Looking back over the years Australian sporting legend Ian Blackwood reflects on some of the high’s and low’s of the loneliness, of a long distance runner. Before finally moving to Malaysia, to semi-retire!
Where did it start?:
Having spent his early teens as a bike rider and not getting any where, Ian decided it was time for a change. But to what? Swimming, too slow. Football, too small !
The answer to this was about to be served.
Like a crack of thunder, whilst daydreaming through a classroom window, a ruler smashed onto his hand, followed with “stop the dreaming, you have been selected to run the 200 metre, next Saturday”.
Saturday came and the race was, run & won.
It turned out that this race was a handicap and Ian started on 14 metres. Now he, was a runner.
Training commenced the next day as there was an 800 metre race in 2 weeks time. He made it through to the final. Running now confirmed as the preferred sport.
Isn’t it amazing what a win, or two can do!
Every kid on the block commenced running, around this time, as the Melbourne Olympics, had only been held the year before.
After joining a running club, things started to progress really well as Ian was introduced to Cross Country running where he excelled, winning many of the junior and senior cross country events, breaking club and state records on the way.
Ian’s mind set had now changed to that of the competitor, who had the ambition to win, in the senior ranks. How to get there?
World renown distance coach Percy Cerruty. Invited Ian to come to his training camp at Portsea, a seaside area, on the Mornington Peninsula 110 Km south of Melbourne.
Percy was an eccentric character who started running at the age of 42 and finished his distance running career after winning the State Marathon Championship. Producing many of the country’s greatest long distance athletes. Percy pioneered a home spun system of “Stotan” training, embracing a holistic regime of natural diets, extremely hard training in natural surroundings, combined with a hunger to win with a mental toughness.
Sessions at his Portsea camp would often see athletes running up an 80 foot sand hill in repetitions of 4 or 5 sets of 10 . Many collapsed with exhaustion, never to return for more.
Ian says we should all try it sometime.
It puts a new meaning to the tolerance of pain and builds the mental attitude that is a must, if you are to become successful, not only in distance running but all of the endurance sports, that we have today.
The Games: Perth 1962:
The time following the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956, passed without incident and injury free, to the Selection Trials for the upcoming 1962 Commonwealth Games.
The training squad was announced and Ian was named selected.
The actual track team was to be selected at trials in late October that year with the actual Games commencing in late November.
The Trials came and went. The track team was announced..
He had made it. Into the 3000 metre Steeplechase.
Ian was told the Steeplechase is an event that covers 3000 metres, competitors have to negotiate 28 hurdles and 7 water jumps.
Along with many Australian elite athletes from all sports he was one of the new boys on the team.
Australia was blessed at the time with some the greats of distance running. The steeplechase was on the first day of the track and field programme. It was an extremely hot Perth day with a hot dry wind and 37c temperature.
Ian was ranked 9th fastest in the commonwealth and was set to improve on this.
The Starters Gun was fired and the field was away, he settled into 2nd place for the first 6 laps and then was run down over the last lap and a half.
Australian Trevor Vincent won Gold, with a new Commonwealth and Australian Record.
Ian, finished with a personal best time in 4th place.
Australia 1st 3rd & 4th. Overall a great result.
Tokyo Olympics – 1964 … Disappointment:
There are many up’s and down’s encountered during the years of any sportsmans life.
The Tokyo Olympics proved to be Ian’s greatest disappointment.
He explains why, in brief …
“It was advised that all track athletes, who bettered the Olympic Qualifying time would be included in the team”
At the trials he finished 2nd to his old rival Trevor Vincent and both went under the Qualifying time and eligible for selection. Time to get really serious, he thought.
Ian’s parents bought tickets and went to Tokyo for the big event. The team was announced, Ian had not been named. Devastation!
Ian and Trevor were both a chance of bringing home a medal. The selectors decided on 1 athlete only for the Steeplechase. It was Trevor.
His Parents had a wonderful time at the games and visited the Athletes Village several times as Trevor’s guests.
Ian watched the games on TV from the comfort of his home in Melbourne.
The rest is history.
Was only 2 years away
1962 was the last British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Kingston in 1966 was the 1st Commonwealth Games.
Trial for the Steeplechase saw Ian and arch rival, Trevor Vincent, racing shoulder to shoulder for the entire race, on schedule for a new Australian record, as normal he would apply the pressure 300 meters from home.
At the last water jump, he was 2 or 3 meters in front of his rival who missed judged the jump and fell into the water, like a rabbit Ian was off, finishing 1st with a New Australian Record and New British Commonwealth Record, along with the fastest time in the world that year.
Ian adds, sadly, Trevor had snapped his Achilles tendon which ended his running career.
“A great guy, a Tough competitor and still a close friend today”
Ian was on his way to Jamaica…
A tough schedule… 3000 metres Steeplechase, 5000 Metres and the Marathon.
His Steeplechase race panned out much the same as his selection trial, running 2nd most of the way, applying pressure with 300 metres to go, only this time, there were some very fast finishers and he came in 5th with a personal best time.
Peter Welsh of New Zealand was now the New Commonwealth record holder.
In the 5000 metre Ian was set up as a pacemaker to assist World Record holder Ron Clarke to a sub 13 minute time. Ron ran under 13 minutes, however was beaten into 2nd place by Kip Kieno of Kenya.
Ian in keeping the time fast, ran a personal best 2 mile and finished with a personal best 5K time as well
The Marathon was just too much after the previous races and Ian withdrew at the 38 km mark.
Run at 7: 30 am in 38 degree heat the last 5K was not to be.
The Real World:
Injury brought Ian back to the real world where a tendon operation on his foot, prevented any further high level training.
He has concentrated on his business life since then, and moved to Malaysia.
Many people look at successful athletes and say, “How lucky you are to travel the world and experience so many things and meet so many great people”.
It is great and it is a privilege. However, Ian tells them this:-
Have you ever noticed,
“The harder you train The Luckier you get”
HOMME: Who is your favourite sports hero?
IB: Without doubt it would be Roger Federer, both on and off the field.
HOMME: Give us two reasons you like being involved in sport?
IB: Sport is a wonderful way to learn self-discipline.
Sport builds a competitive nature and you also learn to be not only a great winner, but a great looser as well.
HOMME: What is the best part about competing?
IB: It is not the winning, but the hope of achieving a personal best time.
HOMME: How did your teammates make practice fun?
IB: Long distance running is normally a lonely road, however we made it fun on a Sunday morning during the winter season, doing a 20 mile fun run in the hills.
HOMME: What is your favourite sports quote?
IB: Baron Pierre de Coubertin founder of the Modern Olympics stated that the important thing in life, was ‘not the winning but the fight, the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well and taken part’.
HOMME: What emotions did you feel when you were competing well?
IB: Emotions can lift you up to a point that you must learn to control ‘you can beat the world’, as you are on a sort of high, however if you take this with you into your everyday life it may drag you down with ego.
HOMME: Who do you wish was watching you perform at every game?
IB: My father however his Golf and my running clashed. I never watched him play Golf either!
HOMME: What is your favourite song to listen to prior to competing?
IB: Any or all classical music but in particular Tchaikovsky.
HOMME: What is your favourite movie about sports?
IB: Chariots of Fire.
HOMME: Why did you decide to settle in Malaysia?
IB: A forward moving country that had everything to offer, such as climate, safety, and full of opportunity.
HOMME: How can Malaysia improve its sporting ability and achievements?
IB: We must start to recognize our sports men and women for who they are and not relegate them to the sidelines as happens now. The public also seem to have the mentality of knowing everything there is to know about European and English football, but very little about Malaysia.
“Lift the Pride in the Countries best”.
HOMME: Your advice to a budding athlete/sportsman?
IB: Do not give up, it is a long road to the top, however, set your goals high, but not so high as not reachable … then aim higher. Again, when you get there.
HOMME: And that most Malaysian of questions… favourite food in Malaysia?
IB: Beef Rendang. My wife makes the very best!
HOMME: Nominate your favourite Malaysian ICON.
IB: LEE CHONG WEI
HOMME: What do you in Malaysia now?
IB: I’m a Director for a Malaysian Sports Company. Importing, manufacturing and supplying Pool, Snooker and Air Hockey Tables. We supply Foosball Tables, Darts equipment/accessories, Jukeboxes and operate a Pool Table Profit Share Rental programme popular with the hospitality industry.