The 1929 Bunion Derby: Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace Across America
Syracuse University Press, 2014 (2014)
Reviewed by Bob Walch
his is the very entertaining account of a race that is all but forgotten today. On March 31, 1929, 73 men set out on a footrace that would take them on an epic journey that would stretch 3,554 miles from New York City to Los Angeles.
n this ordeal, dubbed by the press the
, the runners averaged about 46 miles a day on largely unpaved roads. They were battling for a first prize of $25,000.
s the race unfolded, two runners, Johnny Salo of New Jersey and Pete Gavuzzi of England, emerged as the front runners. The two men pushed one another each leg of the race and made this perhaps the greatest American distance race of all time.
hen the 78 day footrace was completed, Salo, '
the flying cop from Passaic
', was the winner while the man he sparred with the entire way, Gavuzzi, finished second and picked up a $10,000 prize.
esides providing an account of the race and the contestants, Charles Kastner also shares the story of how race director Charley Pyle put together a traveling show with entertainers to help defray the cost of the race. Pyle went bankrupt, so very little of the prize money was ever paid out and, although he was famous, Salo wasn't any richer after his victory.
ronically, two years later the police officer was working crowd control at a baseball game where he was hit by a thrown ball while trying to keep fans off the third base base line. Hit in the head, Salo refused to seek immediate medical assistance and when he finally did got to the hospital, it was too late. He lapsed into a coma and died of a brain hemorrhage.
omplete with maps and some vintage black and white photos, this is one of the more interesting stories you'll come across about the early days of American distance running. Anyone involved in distance running will find this captivating book well worth reading and it will find a treasured place in the person's library among the usual volumes on running technique and conditioning.
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