University of Melbourne Magazine

Gold standard

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    MUAC is celebrating its 125th Anniversary on Sunday 26th September. Reserve your ticket here

    It’s been a talent production line for countless Australian Olympic teams, and a vibrant hub of University life for as long as anyone can remember, and next year the Melbourne University Athletics Club celebrates its 125th anniversary.

    The club, which has been represented by the likes of Ralph Doubell, John Landy, Merv Lincoln, Nova Peris-Kneebone and Jana Pittman, has produced a raft of Australian champions, national record holders, Olympians and Olympic medallists.

    None has been better than Doubell. After honing his skills on the MUAC red cinder track, he sensationally claimed the 800-metre gold medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics in a time (1 minute and 44.3 seconds) that was a joint world record then and still stands as a national record.

    Ralph Doubell wins in Mexico.

    Ralph Doubell wins in Mexico.

    Located in the heart of the Parkville campus, the MUAC is the University’s fourth-oldest club – behind the cricket, rowing and football clubs – and maintains a proud record of producing elite athletes and sports administrators.

    While a fledgling athletics club was formed in 1872, in conjunction with the cricket club, it is generally agreed that the MUAC was established in 1890, primarily by medical students who had been urged to take up running “to enable them to stand the stress and strain of the grandest profession in the world’’.

    In those early days, training and competition took place on a grass track on the main University oval. Into the new century, the club began to establish itself as a force in intervarsity competition, winning the first seven titles.

    ‘What do I remember of that time? Mostly pain.’ – Ralph Doubell, Olympic Champion

    Regular interclub competition was introduced by the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association in 1913 to provide athletes with a year-round calendar of events. By 1928, University athletics competitions had become so popular that 1500 people attended a relay meeting on the campus.

    But it was the lead-up to the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 that heralded a brave new era for the club.

    Sir Frank Beaurepaire, a former Melbourne Lord Mayor and Olympic swimmer, was head of the Olympic Games organising committee and had close links to the University. He was instrumental in having a new running track built on the campus as a training venue for the Olympics.

    Ralph Doubell on the MUAC track today.

    Ralph Doubell on the MUAC track today.

    The new track was the reason Kevan Gosper AO, for one, joined the club in 1955.

    Gosper, who hailed from Newcastle in NSW and would go on to become a leading figure on the International Olympic Committee, had forged a successful track career at Michigan State University in the US before returning to Australia in 1955.

    Working for Shell in Melbourne at the time, Gosper was invited to train and compete for the MUAC, an offer he enthusiastically accepted given it boasted this new red cinder track and he was one of the leading contenders for the 400m title at the upcoming Olympics.

    He occasionally trained with John Landy – the famous miler (and University of Melbourne student) using Gosper to help with sprint training and Gosper relying on Landy to help build his stamina.

    A club competition would be held each Saturday during the warmer months. Amateur athletics was thriving. Gosper remembers a time of good fun, strong competition and lasting friendships. “Although none of us were big drinkers, we used to socialise together on Saturday nights,’’ he recalls.

    At that time, Alf Lazer AM was the team captain and club stalwart. In fact, few amateur sports administrators in Australia can have had a greater impact on a club than Lazer did with the MUAC.

    He joined it as a student during the war, then became an office-bearer in a raft of different roles, including president for 31 years, over the next six decades. His extraordinary dedication was rewarded with a Gold Medal by the University, and he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia by the Federal Government in 1985.