Watched a terrific program last night on TV hosted by John Clarke, New Zealand’s greatest export. Sporting Nation is all about Australia’s love of sport, both a look at the historical narrative and an investigation into both its origins and why Australia has so often been so dominant. Being a John Clarke program it was spiced with his wry, occasionally absurdist, humour and perspective. He might have been born a Kiwi, but he’s very firmly entrenched now as a commentator on things Australian.
The program featured among others one of my favourite ever athletes, Herb Elliott. His is a great story. One of the most dominant athletes of all time he retired at his peak at 24 having never been defeated over a mile. Great athlete, strong minded, and an interesting, intelligent man to boot. One of the famous stories about him is how he was trained on the sand dunes on the peninsula by his famous and eccentric coach Percy Cerutty. Percy trained the body hard, but he also moulded the mind. His athletes were tough mothers.
Elliott for me is one of those curious examples of super-human athletes who become one of us. I used to see him regularly about town going about his business (as I did one of the Oarsome Foursome, James Tompkins), and once on a summer holiday down Anglesea way he was a few towels over from us, just an ordinary dude enjoying the surf, though still wiry and fit.
I learnt something else last night. Shane Gould was one of the Olympic athletes interviewed. She won 5 medals at Munich, including 3 gold, all of which I knew. What I didn’t know is that I went to the same school she did, though a few years later. was I ever aware of that? Not that I remember. There’s a film clip of her, and another gold medal winning THS student, being welcomed back to the school. The film is in black and white, and in the background the familiar site of the centre quadrangle and the sixties era school buildings, double story and rectangular. She was 15, 16 then. I reckon I started there no more than 5/6 years after she left.
Anyway, the program continues next Sunday night. Check it out.