Olympian Ron Clarke passes, aged 78

Olympian Ron Clarke during his last public interview at his home on June 12th, 2015 (Photo: Shaun Herbertson)
Olympian Ron Clarke during his last public interview at his home on June 12th, 2015 (Photo: Shaun Herbertson)

Five days ago we were interviewing one of Australia’s Athletics’ greats in his home.  Today, it is with great sadness that we mark the sudden passing of Olympian, former Mayor of the Gold Coast and the holder of 19 Athletics World Records, Ron Clarke, who passed away this morning in Queensland after a short illness.

Ron came to the public’s attention as a teenager when he was the final torch bearer at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne – with the photo of his lighting the Olympic flame at the MCG becoming the iconic image of those Games worldwide.

But his true contribution to Australian Athletics was his impressive 19 World Records in middle to long distance running, his representing Australia at two Olympics and two Empire Commonwealth Games and his Bronze Medal at the 1964 Olympics.

Olympians Ron Clarke, Bob Joyce, Marg Woodlock-McLean and David Boykett at the 50th Anniversary celebrations for the 1956 Olympics at the MCG in 2005 (Photo: Sally McLean)

Coached by Franz Stampfl as a junior athlete until 1957 and again for his hugely successful 1965 European tour, where he broke 12 World Records in 44 days, Ron graciously allowed us into his home last Friday to interview him for the film, which sadly turned out to be his last official public appearance before his passing this morning.

The whole team here at A Life Unexpected are truly saddened by this news.  While clear that Ron wasn’t in 100% health when we arrived, once he was on camera, he laughed and answered questions with grace and charm – and we are so grateful to Ron and his wife, Helen, for giving us the opportunity to speak with him about his career and work with Franz.

This news is especially sad for myself and Co-Producer, Marg Woodlock-McLean – who was instrumental in organizing Ron’s interview, calling on her long term friendship with he and Helen to make the arrangements.  I had the good fortune to meet Ron several times and I am grateful that Marg and I got to say goodbye in person.  But it hasn’t lessened the shock of his passing so soon after seeing him.  Not only an incredible athlete, Ron was a true gentleman, an articulate and intelligent man, with a great sense of duty and a lovely sense of humour and he shall be missed greatly.  A huge and vital driving force in the Athletics world has now gone and his absence will be felt.

Our sincere sympathies go out to Helen, and the whole Clarke family, as well as Ron’s many friends and colleagues at this very sad time.

Sally McLean
A Life Unexpected

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