Sports

‘I just wanted to travel for free’: Australia’s last male Olympic champion’s simplistic ambitions

Related Story: Former refugee Joseph Deng breaks decades-old Australian 800m record

It's been 50 years since an Australian male won gold on the Olympic track.

It was Mexico City 1968. Ten days before the Games began the government ordered a military crackdown on a student protest.

It is still not known how many were killed.

Apartheid South Africa was invited to participate in the Games, then uninvited, as other African nations and African-American athletes threatened to boycott.

The most iconic image from Mexico City 1968 is of the black power salute at the medal presentation of the men's 200 metres.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a gloved fist each, bowing their heads as the American national anthem played.

Sandwiched between them Australia's silver medallist, Peter Norman, wore a human rights badge in support, pinned to his team tracksuit.

The day before, Ralph Doubell, wearing bib number 105, ran the 800-metre final, beating Kenyan favourite Wilson Kiprugut, equalling the world record — one minute 44.3 seconds.

"If you look at the internet these days, there are books on 1968 saying it was one of the most dramatic years in history," Doubell told The Ticket.

"I was in the States (USA) early in '68 and there were lots of issues like black power and protests.

"You had political issues, you had issues in Mexico, where the public didn't want so much money spent on the Olympics and where students protested.

"A number of them were killed, and the number has never been determined, it ranges between 19 and 300 I think.

"The trees were painted white up to about six feet so you could see the students more clearly.

"But basically you don't go there to worry about that, as an athlete you go to do one thing … that's to race.

"You've got to disassociate yourself, almost look at it as an outsider — what do I have to do, who do I have to beat, where are my competitors, what should I do now."

External Link: Ralph Doubell wins the 800m at the Mexico City Olympics

Mental edge the key for Doubell

Doubell's intense focus served him well.

It was a strategy taught to him by legendary running coach, Franz Stampfl, remembered for his role in training Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile.

"Franz always said it's 90 per cent mental and it's 10 per cent physical in winning an Olympic final and I think that's right," he said.

At the time, Doubell said he could recall every metre of the race, how he felt and the moment the race finished.

"Kiprugut was really tough to get past, it took 50 yards," he said.

"In the first 50 yards of the straight I was still yelling to myself 'push, push, go harder' and then I felt the break come, and you feel it.

"There's this contact, it might only be a foot or two feet, but I knew I was past … and I didn't think I could lose it then and I was yelling to myself, 'I've won it, I've won it.'

"I crossed the line, thinking, that's nice, I've won it, and you sort of stand around wondering what to do next.

"I saw the time, it was 1.44.3 and I asked Tom Farrell (USA), who finished third, what the world record was and he said, 'that's it,' and I said, 'well, that's nice.'"

Travel the driver behind athletics career

Unlike those who claim they have early childhood ambitions of becoming an Olympian, Doubell says his ambitions were far more simplistic.

"I just wanted to travel for free. It had nothing to do with the Olympics," he said.

"I didn't start running till I was 17 in my final year of high school at Melbourne High.

"Then I managed to get selected in the university team to go to Adelaide intervarsity, I couldn't afford it but the president of Melbourne University athletic club gave me 30 pounds so that I could go.

"I discovered that if you ran fast enough you'd be selected for an Australian University team to go to New Zealand and someone else would pay for it.

"So I performed reasonably well, not outstanding, but I went back to Stampfl at Melbourne University and said I'd like to train with you.

"He looked at me through his monocle and said, 'I will tell you what you'll run, how often you'll train and what distance you'll run.'

"We did OK with 800 [metres]."

Raised by a single Mum from an early age, Doubell says his coach became his second father.

"I would see him at least once a day and we'd normally have lunch on a Friday at Gina's Restaurant on Lygon Street and finish up at Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar.

"By the end of lunch I was convinced I could beat almost anybody in the world."

Not long later, he did.

No Australian male has won an Olympic gold medal on the track since, but for Doubell, the medal is immaterial.

"I don't know where the medal is … but I think if I look back on what have I achieved, the Olympic gold medal is up there," he said.

"You are one person who is the best in the world on that day.

"There's very few things that match that."

The book 'RALPH DOUBELL – don't worry it's only pain … the story of Australia's last male Olympic track champion' by Michael Sharp has been released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the gold medal performance.

Original Article

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *