Athletics (Amateur)

The finish of a race at Cambridge, 1910 (AOT, PH30/1/4210)

Athletics (Amateur) in Tasmania seemed to begin with challenges of athletic feats, the only reports of athletics in newspapers. Until the 1880s there was no record of organised athletics except for school sports and some professional match events.

The revival of the Olympic Games in 1896, when Australia was represented in track and field, may have encouraged the formation of two clubs in Hobart in 1902, the New Town Harriers and the Hobart Harriers, and the Launceston Harrier Club at about this date. That year the Tasmanian Amateur Athletic Association was formed, and held the first Tasmanian track and field championships.

In 1903, 39 competitors started, in freezing conditions, in the Hobart Post Office to Pinnacle (Mount Wellington) Race. Two died of exposure, a tragic start for athletics. Tasmania affiliated with the Australian Athletic Union in 1905, and in 1908 staged its first national titles at the Hobart Cricket Ground. Alfred Clemes won the one-mile race, the first Tasmanian athlete to win a national title. Tasmania's first track and field Olympian, Bill Barwick, competed in the mile race in the 1932 Olympics. Female participation grew slowly, but in the early 1930s separate clubs for women were formed.

Following the success of the synthetic track at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Barwick and others pushed for a similar track. The Domain Athletic Centre opened in 1977, with other synthetic tracks in Launceston (1981) and Penguin (1988). These could be used all year; the number of competitions and the general standard increased markedly, and Tasmanian athletes are now regularly selected to represent Australia.

Outstanding have been Bill Barwick; hurdler David Lean, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1954, came fifth in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1956 Olympics, and won silver in the 4x400 metres relay; Elaine Frawley, the first female Tasmanian to win a national athletics championship, 440 yards in 1969; Randall Markey, who represented Australia three times in 1500 metres; marathon runner David Chettle, who represented Australia five times, including Olympic Games in 1976; all-rounder Penny Gray, who represented Australia twice in the 800 and 1500 metres, and also played hockey for Australia in the 1984 Olympics; Kent Rayner, track and cross country, who represented Australia three times; decathlon champion and long jumper Steven Knott who, following open heart surgery in 1978, earned national selection three times; Kylie Risk, who won the 10,000 metres national championship on several occasions, and ran in the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000; and veteran Shirley Basher, the best-performed of any Tasmanian athlete, who has won gold three times at world titles.

Further reading: P Jenes, Fields of green, lanes of gold, Sydney, 2001.

Robin Hood