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Champion runner Ron Clarke dies

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So deep was Ron Clarke’s love for athletics that even when sitting down, his legs would just bounce on their own.

“I revelled in the feeling that running gave me,” Clarke once said.

“It was a fantastic feeling, an alive feeling.”

It was a feeling that yielded an astonishing 17 official world records, an Olympic bronze medal and four Commonwealth Games silvers.

It also earned him the honour of lighting the flame at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, aged just 19.

Clarke died on Wednesday, aged 78

For all of his achievements, Clarke is perhaps best remembered for stories of cruel luck and near-misses.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Clarke – untrained for the high altitude – ran out of oxygen late in the 10,000m event having been challenging for the lead.

Virtually unconscious, he staggered on to finish sixth.

It wasn’t until years later he discovered he’d damaged his heart as a result, requiring open heart surgery and daily medication.

Clarke eventually got his hands on an Olympic gold medal but from an unlikely source: friend and idol Emil Zatopek.

Zatopek invited him to Czechoslovakia where, upon greeting him at Prague airport, he handed him a package containing his 1952 medal.

“Look after this, you deserve it,” Zatopek reportedly told him.

It was the kind of sportsmanship that Clarke seemed to attract.

At the 1956 national championships at Olympic Park, Clarke tripped on the penultimate lap of the 1500m final and was accidentally spiked in the arm and shoulder by rival John Landy.

“I stopped to see how he was and he got up and said `keep going’, which I did and I won the race,” Landy recalled on ABC Radio in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“He was an outstanding athlete, not only in the sense of when he made records, but he really did show to the world what was possible in endurance running.

“He set a standard not only for Australian athletes but for world athletes.”

Off the track, Clarke was a successful businessman, author and politician.

He was elected Mayor of the Gold Coast in 2004, defeating the incumbent Gary Baildon, and held onto the role until his resignation in 2012.

In that time he helped the city secure the 2018 Commonwealth Games and in 2013 was appointed an Officer (AO) in the General Division in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Ron Clarke running with the Olympic torch in Melbourne in 1956. AAP/Sport the Library

Ron Clarke running with the Olympic torch in Melbourne in 1956. AAP/Sport the Library

RON CLARKE’S CAREER

Born: Melbourne, Feb 21, 1937

Early life:

* Educated at Melbourne High School

* Set world junior records between 1500m and 2 miles

* Played reserves football with Essendon in the VFL
World Records – 17

* 2-mile (1967, 68)

* 3-mile (1964, 65 twice, 66)

* 5000m (1965 three times, 66)

* 6-mile (1963, 65)

* 10,000m (1963, 65)

* 10-mile (1965)

* 20km (1965)

* 1-hour (1965: 20.232km)
Olympic medals – 1

* Bronze: 10,000m (1964 Tokyo)
Commonwealth medals: 4

* Silver: 3 miles (1962 Perth, 1966 Kingston); 6 miles (1966 Kingston, 1970 Edinburgh)
National titles – 9
Other achievements:

* Lit the Olympic flame at the 1956 Melbourne Games, aged 19

* Appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) – 1966

* Inducted into Sport Australia Hall of Fame – 1985

* Gold Coast Mayor – 2004-12

* Appointed Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) – 2013

– AAP

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