Carlos Lopes began running in his native Lisbon, Portugal, in his late teens and first tasted international success when he won the 1975 World Cross-Country Championships. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he finished second to Lasse Viren in the 10,000 m. Thereafter his international career wavered, and his performances gave no indication of what was to follow. But in the short period from March 1983 to April 1985, the then-38-year-old moved from the status of superstar to running legend and became the supreme inspiration for all those who thought they might be through with racing after the age of 35.
Lopess comeback began in March 1983, when he completed his first standard marathon at Rotterdam in 2:08:39 and was outsprinted in the last few hundred meters by Robert de Castella. In the same year Lopes won the World CrossCountry Championships for the second time, and in the 1984 Rotterdam Marathon he ran with the leaders before dropping out after 29 km. Later he told Frank Shorter that he had run the race for one reason onlyto see how fit he was. When Lopes found that running with the leaders required only modest effort, he knew he was in excellent shape. He dropped out so that he would not show his opponents how fit he was and so he would not risk wasting his fitness on an all-out marathon only a few months before the Olympic Games.
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Three months later, on July 2, he ran the worlds second fastest 10,000 m ever (27:17:48), and 5 weeks later, in only his second-ever completed marathon, he won the Olympic Marathon gold medal with a time of 2:09:21. Interestingly, Lopes was hit by a car 10 days before that race and was unable to train again before the race. He finished the race in exceptional condition; another example of the Zatopek phenomenon.
Ten weeks after that, with a period of relaxed training behind him, he was still able to run 2:09:06, finishing second to Steve Joness world-record performance of 2:08:05. In 1985, Lopes won the World Cross-Country Championships for the third time, and on April 29 at the Rotterdam Marathon, running alone for most of the race, he finished in 2:07:11, thereby beating Steve Joness record by 54 seconds. Lopes commented that with more competition he could have run 2 minutes faster, a view that few would challenge lightly.
Published details of Lopess training methods are scanty. In an interview with Frank Shorter, Lopes stated that he trains hard all the time and even when training
At medium altitude seldom runs slower than 3:30/km. He did not change his training substantially before the Olympic Games Marathon except that he increased his long runs from 90 to 120 minutes, covering about 35 km.
Shorter considers that there are three secrets to Lopess success. First is his innate ability to read his body signals in both training and racing so that he is always in control (as shown at the 1984 Rotterdam Marathon). Second is his ability to peak, as proven by his victories in the World Cross-Country Championships, and third is his ability to focus on his primary goals. He defeated more favored runners in the 1984 Olympic Marathon because he focused specifically on that event and was not sidetracked, as were many others, by the financial lure of other less important races in the 12 months before the Olympic Games.
In addition, Lopes confirms that the fastest runners at the shorter distances are the best marathon runners.