Unfortunately the 2020 Australian Little Athletics Championships, which would’ve been held last weekend, have been cancelled. We thought we would dive into the history of the Championships with this fascinating article from David Tarbotton, published in 2014.
HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIP
Between 1970 and 1973 four interstate matches were held with only NSW and Victoria competing at all matches. The inaugural Australian Team Championships commenced in 1974.
From 1970 to 1982 the age group was under-12. From 1993 to present the age has been under-13 and in 1987 an under-15 multi-event was added.
First Interstate Meet – 1970
Held at Olympic Park in Melbourne, NSW, Vic and WA competed although no point score was calculated. The Vic team included Simon Baker who would go onto win the 50km at the world race walking cup. The NSW team included Mike Whitney who became a fast bowler for Australia and now works in the media. Another athlete Peter Singleton held records from 100m to 800m at Randwick Botany club and Sydney Boys High/GPS for over 30 years. Over the next two years a few of the leading athletes were, Debbie Biggers (hurdler), Mike Whitney again and Bankstown distance runner Tony Heslop.
1973 Interstate Meet
This was a very strong NSW team which included:
Debbie Wells –within a few years, aged 15 years, would be competing at the Olympics, the first of three Games.
Margaret Hamley – won national senior titles and medals in pentathlon/heptathlon/long jump/100m H & 400m H and currently coordinates athletics at leading NSW school – Pymble Ladies College.
Paul Gilbert – represented Australia at the 1983 world championships and is the 11th fastest 800m athlete in Australian history with a time of 1:45.6. His niece Anneliese Gardiner would compete in the 2006 Australian Teams Championships.
Peter McGrath – won national junior shot medals and his parents Jim and Ellen McGrath went on to be prominent NSW officials.
Gianna Ranalletta – a hurdler who sadly passed away from bowel cancer last year. Her niece and nephew Kimberley and Brett Watton both competed at the Australian Teams Championship and also in the high hurdles at the open national titles this year. Brett has recently moved from employment at Queensland Athletics to Athletics Australia.
Nepean team mates Clark Stone and Bev Wilkins. Bev was a pioneer of women’s race walking.
Pat Kaine – went on to win national senior medals in 400m with a best of 47.02. He also ran 10.4 in the 100m.
FIRST AUSTRALIAN TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIPS – 1974
The inaugural meet was held on the new tartan track at Hensley Field in Sydney. It would be appropriate as Chic Hensley, whom the track is named in honour of, had been involved in the formation of Little Athletics in NSW. The hosts defeated Victoria by just seven points for the title. Two prominent athletes were Glenn McLaughlin who won national senior 400m hurdles medals and clocked times of 46.7 (400m) and 51.45 (400m hurdles). The other athlete was Janine Shepherd AM who overcame a major injury while bike riding to became a cross country skier and pilot. She became an inspirational author and public speaker. Her daughter Charlotte Blake just missed selection for the Sochi winter Olympics.
In other teams were: Catherine Milburn (V) mother of Sydney-based world championship representative sprinter Charlotte van Veenendaal; Chris Bradshaw (V) Australian team doctor and Commonwealth games decathlon representative and Kathryn Lee (ACT) a hurdler who won national senior medals and has worked at the VIS, Athletics Australia and recently the AIS.
Prominent athletes in teams by year:
1975: world race walk cup representative Rachel Thompson; national junior 1500m champion Linda Cox (Armidale) and national junior 400m hurdle champion David Joyce. In the Victorian team was Michelle Baumgartner – 1990 Commonwealth Games 1500m finalist who ran bests of 2:00.97 (800m) and 4:10 (1500m).
1977: Australian 400m record holder and dual Olympian Darren Clark; national junior champion long jumpers Kim Thorley (pb as a junior 6.33m) and Rob Hannah (pb as junior 7.54m). Also in the team was three-time national junior 400m medallist Glenda Hall, national junior champion heptathlete Amanda Thomas.
1978: Sprinter Melissa Babbage was on the team in 1978. She went on to win a national junior medal and in her career became a physio. Later on she became an investment banker with Deutsche Bank, married federal treasurer Joe Hockey and joined the Athletics Australia board. After being in Little Athletics John MacLean became a triathlete and during a training ride he was hit by a truck and rendered a paraplegic. He has gone onto become a great paralympic sportsmen in various sports. Sprinter Sue Alton represented Australia at the world university games and is the mother of Nick Hough who also competed at the Australian Teams Championships and recently was selected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Distance runner Sue Mahony represented Australia on four occasions including the 1987 world championships.
1979: Tania Adams who went on to win many state and national distance running medals. Her daughter Georgia Evans is currently a leading junior distance runner. Adams contributed to the administration of the sport as Executive Officer of Athletics NSW in the ‘90s. Cathy Emmerson became a physio on national teams, Susan Hartgers moved to Perth went into teaching and is now a coach of leading Australian juniors. Sean Williams went on to a long senior career as a leading NSW distance runner. He moved into a successful coaching career and his squad included national 10,000m record holder Ben St Lawrence. High jumper Lisa Rutter’s daughter, Jacinta Doyle, was a talented sprinter/jumper/hurdler, competed at the Australian Teams Championships, ran for Australia at the world youth championships and won national senior medals. Jumper Eddy van der jagt still competes in masters athletics. The team also included three of the finest ever Little Athletes – sprinters Nicole Leistenschneider and Michelle Moroney and thrower Stephen Carline. The NSW team was coached by Jackie Byrnes who would in the future coach Melinda Gainsford-Taylor and Jana Pittman.
Interstate teams included: three Olympians – Michelle Lock (Q) 400m pb 50.78, Fred Martin (WA) 200m pb 20.48 and David Culbert (V) long jump pb 8.13m [sports commentator and former AA media manager]
1980: Two future state Little Athletics CEO’s Dean Paulin and Kerry Arkins compete at this championship. Future national 1500m champion Dean Paulin was in the Victorian team and race walker Kerry Arkins was a NSW team member. Arkins was also a coach before she embarked on a long career in sports administration as CEO of NSW Little Athletics. Sharon Clarke would go on to win national senior javelin medals, Hills triple jumper Tim Barnes competed at the world juniors and compiled a successful senior career winning six national medals.
Competing for other states were: Commonwealth Games heptathlon medallist Sharon Jaklofsky-Smith (Q) and internationals Kerrie Baumgartner (V, 800m), Werner Reiterer (V, discus), Sean Carlin (SA, hammer) and Clint Harvey (Q, long jump).
1981: Long jumper Chris Knight was a NSW team member going on to leapt 7.30m in his teens and compete as a senior athlete. He became a personal trainer and strength and conditioner across a few sports including swimming and tennis and currently works at Cranbrook school. They were coached by Penny Gillies and Olympic modern pentathlete Alex Watson. Competing in the WA team was future Olympic sprinter Suzanne Broadrick and pole vault pioneer and Commonwealth Games representative Tracey Shepherd.
1982: Simon Hull, father of 2014 world junior representative Jessica Hull, contested the championships along with John de la Mare who would go onto to claim many NSW high jump records. They competed against some very talented athletes including: Olympian Nova Peris (NT, hockey and athletics Olympian and now federal senator), Andrew Murphy (V, now a NSW jumps coach and athletics coordinator at Trinity Grammar school)
1983: 400m stars Sophie Scamps and Jason Kougellis were on the 1983 team. Scamps who became a doctor twice competed for Australia at the world juniors, while Kougellis, twice a national senior medallist compete at the 1993 world university games. Nova Peris was again in the Northern Territory team, along with team mate Brendan Tennant who would compete for Australia at the Commonwealth Games in the decathlon. The Queensland team included 110m hurdler Rod Zuyderwyck who in 1998 competed in the world cup and Commonwealth games. The WA team included future Olympian and Australian 400m record holder (50.19) Renee Poetschka, and her team mates who would go on to national junior and senior medals – Rebecca Starcevich (hurdles), Shane Cassey (triple jump) and Randal Humich (discus).
1984: Lining up in the sprints was Narromine’s Melinda Gainsford, a future Olympian and national 100m and 200m record holder and media commentator, while in the boys Newcastle’s Chad Stephenson contested the sprints and shot put and would eventually compete at the world cup of athletics.
1985: Anne Harrison, who still competes for Sydney University, competed in the distance events, while current NSW official Ron Richter was a team manager. Two interstate 800m athletes competed against each other and would go on to compile very similar junior careers. Brendan Hanigan (T) and Mark Holcombe (V) both ran 1:47 as juniors, and both made the final of the world juniors. Holcombe won the national junior 800m titles in 1990 and 1991, but Hanigan defeated him for the 1992 title. Hanigan went on to compete at the Commonwealth Games and world championships.
1986: NSW had a strong girls line up led by Suzy Walsham who broke many distance records and as a senior competed at the world cross country and Commonwealth Games. Leading sprinter Rebecca Vormister would compete at two world juniors. Discus thrower Ben Jaaniste would become a multiple senior national medallist. John Quinn was the team coach and would go onto to coach some of Australia’s leading sprinters including Stephen Perry and Lauren Hewitt. Dual Olympian Kylie Rick competed for Tasmania in the distance events while team mate and future Commonwealth Games representative Andrea Hughes competed in the high jump.
1987: Future Olympian Jane Jameson (heptathlon) and Jane Saville (walk) competed in the 1987 team. Shot putter Michelle Haage was also in the NSW team and would compete at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The WA team was strong including Olympian Sarah Jamieson and Commonwealth Games hurdler Ryan Moore and world junior championships high jumper Jarrad Pozzi.
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Little Athletics NSW
Image: NSW team for the 1977 Little Athletics Australian Teams Championships (Image courtesy of Diane Levy and Little Athletics NSW)