Francisco Aritmendi

Francisco Aritmendi Criado (17 or 19 September 1938 – 12 April 2020) was a Spanish long-distance runner, who competed mainly in cross country running competitions. He was the gold medallist at the 1964 International Cross Country Championships. He was a six-time competitor at the competition and also shared in a team silver in 1962. However, his failure to finish at the 1963 race drew great criticism as Spain missed the team title as a result.

Francisco Aritmendi
Medal record
Men's athletics
Representing  Spain
International Cross Country Championships
Gold medal – first place 1964 Dublin Senior race
Silver medal – second place 1962 Sheffield Senior team

Aritmendi also competed on the track and represented Spain at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 5000 metres. He was the Spanish record holder in that event, having become the first Spaniard under fourteen minutes with his best of 13:53.4 minutes. He was a three-time national champion: twice in cross country and once in the 10,000 metres. He ran during the amateur era of athletics and ultimately sold his historic International Cross Country gold medal due to poverty. His achievements were recognised nationally in 2007 when he was given the bronze Royal Order of Sports Merit.


Early life and careerEdit

Born during the height of the Spanish Civil War in Málaga del Fresno, a rural area near Madrid,[1] he grew up in nearby Cogolludo. He took up running at school after being noted for his speed on the football pitch. In spite of his slight and small build (1.57 m), he performed well and quickly rose to win the national junior title in 1958, running with hemp shoes.[2]

As he entered his twenties his running career was interrupted by military service and the passed from club to club, leaving Real Madrid in 1959 for SD Arenas.[3] He began to make progress at the Spanish Cross Country Championships, coming 18th in 1961, then ninth in 1962. As a result of the latter performance he received his first international call-up for the 1962 International Cross Country Championships.[2] At the competition, held in Sheffield, he finished 33rd and, as the sixth finisher in a Spanish team led by José Molíns, he shared in the team silver medals.[4] He was signed up by FC Barcelona after this performance and began training under Gregorio Rojo.[2]

Failure and victoryEdit

At the start of the 1963 season he impressed with a win at the Championat de Catalunya de Cross and second place to Mariano Haro at the national championships.[5] There were high hopes for his performance at the 1963 International Cross Country Championships, which was held on home turf in San Sebastián. However, this would prove to be the most denigrated outing of his career. Failing to run an even-paced race, he ran too quickly towards the end, aiming for an individual honour, and despite being around tenth place on the final lap he dropped out of the race. This decision cost the host nation the team title – with Aritmendi's finish the team would have been ten points clear of the eventual winners Belgium, but instead ended fifth in the rankings as the team score was greatly increased by 38th placed Iluminado Corcuera instead. He was greatly criticised by the press and his teammates and Spain never did win the team International Cross title.[3][2]

He completely turned around his fortunes in the 1964 event. He started by defending his Catalan title then claimed his first national title at the Spanish Cross Country Championships.[5] The 1962 winner and 1963 runner-up Gaston Roelants was favourite for the 1964 International Cross Country Championships, but Aritmendi took to the front. The course in Dublin became increasingly muddy in the rain and Aritmendi persisted as Roelants dropped out and Englishmen Ron Hill and John Cooke fell back. Aritmendi completed a greatly unexpected upset by winning the gold medal, almost ten seconds ahead of the next finisher.[6] He was the first Spaniard to win this title, the direct predecessor to the cross-country world championships which were established in 1973.[7] As a result of his win he was invited to meet both Francisco Franco and the prince-in-exile Juan Carlos I of Spain.[3]

Following his cross country win he began to receive support from the Spanish Athletics Federation and was assigned Kosta Olander as his coach. Aritmendi took to the track that summer and achieved a Spanish record of 13:53.4 minutes while finishing third at the ISTAF Berlin meeting, being the first Spaniard to complete the distance in under fourteen minutes.[3][5] He did not match this performance later in the season however, taking third at the Spanish Athletics Championships and being eliminated in fourth place of his heat at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.[2][1]

Later careerEdit

He broke another Spanish record in February 1965, running 8:22.2 minutes for the indoor 3000 metres.[2] He also defended his title at the Spanish Cross Country Championships.[5] He returned to defend his title, but was not successful, finishing in 23rd place, leading the Spanish men to fifth in the team race.[8] In 1966 he enjoyed three high-profile wins in Spain, taking the Catalan cross country title, the national 10,000 metres title, and the Jean Bouin race, but did not compete internationally. He had one more win at the Catalan race in 1967 and, after taking fifth at the nationals, finished 35th in a weakened Spanish team at the 1967 International Cross Country Championships.[5]

His final international outing at the 1968 International Cross Country Championships saw him fall outside the top fifty runners in 52nd place.[9] Having been an amateur, he ended his career in poverty and settled in Lasarte-Oria, the hometown of his wife, Conchita. The couple had four children, two girls and two boys, and later moved to Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha. Still of humble means, Aritmendi suffered an injury and his family struggled. As a result, he sold his International Cross Country gold medal in order to buy food for his family.[3][2]

In his later years his achievements began to be recognised. He received the bronze Royal Order of Sports Merit in 2007.[10] A street in Guadalajara was named in his honour – Paseo de Francisco Aritmendi – and in his hometown of Málaga del Fresno a sports centre was named after him.[11][12]

Aritmendi died of pneumonia during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain in April. At his death, he remained the only Spaniard to have won the world cross country title.[13]

International competitionsEdit

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
1962 International Cross Country Championships Sheffield, United Kingdom 33rd Senior race 46:11
2nd Senior team 115 pts
1963 International Cross Country Championships San Sebastián, Spain Senior race DNF
1964 International Cross Country Championships Dublin, Ireland 1st Senior race 40:33
5th Senior team 157 pts
Olympic Games Tokyo, Japan 4th (q) 5000 m 14:05.0
1965 International Cross Country Championships Ostend, Belgium 23rd Senior race 37:51
5th Senior team 187 pts
1967 International Cross Country Championships Barry, United Kingdom 35th Senior race 37:44
7th Senior team 256 pts
1968 International Cross Country Championships Tunis, Tunisia 52nd Senior race 37:38.4

National titlesEdit


  1. ^ a b Francisco Aritmendi Archived March 24, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Sports Reference. Retrieved on 2016-05-05.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Villaseñor, Miguel (2011). Francisco Aritmendi, GANADOR DEL CROSS DE LAS NACIONES DE 1964 (in Spanish). Real Federación Española de Atletismo. Retrieved on 2016-05-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e Biosca, P. (2014-01-27). El campeón que tuvo que vender su medalla (in Spanish). ABC. Retrieved on 2016-05-05.
  4. ^ Magnusson, Tomas (2007-03-24). INTERNATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS - 12.0km CC Men - Sheffield Graves Park Date: Saturday, March 24, 1962. Athchamps (archived). Retrieved on 2016-05-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e Francisco Arizmendi. Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved on 2016-05-05.
  6. ^ El Español Arizmendi Gano Ayer En Dublin El Cross De Naciones (in Spanish). ABC (1964-03-22). Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  7. ^ El C.D. Guadalajara homenajeará este domingo a Francisco Aritmendi y a José Carlos de la Cruz. Deportivo Guadalajara (2014-09-18). Retrieved on 2016-05-08.
  8. ^ Magnusson, Tomas (2007-03-24). INTERNATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS - 12.1km CC Men - Ostend Wellington Racecourse Date: Saturday, March 20, 1965. Athchamps (archived). Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  9. ^ Athletes File International Cross Country Championships Francisco Aritmendi (1938.09.17). Athchamps (archived). Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  10. ^ Francisco Aritmendi, medalla de bronce al mérito deportivo. La Cronica (2007-04-24). Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  11. ^ Paseo Francisco Aritmendi (in Spanish). Callejero. Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  12. ^ Pérez, M. (2010-12-04). Málaga del Fresno rinde homenaje Francisco Aritmendi (in Spanish). Nueva al Carria. Retrieved on 2016-05-06.
  13. ^ Francisco Aritmendi, único atleta español que ganó un Mundial de Cross. ABC (2020-04-12). Retrieved 2020-04-12.

Further readingEdit

  • Rodrigo Arribas, Ildefonso (2006). Campeón. Francisco Aritmendi, campeón del mundo de cross. Guadalajara: Gatoverde Editores.