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Rio hopefuls can learn from Kapyla Club

4 August 2015

AOC: One year out from the Rio Olympic Games is a good time to reflect and recall the journey of Australia’s Olympians.

Proudly, we share with Greece the honour of being the only nations to compete at every summer Olympic Games in the modern era since 1896.

In 2016 the Australian Olympic Committee is funding the Team to Rio 2016 to the tune of $32m to send around 465 athletes which will be one of the biggest Teams to land in Brazil.

It is all about creating the right atmosphere and opportunity for the athletes to compete at their best.

Their uniform, all 100 plus items of Team kit, must fit perfectly. Their bed in the Village is comfortable, the food is okay, the medical facilities are first class and the buses arrive on time to take them to their events.

Of course there are the latest Qantas A380 jets on standby to fly them home after it is all over.

Cast your mind back to 1952, the Games in Helsinki, Finland, to see the road that has been travelled.

The Team of 85 athletes flew on a Qantas plane. Originally the Australian Olympic Federation (now AOC) selected 35 athletes.

The flight left Tuesday and arrived Sunday after ten stops to refuel.

In those days if an athlete didn’t have the money to pay for the trip, they didn’t go. In 2016 the situation is vastly different, if you reach the qualifying standard you are on the plane AND the AOC pays for everything.

In 1952 Australian rower David Anderson had to raise 850 pounds to fund his trip to the Helsinki Olympic Games. That was the equivalent of one year’s pay.

Anderson was not alone, all the other athletes of that era were in the same boat.

The 1952 Team were lucky to receive a tracksuit and a pair of sandshoes before they headed off to represent their country.

They did it for all the right reasons, a love of sport and pride in their country. They scrimped and saved every penny because to them competing at the Olympics was a great honour bestowed on just a few.

Facilities provided by the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra did not exist in 1952.

Marjorie Jackson, a young sprinter from Lithgow, could only train at night because she had a day job.

There was no running track until the townsfolk chipped in and built one out of cinders. They could not afford to light it. Marjorie trained six nights a week in the pitch black, in sleet and snow, running towards the headlights of a car.

Her first set of spikes, a gift from her parents, were bought second hand.

Marjorie won the sprint double, the 100m and 200m, in Helsinki to become Australia’s first female athlete to win gold. She became known as the Lithgow Flash and an Australian icon.

Later she became the Governor of South Australia.

To help her relay team mates get to Helsinki, Verna Johnston and Winsome Cripps, and to fund her own trip, Marjorie did odd jobs including grooming greyhounds at Wentworth Park in Sydney.

Lionel Cox, a cyclist from Sydney, received 300 pounds from a raffle run by his mates at the fruit markets where he worked. He was still well short, so his mother, a sole parent took out a mortgage on the family home to get Lionel to the Games.

He repaid everyone with a gold and a silver medal.

Recently the 1952 Olympic Team attended its annual reunion, named the Kapyla Club, after where they stayed in the Helsinki Village.

The Kapyla Club members don’t begrudge today’s Olympians anything.

Athletes like Shirley Strickland, John Landy, Merv Wood, Russell Mockridge, Lionel Cox, John Treloar and Marjorie Jackson laid the foundation for today’s Olympians in what history calls the Golden Era of Australian sport.

Sixty years later you can imagine their horror at headlines about “entitlement” and athletes behaving badly.

To the Kapyla Club members those athletes are cheapening the blazer. They are lacking respect and showing total disregard for those who came before them.

If you want to learn about mateship and the Australian way it is hard to go past the Kapyla Club.

Mike Tancred
(Thank you to the late Olympic historian Harry Gordon for the rich history and eloquent words)

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