While his high-mileage theories have lost favour with coaches, distance running in the early 21st century was dominated by African athletes who effectively trained on Lydiard principles.

How to cite this page:

David Green. 'Lydiard, Arthur Leslie - Overseas success', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2020)