A column by Len Johnson | Runner’s Tribe
All weeks have seven days, but some weeks seem to cram more in than others.
The last week of May, 2018 was one such week. It began with Linden Hall setting an Australian record for 1500 metres at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League in Eugene, before producing two other significant landmarks with the passing of New Zealand great Dick Quax – a man with a strong association with Eugene himself – and Ray Weinberg, a major presence in Australian athletics for the past 70 years.
Two years ago, Linden Hall announced herself on the international scene when she ran 4:01.78 at the Prefontaine meeting. This year, Hall improved still further to 4:00.86 in setting a new Australian record at the same meeting.
Statistically, the new record was a combination of the exceptional and the mundane. Exceptional, because all records are, but also because it takes us closer to the first sub-4 1500 by an Australian woman. It’s been a long journey since Jenny Orr reached the first Olympic women’s 1500 final at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games.
The 4:08.06 Orr ran in the heats in Munich remained the national record for 24 years. Fourteen others have now run faster, beginning with Kate Anderson (now Richardson) who ran 4:07.03 in Brisbane in March, 1996. A few months later, Margaret Crowley slashed almost six seconds off that with 4:01.34 in Oslo.
It was another 10 years before Sarah Jamieson took us under 4:01 when she ran 4:00.93 in Stockholm in 2006. Now Hall has taken another step closer to the four-minute mark.
That’s the exceptional, then. The mundane is that all the record has done is lead to a modest revision to the national, state and Athletics Essendon club all-time list. When Hall had her breakthrough run two years ago, Essendon boasted the top three women on the national and Victorian all-time lists – Jamieson, Crowley and Hall. It still does, but Hall jumps up two places and the others slip down one.
It also means that Bruce Scriven has now coached the two fastest on the all-time list, improving from one and three. Throw in his work with Craig Mottram (until 2002) and Mark Fountain, the Geelong-based coach has an imposing record at middle-distances. In a further link, Jamieson coached Hall in the early part of the latter’s career and then recommended she join Scriven after she completed her US college scholarship.
Dick Quax was no slouch at 1500 metres either, first coming to international attention with a silver medal behind Kip Keino at the Edinburgh 1970 Commonwealth Games.
Quax was one of the generation of Kiwis who followed the 1960 and 1964 Olympic gold medallists, Peter Snell and Murray Halberg. He, John Walker, Rod Dixon, Lorraine Moller and Anne Audain were among the stars of this post-Snell, post-Lydiard generation. They were mostly coached either by Lydiard or by Lydiard-influenced coaches such as Arch Jelley and John Davies.
In what I still rate as my favourite 5000 ever, Quax fell a step-and-a-half short of beating Lasse Viren in the Montreal Olympic final (Dixon fell a step short of a bronze medal). A year later, he had some sort of consolation with a world record for 5000 metres, which remained the NZ record for 31 years. Snell, Quax and 1936 Olympic 1500 champion Jack Lovelock are the only three Kiwis to have set a world record in an Olympic event.
Quax also was a star on the US road circuit as it progress to full professionalism in the early 1980s. At this stage, he was based in Eugene.
Great as his performances were, however, Quax was just as impressive for his work off the track. Over many years, he and John Davies re-established international meetings in New Zealand. He gave generously of his time – and his usually forthright views – whenever he was asked. At a community level, he served on the Auckland City Council. His son, Theo, is a promising distance runner.
At all these levels, Dick Quax will be sorely missed.
Unlike Quax, who goes somewhat prematurely, Ray Weinberg lived a long and valuable life during which he occupied almost every position possible in athletics. As an athlete, he won many Victorian and national titles in the hurdles and represented Australia at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, finishing sixth in the 110 hurdles in Helsinki on the latter occasion.
Weinberg was also the coach and team manager for the Australian athletics team at the Mexico City 1968 Olympics, and worked as a television commentator in Tokyo in 1964 and Moscow in 1980. So he was present in one or another capacity for some of the most controversial Olympic moments – Dawn Fraser’s 10-year ban (Tokyo), Peter Norman’s support of Tommy Smith and John Carlos in their protest in Mexico and the boycott Olympics in Moscow.
Weinberg was also a foundation member of Athletics International, the mainly ex-athletes’ body which supports current athletes. He was present at the inaugural meeting at Ron Clarke’s house in 1968 and was the club’s first president.
Like Quax, Ray Weinberg had a charismatic personality. In the run-up to London 2012, Athletics International had a breakfast celebrating the third London Olympics following 1948 and, even earlier, 1908. Ray was on a panel with other members of the team and regaled the audience with countless amusing anecdotes.
One-on-one, Ray was always on for a chat – one of his retirement ‘gigs’ was as a guide for Melbourne Cricket Ground tours: no-one could have been more suited to the task. He had a knack for remembering names and faces. Even when Ray espoused a view diametrically opposed to your own, he gave the impression that yours was a reasonable and well-argued case.
Dick Quax and Ray Weinberg will both be widely missed. Our sympathies to the family and friends of both.
Main cover | Australian Nationals 2018: Photo by Ewa Facioni