Legendary Olympian and Gold Coast mayor for eight years Ron Clarke has passed away on the Gold Coast, aged 78. The athletics champ lit the flame at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
During his heyday Mr Clarke was one of the best-known middle and long distance runners in the world. He broke world records one after the other, redefining the boundaries of his sport in a matter of years. The Sydney Morning Herald recalls Mr Clarke lowered the world 5,000 metres mark four times (by a total of 18 seconds) and the 10,000 metres record three times, paring it back by an overall 39 seconds.
Overall he set 17 world records, 12 of them during a 44-day tour of Europe in 1965.
Despite his speed and stamina, Mr Clarke never won a gold medal in the Olympic Games. Many say he was the greatest runner in the world but suffered cruel fate when it came to the Games.
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At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, Mr Clarke collapsed at the end of the 10,000-metre race and came close to dying after suffering the effects of altitude. Despite training in the Alps to get acclimatised to high altitudes at Mexico City, this could not put him on par with opponents from some of the African countries, who had always run at high altitude.
Legend has it that later that year the great middle and long distance runner Emil Zatopek invited him to Czechoslovakia and gifted Mr Clarke his 1952 Olympic gold medal as he left the country, with the words, “Look after this, you deserve it”.
Mr Clarke unwrapped the package in the airport bathroom and found the medal with his name engraved in it. “I sat on that toilet seat and wept,” he said.
The Aussie hero went on to become Mayor of Gold Coast from 2004 to 2012. He is credited with playing a pivotal role in securing the Commonwealth Games for 2018.
According to the Gold Coast Bulletin Mr Clarke maintained a robust fitness regime until recently. He became less mobile following an accident around a year ago. He also struggled with kidney and heart health. A friend of the family told the Gold Coast Bulletin that the fateful race in Mexico City had likely caused the damage.
Mr Clarke is survived by his wife Helen, two sons and grandchildren.
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