NO. 7

Lash runs into history

After his death, he was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame

As Don Lash was growing up in Auburn, he loved running, and he eventually ran into history.

A 1988 Sports Illustrated article called Lash, "the first great American distance runner," and "possibly the best U.S. cross country runner ever."

Lash's career started with a 1933 state high school championship in the mile with a time of 4:30.5. After leaving Auburn, he went to Indiana University where he persuaded coach Billy Hayes to give him a chance.

During Lash's first cross country meet that fall, he finished third. It was the last time he would ever lose a cross country race. In 1934 he started a streak of seven consecutive AAU national championships. The streak finally ended in 1940 with his 12th national title in running overall. Pat Porter finally broke the record with his eighth national cross country title in 1989.

While at IU, Lash broke two of Paavo Nurmi's records for the indoor and outdoor two-mile run. He also anchored the Hoosiers' medley and four-mile relay teams to world records, and became the first American to finish the two-mile run in less than nine minutes. From 1935-1937, he held several national records from 3,000 to 10,000 meters.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Lash was named the 1938 winner of the James E. Sullivan Award, which is given to the nation's top amateur athlete.

About the only time Lash failed came during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Lash had qualified in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events, but finished 13th in the 5,000 and eighth in the 10,000. Lash blamed his failure on the 10-day ocean ride to get to the games, saying he had gained 10 pounds. His dream was to come back for the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo but the event was canceled by World War II.

Lash's cross country title streak ended after winning in 1940. In 1941 he left his job with the State Police and joined the FBI, where he stayed for 21 years. After retiring from the FBI, Lash served five two-year terms in the Indiana General Assembly. Gov. Otis Bowen named him a Sagamore of the Wabash in 1979.

He was made a charter member of the Indiana University Hall of Fame in 1982.

Though he died Sept. 19, 1994, Lash was inducted into the Amateur Athletics Union Hall of Fame and the U.S. Track Hall of Fame in 1995.

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