University of Melbourne Magazine

Gold standard

  • MUAC also had another reason to be thankful for Beaurepaire’s interest in track and field and Olympic sport.

    In 1955, he recruited the world-famous track and field coach Franz Stampfl from Oxford, less than 12 months after Stampfl had helped Englishman Roger Bannister achieve fame by breaking the four-minute mile barrier.

    Stampfl accepted the invitation to become Director of Athletics at the University of Melbourne and quickly settled in. Eleven of his athletes competed at the Melbourne Games.

    One of those athletes was Merv Lincoln who, in March the following year, would become just the 11th man and the third Australian to run a four minute mile. He achieved the feat in front of Stampfl, and many of his own MUAC teammates, on the University’s Rawlinson Track. Landy had become the first Australian to join Bannister as a sub-four-minute miler, just six weeks after the Englishman in 1954.

    The Austrian-born Stampfl, a cyclonic force of nature if all the stories are to be believed, pioneered a scientific system of interval training, which became popular with sprint and middle-distance athletes, including – eight years later – Doubell.

    It essentially revolved around speed and quality, rather than the conventional method of volume and quantity.

    Now 69, Doubell remembers meeting Stampfl – whose reputation as a coach and feisty autocrat had preceded him – when he enrolled at the University in 1963 and soon joined the athletics club.

    Doubell’s commitment to running, however, was initially only lukewarm. It was only after hearing about the travel potential offered by the sport that he approached Stampfl. “I told him that I wanted to run 50 seconds for the quarter (mile) and train three times a week,’’ he recalls. “Franz peered at me through his monocle and very matter-of-factly said: ‘I will tell you how much and how often you train’.”

    And so it proved. Stampfl soon had his new charge churning through the work.

    “What do I remember of that time? Mostly pain,’’ Doubell says. “But Franz and I got to know each other incredibly well; it was almost a father-son relationship. He pushed the boundaries but he knew how much work I could absorb.’’

    The camaraderie among the middle distance runners at MUAC helped Doubell through the tough times. “I traine
    d with a group of people who helped me enormously but didn’t have the same success. I certainly couldn’t have done it without them,” he says.

    “Many people would see repetition after repetition at Melbourne University as very boring, and sometimes it was. But we had a fine group of people who would swap stories and work experiences… You always had that spirit of camaraderie and co-operation.”

    On Fridays, his day off, Doubell and his headstrong mentor would head off to Gina’s restaurant in Lygon St for lunch between noon and 3pm, then move to Jimmy Watson’s for a “warm down” for an hour before Doubell had to attend a lecture at the University at 4.15pm.

    “After those four hours with Franz, when we used to discuss music, food, wine, literature and, of course, his training philosophies, I felt like I could beat anyone in the world.’’

    Their friendship, and partnership, culminated in that one magical race in Mexico in 1968 when all of Doubell’s hard work, overseen by his no-nonsense mentor, was rewarded with a gold medal.

    Doubell’s famous kick – his finishing sprint, which was honed on the Rawlinson Track – meant he was able to pass Kenya’s Wilson Kiprugut in the straight to become just the third Australian man to win an Olympic gold medal on the track.

    In the Stampfl era, University athletics flourished and the Rawlinson Track was regarded as Australia’s premier training venue. Of the 1040 athletes to represent Australia in track and field competition, according to Athletics Australia, 53 have been MUAC members.

    As well as Landy, Doubell, Lincoln, Pittman, Gosper and Peris-Kneebone, that group includes the javelin thrower Petra Rivers (DipTeach 1978), a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Judy Canty (BSc(Hons) 1973, University College, St Hilda’s College), who won gold at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games, and John Higham OAM (BA, LLB 1974, Newman College), a national champion in both 400m and 800m.

    Some of the club records date back more than 50 years. These include the 1957 mile record of Dr Merv Lincoln (BCom 1954, MBA 1968, PhD 1983, Queen’s College, Ormond College), Doubell’s 800m mark and Higham’s 400m time from 1978.

    That remains the challenge of the University’s new generation of athletes and their highly regarded coach – Stampfl’s successor, Manfred Lewandowski.

    Read more about some of the University of Melbourne alumni who have represented Australia at the Olympics.


    – Charles Happell (BA(Hons) 1984, Trinity College)