His success did not come quickly. His first major international competition was the marathon at the 1962 European Athletics Championships in Belgrade, then the capital of Yugoslavia. He failed to finish. At the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, he finished 19th in the marathon and 18th in the 10,000-meter race. But the following year, he broke the world records for 25,000 meters and 15 miles that had been held by Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia.
Hill was not chosen for the British marathon team for the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, but he competed in the 10,000-meter event, finishing seventh. That year he also set two world records at 10 miles.
At the 1969 European Championships in Athens, Hill was tiring in the final miles of the marathon, thinking he might earn a silver medal at best when he spotted the leader, Gaston Roelants of Belgium. With less than a kilometer left, Hill caught up with him.
“I was not sure what to do,” he said later. “I thought, ‘Should I sit in behind and try to outsprint him or go straight past?’ I chose the latter and never looked back, as I was in fear of him responding.”
Hill won by about 34 seconds. Seven months later, he arrived in Boston as one of the favorites to win. “Boston was regarded as the classic marathon then, and I had dreamed of it,” Hill told The Globe in 1988. “I could hardly afford to leave work, and Boston didn’t pay expenses. But I wanted to go, and friends chipped in to a fund to send me.”
He finished sixth in the 1972 Olympic marathon, which the American Frank Shorter won. Hill raced in 115 marathons, the last one in Boston in 1996 when he was 57. His time was 3:12:46.