id1728-Ron Clarke 1936-2015

Written by David Barrington   

Australia’s 1960s multi-World record-breaking distance runner, who sadly passed away this month at the age of 78, was elected to an Honorary Life Membership of Polytechnic Harriers in 1969 partly in recognition of his supreme World Record Holder status during that decade but, more particularly, for his generous support of the Club’s spectacular Sward Trophy promotion at Crystal Palace in June of that year.

Clarke was much in demand around Europe, and the World for that matter, but Poly’s Meeting Organisers were determinedly intent on staging a special edition of the Sward Field Events Trophy. Bolstered by a swathe of high class Invitation Track events. Clarke’s presence helped to attract some 6000 spectators(& a tidy surplus!) to the Palace who, amongst other highlights, witnessed an exceptional 10,000 metres, which Clarke did not actually win but which brought a scintillating UK National record of 28.06.8 for Coventry Godiva’s GB international, Dick Taylor. Clarke was runner-up and he led home a phalanx of the leading British names of that era – Mike Tagg, Mike Freary, Jim Hogan, Jim Alder, David Bedford, Bill Adcocks, Trevor Wright and Alan Rushmer to name but a few of the 18 finishers – as well as fellow Aussie and one-time World Marathon Record Holder, Derek Clayton. There was also a fine contest for the Len Hatton Mile Trophy, presented and sponsored by K&P’s current Patron, and won by John Whetton with a sub4 3.59.2,ahead of John Kirkbride, Peter Stewart, Chris Stewart, Ray Roseman and John Jackson.

Clarke had been the first man to break 13 minutes for 3 Miles, with 12.52.4 at White City on July 10th 1965, a gripping performance witnessed by this writer.

Clarke broke 17 World Records all-told, from 2 Miles through 3Miles, 5000m, 10,000m and 6 Miles to 10 Miles, and was awarded the Order of Australia, as well as an MBE. Subsequently, he became Mayor of his hometown Gold Coast in Queensland and that is where he saw out his days.

Blackheath won the 1969 Sward and, indeed, they still take part in the Sward, alongside its sister Kinnaird Trophy, which is still staged by Kingston & Poly at Kingsmeadow every year.

There is a more extensive Tribute by Roger Robinson – www.runningtimes.com

(With acknowledgements to Melvyn Watman and his report in the June 29th 1969 edition of Athletics Weekly and numerous NUTS British Athletics publications)

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