Dick Booth

The Impossible Hero is the moving story of Gordon Pirie. It describes the story of a teenager from Coulsdon in Surrey, inspired by the London Olympics of 1948, who sets out successfully to become one of the greatest runners in the world but whose life was to end in sadness and defeat.

Gordon Pirie was one of the best-known sports personalities of the 1950s – as well known and as much talked about as the greatest sporting stars in recent years. Crowds flocked to see him run and he contributed to a great revival in British athletics. At the time the records he set, and the training he did, seemed little short of impossible.

Pirie had almost everything about him that makes a sporting hero – the courage and dedication that brings success, the capacity to bring a stadium to its feet, the originality that leaves its imprint on a sport and changes it for good. Around the world he inspired others to run and still does, posthumously, through his writings.

Pirie challenged what was at the time the dominant amateur tradition in the sport. But this approach also led him into conflicts. His determination to speak his mind led to fierce battles with authority. An uncompromising spirit helped him on the track but off it led to problems. He could be infuriating. In his later life there were many disappointments, sickness and a relatively early death.

Dick Booth talked to family, friends and fellow runners around the world, visiting Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the USA in the search for personal memories and insights. He assembled for the book a powerful collection of photographs, some never seen before, and has produced a poignant story of one of Britain’s most loved sportsmen.

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