Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Alain Mimoun: Ahead of His Time

The great French/Algerian runner Alain Mimoun, who won the marathon at the 1956 Olympics, died last week at the age of 92.  Mimoun is best known for his many silver medal finishes to the incomparable Emil Zatopek who is arguably the greatest distance runner of all time.  Less well appreciated is that Mimoun is in many ways a herald of all that came after him:

  • He was born in Algeria when it was still a French Colony.  This is what we now might call the developing world and his excellence anticipated by more than a decade what other North African Arabs and runners from Ethiopia and Kenya have achieved starting with Abebe Bikila in 1960.
  • He competed well for a very long time in an era when careers at the highest level typically lasted for only a few years.  In 1960 he competed in his fourth Olympics and placed 34th in the marathon with a time of 2:31:20 at age 39.
  • He won the French national title in 1966 at age 45 and in his early 50s he broke 2:35.
  • He remained fit and active into his 90s.


I knew about his races with Zatopek and his victory in 1956 from the Bud Greenspan documentary “The Persistent Ones”, but I had no idea that he was one of the first great master athletes as well and a model for successful aging.  The video below shows Mimoun running in the forest at about age 90.  He was clearly a man ahead of his time and an example for us all.


click here for video

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