Monday, September 20, 2010

Andrew Lloyd's 1990 win, is it still our favourite Com Games moment?

Early in 2006, ABC Grandstand polled its listeners and came up with a list of Australia's top 25 sporting moments. At 25th was the only Commonwealth Games entrant on the list - Andrew Lloyd's remarkable 5000m victory in 1990. I saw the race and then, later in 2006 spoke to Lloyd about it. He was stunned that so many people were inspired by his come from nowhere victory. With the Games approaching again and Lloyd's story being told in a TV ad to promote them, I thought I'd give the story a re-run here.

Lloyd's Lap Of Honour Is Still An Inspiration

Sunday February 26, 2006

Andrew Lloyd tells Tony Harper about Australia's favourite Commonwealth Games moment.

ANDREW Lloyd is still being run off his feet. Now it's the challenge of twin boys nearing their terrible twos that soaks up the energy of the 47-year-old. Sixteen years ago, it was the twin Kenyan terrors of Olympic champion John Ngugi and world record-holder Yobes Ondieki, conquered on the way to one of the most remarkable wins seen on an athletics track.
How Lloyd overcame these champions, and several more besides, in the 5000-metre final at the 1990 Commonwealth Games roused a nation. There remain, much to Lloyd's eternal surprise, many who were inspired by his incredible final lap and lunge for gold.
"I still get people coming up in the street now, saying 'That's the best race I've ever seen'," he says.
ABC radio's Grandstand recently compiled a fans' choice of the 25 most memorable Australian sporting events. Never mind Kieren Perkins's 1500m world record, Cathy Freeman's flag-waving celebrations or the collected works of Ian Thorpe.
The only Commonwealth Games performance considered worthy was Lloyd's race in Auckland.
At first, Lloyd didn't understand the fuss. Sure, it was a performance of great sporting courage. But he had shown greater reserves in recovering from the death of his first wife Lynn in a car accident five years before.
It wasn't until Lloyd watched a replay of his run that he got it.
"I had no idea I was that far back and how hard I came home," he says. "Watching the replay, I thought: 'I wouldn't have put a million dollars on myself to make up that distance'. I was gobsmacked."
It was a strange race of thrills and spills. Ngugi was first down, hitting the track on the second lap but bouncing up and breaking away.
Ondieki tumbled on lap five and that effectively ended his challenge. Lloyd had settled in the third pack at the rear.
"It wasn't until four laps out that we started making inroads on the second group and we went past them two laps out," he says. "With a lap to go, Ngugi had about 40-50 metres on us, which is a fair way."
With 150m left, Lloyd had the rest beaten and Ngugi was moving as if he was jogging in a swimming pool.
"I thought I wasn't going to make it but I squeezed past him a metre before the finish," Lloyd says. "He had no time to respond."
The tiny margin of victory, the passion that went into it and Lloyd's triumph over injury and tragedy made an irresistible package.
"I must have captured a lot of people's imaginations," he says. "But I think the people calling the race on TV made it seem more dramatic - they were falling out of their seats."
Television loves a good redemption tale, and Lloyd's was a beauty. Five years before his defining race, he was driving through Braidwood when his life took a disastrous detour.
"We had a head-on with a truck," he says. "It went around the corner on the wrong side and tore the roof off the car. I was driving and was pinned to the steering wheel.
"My good friend, Nick de Castella [Rob's brother] was sitting next to me and he had minor injuries.
"My wife was sitting behind me and she . . . she didn't make it. That was a real heart-stopper."
Lloyd was born to run, so he put distance between him and the worst day of his life. There were countless kilometres and six knee operations in the next five years.
Yet, with a lap of the final to go, Lloyd remained a million miles from the place he needed to be. Then it came, that lung-busting, majestic lap.
"I felt great relief," he says. "I'd come back from the accident and had to start from scratch. I'd been told I'd never race again. And it brought closure from the accident."
Lloyd, who has a new knee, has slowed down but his love of racing never waned. "I'm still jogging, still doing the odd marathon and still running the City to Surf," he says. "I was in the top 200 last year."
Now he's running after his boys, Jackson and Cooper, at their home at Grays Point. You can hear it down the phone line, that crazy cacophony of a two-year-old boy - times two.
One day, instead of a Wiggles DVD, their old man might put in a tape of his greatest race. They'll wonder how. They'll be gobsmacked.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sydney Olympics: 10 years, 10 memories

It's 10 years since the Sydney Olympic Games opened. I thought I'd try to do a list of 10 'memories' - that is without resorting to my favourite crutch, Google.

10. Where's your head at?
At the time I was living in Annandale, NSW and my son was 18 months old. I was deputy sports editor at the Sun-Herald, which meant I had a middling important editing job on the Fairfax Olympics desk in Sussex Street. A very strange gig. Having been to the two previous editions as (primarily) a track and field writer with AAP, I was used to working in the stadiums and with a narrow focus. This was a lot different, big picture editing - going to work in your usual workplace, and having days off, which never happened while working for AAP overseas.

9. That Melbourne-Sydney thing.
The Age newspaper came to town and that whole Alpha male nonsense started to happen on the desk straight away. In those times, and I can only assume still, the prevailing wisdom was that if you worked for the "other" paper you couldn't write/ edit/ be trusted. Each paper had their rounds people and each editing staff pretended to have absolute faith in their own. Anything filed by the other paper's reporter was rubbish, at best, "take in AAP" at worst. Caroline Wilson? Never heard of her. Peter FitzSimons? Is that English he's writing?

8. Getting tickets was a pain
Having previously wandered around the Olympics with an all access pass and without family members, I found the whole ticket ballot issue confusing. Surely this wouldn't sell out? We did enter the ballot and got nothing. I remember the stories blowing up in Games Minister Michael Knight's face and the promise of more tix being made available from the premium pool. I remember thinking "yeah, right" but then in the redraw we got Cathy Freeman tickets. Love ya, Mike.

7. The hierarchy at play
Being an editor, I was entitled to some free tickets through Fairfax. These were handed out by someone's PA who was following a strict hierarchy. The big guys got the good stuff, and I got the baseball. Imagine my surprise when I scored two tickets to the Ian Thorpe v Pieter Van Whatsit 200m final. My wife was pumped, but I got gazumped by a phone call on the afternoon. "Ah, I have to reassign those tickets, I can offer you the gymnastics gala instead."  I wasn't that bothered, but we had a babysitter so she made me find scalper tickets. I have never told anyone else but her this: We paid $1000 for two tickets to watch Ian Thorpe lose a swimming race. $1150 if you count the babysitter and the beer I was crying in.

6. Eric the Eel
We got swimming heats in the ballot. The seats were way back in that temporary stand and the pool was a long ways away so I couldn't be sure. "Is that guy drowning?" I asked my wife. "Should I go help?"
It was, of course, before twitter (OMG. Most. Hilarious. Swim. Ever. LOL). And I can't recall having text on the phone I lugged around in a large backpack. I recall sitting there, in that way of a journalist, thinking "Shit, what a story, I wonder if the Fairfax guys have seen this." I took out binoculars and saw Mike Cowley across the pool head down typing away! He's missed it! I have to get to him!  When Eric stopped at every TV crew, I took a deep breath and went back to sleep.

5. This is going to be a disaster
The Olympics bring a whole shit storm of negative publicity. I'd quit my previous job because of it. The internet age meant that Australian newspapers were put up online sometime around 2-3am which in the long year before the Games meant I was getting 2-3 calls a week from the imbecile AP Olympics editor, based in New York. "The Daily Telegraph is running a front page report that an IOC official got off a plane at 3pm and couldn't get a taxi. He finally flagged one down and the driver said he could only drop him at Stanmore." You couldn't make up the drivel that the Sydney papers  with their designated Olympics writers passed off as news. And it was all negative.

4. The greatest Games, ever
It really was. Four years earlier we had the worst, in Atlanta. A dump of a town, an angry populace, a searing climate. Sydney was perfect. The weather, the parties in the streets, the fireworks, Marie Jose-Perec's dummy spit. Every little thing worked. Germany 2006 reminded me of it, but nothing else has come close.

3. The beach volleyball
I never went. But my wife did with four girlfriends and they descended on us in Martin Place while we were trying to watch the big screen at the live site. Five of them, having been drinking all day in the sun, flopping on the paving stones among the disdainful suits from the nearby banks. The 18-month old looking at his mum and his 'aunties' like they had been possessed. Mayhem.

2. Fairweather fans
The Sydney-Melbourne hostilities ceased for a glorious hour or so as South Asurtalia's Simon Fairweather won our country's only archery gold medal.  It was like that story of the German and English troops pausing on Christmas for a game of football, before resuming their bloodshed. As soon as the anthem was over, it all started up again. I can't remember who filed on it, but I'm certain the Sydney reporter's copy was superior.

1. Cathy
I met Cathy Freeman when I was covering schools athletics, and spent a decent amount of time sitting next her in the stands during the 1990 Com Games. Always shy, always sweet. Where that 400m performance came from, under that immense pressure, I'll never understand. A memory as strong as any other: Us above the 300m mark, her rounding the bend for home, a wall of noise carrying her to the line and then her body gives way.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

A-League types will be stunned by opposition to their anti-diving crusade, but it's the moral thing to do

I play Masters football with a guy who came back to the game last year after 20 playing rugby league for the biggest team in our local area. He walked into the local club after a recent game and the league boys were there. Where you been? Playing soccer. "Do any diving?" they chorused.
We all know simulation is a blight. Newspapers, particularly in England, have campaigned against it, Grosso (or That Cheating Italian as he's known to the majority of our casual sports watchers) smashed us with it, Denilson made it a little dirty for us all to be football fans.
We're sick of justifying it and sick of fans of other Australian codes sneering at us.
So what do we football fans do when we get a chance to make a clear point, one possibly considered around the world? We bottle it. We line up the loudest voices in the game to decry the FFA for acting in haste. Tonight, Robbie Slater claimed Mariner Perez was wronged by his suspension and the fans were cheated.
Yet in the case of Perez and Baird, there is absolutely no doubt that they flung themselves theatrically to ground. There is, however doubt, over the contact they might have received.
Some of the voices are the same who defended Danielle De Rossi at the World Cup when a slight tug on his shirt saw him dive disgracefully full length and 'earn' his team a penalty and a draw with New Zealand.
I can only imagine Ben Buckley and his team's thoughts this week. I assume they thought they were doing a fine and noble deed by bringing some type of resolution to a debate which has grown in volume but gone absolutely nowhere. They would have expected to been lauded throughout the country - the men who stopped the soccer cheats.
As an AFL man you know what Buckley's personal view on diving would be. His head of media is a rugby league man - a Parramatta fan above all - and there is no tolerance, no culture, of diving in that game. For them there is no doubt: this is the right thing to do. The sport is failing to connect in the Australian community and they must act on this. Putting an end to the disgrace of diving is a valid cause. 
Forget the technicalities and short term pain for the greater good. Ban the divers. These two might not have been the worst examples ever, but you have to start somewhere and it's a sign of strength that the FFA started at all.