We have the money to add to the team
Published in THE AUSTRALIAN, THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 10 1964, PG 18
(Reproduced with permission)
The Australian public, which foots the bill to send our athletes to the Olympic Games, is led to believe, that the 19 track and ﬁeld athletes selected are the best possible team that could be assembled in Australia. It is true that it is the largest team ever to compete overseas.
But considering that Australia is entitled to send 65 competitors, apart from walkers and marathon runners, our team of 19 is very modest.
In fact, we have at least seven athletes in world class who should be in the team. Why were they left out?
Before the team’s selection, some members of the Australian Olympic Council repeatedly urged our selectors to keep the size of the team down to a minimum.
They said money would be short and that in any case athletes should not be taken along for an “educational trip.” They assured the public only athletes with positive medal chances would be picked.
Personally I disagree with these sentiments. First, they are in direct contradiction to the basic Olympic ideals, and second, such a policy harms rather than aids our sporting prestige overseas and our own future athletics development.
If we sent only potential medal winners to the Games, it would have been utterly impossible for a single Australian skier to compete in Austria. And we could not have considered sending a water polo team, fencers, gymnasts or weightlifters to mention only a few.
The public and athletes alike feel that our athletic selectors may have been overzealous in keeping the team small.
They feel that the selectors should admit they have made a mistake.
There is enough money to send more athletes. The Olympic fund was, in fact, over-subscribed.
There is still time to include Ian Blackwood, Dick Leffler, Ross Filshie, Nick Birks, Trevor Bickle, Tony Davis and Peter Boyce. All are worthy of a place in the team.
Ian Blackwood ran the 3000 metres steeplechase this year in 8 min, 44.8 sec. Until June, he ranked ﬁfth in the world.
In the Rome Games the Russian Sokolov was the fastest heat winner with a time of 8 min, 43 secs.
None of the others were below 8 min, 48 secs.
The Pole Krzyszkowiak, who then held the world record of 8 min, 31.4 sec, won in 8 min, 34.2 sec.
Gaston Roelants, of Belgium, who holds the present world record of 8 min, 29.9 sec, was placed fourth in Rome with 8 min, 47.6 sec.
Neither world record nor the overall standard has improved much since 1960. It is also rather signiﬁcant that the sixth place getter in Rome ran 9 min, 1.6 sec.
Blackwood’s performance this year would have ranked 27th in the world in 1963, and in this group of 27 there were nine Russians and six Germans. Since only three from each nation can compete, Blackwood’s position would be much more promising.
I am sure he would have more than a fair chance of reaching the Olympic ﬁnal.
The selectors should remember the Englishman Chris Brasher. Before the 1956 Olympic Games he never appeared on the world ranking list, but he won the steeplechase and set up a new Olympic record.
Dick Leffler, more than any other athlete in this country, has helped to popularise ﬁeld events.
For ﬁve or six years he has been the Australian hammer champion and record-holder.
He won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Perth with a throw of 196 ft 3 ½ in., runner-up to Howard Payne, of Great Britain, who beat him by six feet.
This year he came up with a terriﬁc record breaking series, raising the Australian national standard to 201 ft 1 in. and following this up with throws of 201 ft 2 ½ in., 203 ft 11 in., 205 ft 8 in., 207 ft 1 in. and 209 ft.
The 209 ft throw was disallowed because the hammer wire was half an inch too long.
The unlucky Leffler has had his records disallowed more often, due to technicalities, than any other athlete I have known in all my experience as a coach.
Either his hammer was a gramme too light, or a fraction of an inch too long, the hammer circle slightly too big or sloped slightly too much, the ground had a drop of more than 1 inch in 100 feet, or his name did not appear on the programme.
But this throw of 209 ft places him at the head of all hammer throwers in the British Commonwealth and 23rd in the world up to June.
In 1963 this throw would have ranked 33rd in the world and, here again, in this group were 12 Russians.
It is rather ironic that Howard Payne, who won in Perth, has thrown no better than 207 ft this year — and mostly never reached 200 ft — but has been picked to compete for Britain in the Olympics.
Field events, unlike running events, are liable to huge variation.
Hal Connolly, for example, who held the world hammer record of 230 ft 8 ⅞ in. in 1960, ﬁnished seventh in the Rome Games with 206 ft ⅜ in.
The world record has not improved by more than a few inches since then, and Leffler could well ﬁnish within the first six. In Rome the sixth ﬁnalist threw 210 ft 8 in.
Australia has three javelin throwers over 250 ft. No other Commonwealth country has reached such a high standard in this event.
Alf Mitchell won at the Empire Games establishing an Empire Games record with a throw of 256 ft 3 ins. Nick Birks was third, throwing 246 ft 3 ½ in.
Birks holds the Empire and Australian record with a throw of 265 ft, while Reg Spiers, a comparative newcomer, has thrown 251 ft 1 ½ in.
I do not suggest we send all three to the Olympic Games, but I think Nick Birks would be a valuable addition to the team.
A few days ago Terje Pederson of Norway, completely revolutionized javelin throwing by setting up an incredible world record of 300 ft 10 ¾ in.
He leads the world’s best this year by 20 feet, and yet just a few weeks before this feat, he was beaten by Sidlo, of Poland who threw 273 ft when Pederson could manage no more than 250 ft.
Here to, we see the huge variation in ﬁeld games performances.
Trevor Bickle won the Empire Games pole vault, clearing 14 ft 9 in. to set up a new Empire Games record. Ross Filshie won a bronze medal with a vault of 14 ft 6 in.
Since then Filshie has raised the Australian record to 15 ft 1 ½ in. and won the Australian championship from Bickle with a vault of 15 ft.
On the two occasions when Filshie and Bickle met this year Filshie won, although Bickle cleared 15 ft 4 ½ in. when he competed in New Zealand.
Except for the Canadian Bob Watson, an athletics scholarship student in an American university, they are the best in the British Commonwealth. Both have achieved Olympic qualifying standard.
With their performances this year, Bickle ranks 48th and Filshie 57th in the world. On paper this looks most discouraging, but one must realise that nearly 90 per cent of all the vaulters who have cleared more than 15 feet are Americans.
The reason for this is the introduction of the ﬁbre glass pole which has altered vaulting techniques radically in the past two years.
It is produced only in the United States and is very expensive here.
One pole costs between £60 and £80, so few vaulters here can afford one.
The fibre glass pole is very whippy, which aids the vaulter considerably, but it also breaks very easily.
In the United States, however — especially in universities and colleges where money is no object — the best vaulters go through as many as 10 or 15 poles each year.
Our vaulters, who are potentially as good as the best in the world, are constantly worried about breaking such an expensive pole and so vault less high.
Peier Boyce, a 17-year-old High School boy, is one of the best high jumpers we have.
In the past three years he has improved from a 5 ft 6 in. jump to a best performance of 6 ft 9 ¾ in. This puts him into Olympic class.
He might not be a potential Tokyo medal winner, but in my opinion he would perform extremely well and gain enormous experience.
Our selectors should remember that this boy may well develop into an Olympic champion provided he is given opportunities now to complete against the best.
Much as I admire the Australian sprinters, I am certain none is in the same class as the late Hector Hogan, to my mind, the greatest sprinter Australia has produced.
Individually, I doubt whether Lay, Holdsworth or Earle will reach the seml-ﬁnals or even survive the early rounds.
Our chances of winning a medal in the sprints are, I feel, remote.
Our chances are much greater in the 400 metres sprint relay. In March Lay, Holdsworth, Earle and Davis set a new world record at 39.9 sec for the 440 yards relay.
What has happened to this team since? They were disbanded.
The selectors have picked the Queenslander, Eric Bigby, as the fourth man and dropped Davis.
The success of a relay team depends not so much on the speed of the individual runners but on the excellence of their baton changing.
This was clearly demonstrated during the recent Russia v America duel meet in Los Angeles.
In the 100 metres the Americans beat the best Russians by five yards, in the 200 yards by as much as 10 yards.
Yet in the 400 metre relay, because of their superb baton changing, the same Russians led the Americans all the way past the third baton change, to be eventually beaten only by three yards.
Both Earle and Davis are superb natural relay runners.
They run inﬁnitely better in a relay than as individuals in the sprint.
Together with Holdsworth, those three Victorians would have been able to perfect their baton changing in the past ﬁve or six months.
Lay, living in Sydney, could easily have been brought over to Melbourne ﬁve or six times during this period to train with them.
Had that happened, I am convinced they would have set a new world record at the Games.
As it is, they will have at the most four weeks to work together as a team which, in my opinion, is not long enough.
By dropping Davis from the team we have reduced our medal chances by quite a lot.