Bruce Bickford, right, and his children Landon, left, and Hannah, look through some of his Team USA gear from 1988 before posing for a photo Friday in Lewiston. One of the Kappa jackets still had the label on it. Bickford ran the 10,000 meters for Team USA at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Bruce Bickford still makes sure he watches the Olympics.

He still enjoys watching the track and field athletes go for gold on the world’s biggest stage. He likes all of the events — distance, sprints, the throws, the jumps.

“I really like some of the technical events. I love watching the hammer (throw), the high jump, pole vault. Some of the stuff they do amazes me,” he said. “I think everybody should watch the Olympics.”

Many do, but they can’t relate the way Bickford can. A Benton native and Lawrence High School alum, Bickford too was one of the best in the world, a distance running giant in the 1980s who competed in the 1988 Olympics, held a world No. 1 ranking and ran with the hopes of a country on his shoulders.

Today, Bickford, 64 and a Lewiston resident, enjoys life on the sidelines. Achilles injuries essentially ended his running days nearly 30 years ago, so he puts the miles in walking instead. He’s a sports dad who loves to watch his son Landon, a senior, play quarterback for Gorham, and daughter Hannah, a sophomore, compete in field hockey, and who years before spent hours watching son Stephen embark on a successful soccer career that took him to the University of North Carolina.

They’re all good athletes. Of course, Dad set a high standard.


Bruce Bickford, right, and his children Landon, left, and Hannah, go for a walk on Friday in Lewiston. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The big thing, I guess, was that I always improved. I did pretty well in high school, then went to Northeastern and had a good career there, and it continued,” Bickford said. “I loved to race. Loved to race. … I truly enjoyed it.”

Bickford didn’t start running competitively until his sophomore year at Lawrence, but under the watch of Dave Martin — whom Bickford called “to this day, the best coach I ever had” — a prodigy was revealed. As a freshman at Northeastern, Bickford had the second fastest steeplechase time for 18-year-olds in the world. In 1980 — before the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympic Games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — he had qualified for the Olympic trials in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the 5,000 and the 10,000. In 1984, he was an alternate for the 5,000. In 1988, he made it to Seoul for the 10,000.

Along the way, his profile across the world rose. In 1985 he clocked a 27:37.7 in the 10,000 in Sweden, the fastest time in that event that year in the world. Bickford became the man to beat everywhere he competed.

“It puts more pressure on you. It puts a bigger bulls-eye on your back sometimes,” he said. “When I won a couple of big 10,000-meter races in Europe and I was ranked No. 1 in 1985, it kind of sunk in then. I always (thought) I could run with some of these people, but you don’t know until you do it.”

Upon making it to South Korea for the 1988 Games, Bickford knew how special the accomplishment was right from the opening ceremonies.

“That’s the most amazing thing. Just walking into the stadium with 800 or 1,200 of your teammates and walking around the track,” he said. “It’s just an amazing experience.”


Bickford still remembers his thoughts.

“‘You made it,'” he said. “‘You’re here.’ I was going to stick around as long as I could.”

But there was a problem. After a successful training session in Los Angeles, Bickford’s Achilles tendon began to hurt. By the time he crossed the Pacific Ocean, it was painful and swollen.

“I was ready. But the next morning I woke up and my Achilles was a little sore,” he said. “I didn’t think anything of it, but the more I trained, the worse it got. … I was limping the whole time, pretty much.”

Bickford gave it a go in the 10,000 final. Halfway through the race, however, he had no extra gear.

“I was in it the first half or so, and then the Achilles got so sore I just couldn’t push off,” he said. “But I finished, I didn’t drop out. You couldn’t have bombed me out of that race.”


Bickford placed 18th and last among the finishers at 29:09.74. It’s been more than 30 years, and it still stings.

Bruce Bickford ran the 10,000 meters for Team USA at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I don’t talk about it much. I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “I knew that if everything had gone right, I really thought I could have been in contention for a medal. I was running the best workouts and the best times I had ever run.”

Bickford’s running days, even as a hobby, had about five years left before an Achilles injury in the opposite foot forced him to give them up. He still walks often and plays golf, and keeps himself in shape — he’s only 160 pounds now, up from 130 as a runner.

For a while, he kept himself involved in the running scene, coaching at Brandeis University, the University of Southern Maine and Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. After initially feeling the pull to return to running himself, he said the physical reminders that he couldn’t caused that urge to fade away.

“I don’t really quite have the desire to go out and do it anymore,” he said. “Not like Joanie (Benoit Samuelson) does.”

Through his children, however, sports remain a big part of Bickford’s life. He said watching his children play has filled any hole that may have been left after giving up running.


“You’ve got to follow your kids, you’ve got to support your kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, when you can’t do it anymore.”

Bickford said his kids haven’t asked him too much for advice from his days as a world-class athlete, be it handling pressure or training tips.

“They haven’t yet. They’re pretty grounded kids,” he said. “And they have good coaches. I let the coaches take care of most of the stuff. If there’s anything I can say to put a positive spin on things, I do. But I let the coaches take care of that stuff.”

Bickford’s been happy instead to watch his kids. And every four years, he’ll throw the Olympics on as well.

“I just want to get on a track and run (when I watch),” he said. “You grew up with it, and it stays with you.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.