DeCastella’s victories in the marathon include the first ever World Championships gold medal in 1983, two Commonwealth Games gold medals in ’82 and ’86, one World Record of 2:08:18 in Fukuoka, Japan in 1981, and big city marathon wins in Boston, Fukuoka and Rotterdam. Despite of never winning an Olympic medal – a fate too often suffered by the world’s greatest runners – he finished in the top ten in three consecutive Olympic marathons, a feat not repeated until this day.
DeCastella quickly earned a reputation for his unbelievable grit and toughness during races, especially in the last six miles of the marathon when worse gets to worst. Olympic champion Frank Shorter commented in 1983, “DeCastella is stronger over the last stages of a marathon than any marathoner ever before.” The comment was made right after Deek had surged away from the field in the last kilometres of the World Championships marathon in Helsinki and made his claim to world’s best marathoner official. Two other epic races stand out in his long career.
One year earlier in 1982 DeCastella ran his first Commonwealth Games marathon, which was to become one of the most unforgettable and gruelling finales in marathon racing. Being over a minute behind on the leaders DeCastella made his move at mile 18 and finally caught up with the lead runner, Tanzanian Juma Ikangaa, at mile 24. A fierce battle of surges and resurges ensued, which DeCastella eventually won to run into Brisbane’s stadium victorious.
In the spring of 1983 DeCastella and Alberto Salazar – at the time considered the two best marathoners in the world – raced each other in a world class field in Rotterdam, including the later Olympic gold medallist Carlos Lopes. At 35 kilometres Salazar dropped away from the lead pack and two kilometres before the end only Lopes and DeCastella were left. It seemed that Deek was fated for second place as the Portuguese, who had greater speed over short distances, surged away from him. Yet again DeCastella proved both his legs and his will were made of steel when he gave an all-out effort and outsprinted Lopes in the last 400 metres of the race. It was a show of sheer strength and will-power in a race that will be remembered and treasured for years to come.
DeCastella’s training methods were somewhat unorthodox for their consistency and simplicity. Throughout his entire career he did the same workouts on the same weekdays, week in and week out. People dubbed his method ‘complex training’ but really it was as simple as your ABC and as transparent as water. His week consisted of a hill workout, a speed workout and a long run. Just because of his unfaltering discipline and perseverance – he hardly ever missed a workout – DeCastella slowly and steadily grew out to become a world champion.