Gordon Pirie

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameDouglas Alistair Gordon•Pirie
Used nameGordon•Pirie
Born10 February 1931 in Leeds, England (GBR)
Died7 December 1991 in Lymington, England (GBR)
Measurements188 cm / 65 kg
AffiliationsSouth London Harriers, London (GBR)
NOC Great Britain
Medals OG
Gold 0
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 1


Gordon Pirie was unique in British athletics in the 1950s as he became the sport’s first full-time athlete. He gave up a good career in banking to concentrate on his sporting career, and it came at a time when athletes in Britain received no financial support.

Known as “Puff-puff”, because he was famous for puffing out his cheeks in time to his running stride, Pirie was outspoken and courted controversy with the media and athletics authorities throughout his career. He still became an outstanding distance runner, however, who went on to break five world records, set 22 British records at distances ranging from 2000 to 10,000 metres, and won many British cross-country and AAA titles.

Unfortunately Pirie never won a major international title. He appeared in three Olympics between 1952-60, winning just one medal, a 5000 metres silver at the Melbourne Games, when he was involved in a classic encounter, and finished second to the Soviet runner Vladimir Kuts. Pirie also won a 5000 bronze at the 1958 European Championships in Stockholm. At the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff that same year, he could only finish fourth in both the 1 mile and 3 miles.

Pirie set five world records throughout his career including three in three months in 1956. He firstly beat Kuts to knock 3.8 seconds off the 5000 metres record and he followed that by twice lowering the 3000 record to 7:55.5 and 7:52.7 respectively. Pirie had earlier set world records at 6 miles and the 4x1500 relay, both in 1953.

On home soil, Pirie won the English Cross-Country Championship three times between 1953-55. He also won six senior AAA titles, at 6 miles in 1951-53 and 1960, and 3 miles in 1953 and 1961. He was also the first winner of the Emsley Carr Mile in 1953.

Pirie emigrated to New Zealand in 1957 only to return to get himself onto the British team for the 1960 Rome Olympics. He failed to reach the 5000 metres final, however, and returned to New Zealand the following year. He eventually settled back in England in 1987, in the Lymington area of Hampshire, where he died at the age of 60 in 1991.

During his time in New Zealand, Pirie introduced the sport of orienteering to the country, having himself been introduced to it by steeplechaser John Disley some years earlier. Pirie won the British Orienteering Championship in its first two years, 1967 and 1968. He represented both Britain and New Zealand at the World Championships, competing in his last one in his late 40s. Pirie was the 1955 BBC Sports Personality of the Year after beating the four-time Olympic gold medallist Emil Zátopek three times over 5000 and 10,000 metres that year.

Once when asked about the most memorable race of his career, he replied that it was a race when he was at school and broke five minutes for the mile for the first time. Perhaps strangely, Pirie only once ran a sub-four-minute mile (3:59.9), at Dublin in 1960, when finishing third behind the Australian Herb Elliott and Zimbabwe’s Terry Sullivan.

Personal Bests: 5000 – 13:36.8 (1956); 10000 – 29:15.49 (1960).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1952 Summer Olympics Athletics GBR Gordon Pirie
5,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 4
10,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 7
1956 Summer Olympics Athletics GBR Gordon Pirie
5,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 2 Silver
10,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 8
1960 Summer Olympics Athletics GBR Gordon Pirie
5,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 8 h3 r1/2
10,000 metres, Men (Olympic) 10

Special Notes