Malmo: Cruel Shoes

Cruel Shoes


The following story is a response by malmo to this question from the former Track and Field website:
“Doug brown is a national champion, 3 time Olympian, and in the summer of 1978 he went to
Europe and ran 21 races. What were his times, splits, and places?”

Being your link “back to the future”, I thought that I’d re-tell the story of the “Cruel Shoes” for the benefit of the Track and Field readers. If I didn’t witness the legend unfold in front of me with my own eyes, I, too, would have a difficult time believing this bone-chilling tale. So lock up the doors and turn on the lights. Listen closely my friends, what follows is the incredible story of The Cruel Shoes.

It’s August 1978, the night before that 21st and last race of the year – the 3000m steeplechase at ISTAF – in a Berlin hotel room:

“Malmo,” said Brown, as he pulled his spikes from his bag, “I’m pulling out all stops tomorrow!”

“Wudda ya mean?” I asked.

“I’m breaking out the ‘Cruel Shoes’.”

“Cruel Shoes”, you see, was not only the title of a book by comedian Steve Martin, it was also the moniker that “Brownie” had given to his favorite racing shoes: a pair of two-tone, blue-on-blue Nike Vanquers. These were not just any ordinary shoes, mind you, these were magical shoes – the Cruel Shoes. Every time that Brownie laced-up those spikes, it would result in a personal best. Every time.

It started out auspiciously enough in the 10,000m at Stockholm, where he would run 27:54.2, good enough for third place and a personal record. Damn near stole the race:

“Malmo, how much?”, asked Brownie after surging into the lead with a 64.0 on the twelfth lap.

“Fifty yards, don’t look back! JUST GO!”, I hollered.

Brownie couldn’t turn his head to look back even if he wanted to. The previous night, in a Stockholm restaurant, he wrenched his neck out in a wrassling match with Polish shot put champion Wladyslaw Komar.

The 20,000 spectators in the stadium were now being held captive by a gang of two: Brownie on the track in the midst of a jailbreak, with your fearless narrator directing this madness from the sidelines.
Next Lap, this time a 64.9:

“How much?”

“Seventy-five yards, Brownie! DO IT AGAIN!”

The legend of the Cruel Shoes had taken root after another PR in the 5000m, a 13:40.6 in Nijmegen, behind hometown hero Jos Hermans. Then another, this time at 3000m, a 7:58.7 in Karlskroner. Soon after that, in Olso, home to the venerable Bislett Stadium, another 5000m PR: 13:34.3 . The legend was now burning completely out of control, consuming all who stood in its way. In Reykjavik, Iceland, of all god-forsaken places, the Cruel Shoes, with Brownie riding as jockey, threw in a 1500m PR (3:45.4). After that race the meet promoter confided, “I’ve lived in Reykjavik all of my life and I’ve never, ever, seen a day here without wind – until today.”

Coincidence or Cruel Shoes?

Don’t think that he wore them in every competition, either. He didn’t. Sure, he raced in other shoes, but not once during that reign of terror did he record a PR while wearing any of the others at his disposal. Whenever he came back to the beloved Cruel shoes – sure enough, just like magic, a 13:33.9 (Warsaw) would appear out of nowhere, and result in another PR! By the way that Brownie was running, you’d think that he was wearin’ the freakin’ Ruby Red Slippers or something! When he slipped the Cruel Shoes on his feet, I swear that I could hear a heavenly chorus in the background. Made tears well up in my eyes all blurry-like.Brownie’s high-beams were flashin’, so just – get – out – of – his – freakin’ – way!

Those shoes had some kind of really powerful Mojo workin’ for ’em. One night, Brownie told me, he was visited in a dream by a prophetic white salamander named ‘Dinwoody’ who whispered to him softly, “…caf-feine…caf-feine…” He awoke in a hypnagogic stupor. Could this cryptic dream possibly have meaning? Was he drinking too much Mountain Dew? He didn’t think so. Besides, Brownie didn’t buy into any of that New Age dream therapy bullhocky.

Back in that hotel room in Berlin:

“Wudda ya mean you’re breakin out the Cruel Shoes?”, I asked.

“It’s the last race of the year and I’m breaking ’em out just one more time.”

“You’re not breaking out no freakin’ Cruel Shoes, Brownie. You’re perfect record’s at stake. You’re telling me that you’re gonna risk it all, risk your perfect record for just one lousy steeplechase?”

“Yup, I’m breakin’ ’em out.”

“I don’t think that the Cruel Shoes can hold up. Look at this. See that thread? Yeah, that one – right there. It’ll bust out on you in the water jump! You’ll regret ever wearin’ ’em when everyone in the field, including Richard Simmons, passes your sorry, rocky-top ass.”

“Malmo, it’s not gonna work. There’s nothing you can say. I’m still breakin’ out the Cruel Shoes tomorrow.”

“I’m through with you, Brownie! I’ll file a protest. The rules say that everyone must have the same advantage!”

“Nothin’ in the rule book ’bout Cruel Shoes”, he said with a grin.

“Say ‘Goodnight, Brownie’.”

“Sleep tight, Malmo. Don’t let the Cruel Shoes bite.”

The next day, Doug Brown would go on and set yet another PR, this time an American Record 8:19.3, and second place behind Polish Silver Medalist Bronoslaw Malinowski. If the Cruel Shoes possessed the powers of 50 men, then our brother in Heaven (Brono, r.i.p. 1981) wore shoes that night with the powers of 51.


Two years later, Brownie would break out the Cruel Shoes again for the last time – the finals of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, the streak would finally come to an end. It took the fury of a caffeine-crazed Mormon to break the spell. [can you hear the heavenly chorus yet?] No Personal Record this time for Brownie and his shoes. He did, however, run 8:20.6 – good enough for second place and a spot on his third Olympic Team.

The Cruel Shoes are now retired and on display in the Museum of Un-Natural History, somewhere in Gainesville, Florida.

How did your fearless narrator make out in the Trials? Remember that thread – the one that was ‘right there’? It bust out on me in the first water jump of the qualifying rounds.
Richard Simmons passed me shortly thereafter.