The Daily Telegraph
July 21, 2012
THROUGHOUT my 40 years as a journalist, I approached my work as a career rather than a job and I lived the lifestyle of so many of the people I wrote about.
When I reported tennis, I took tennis lessons; when I wrote about athletics I passed formal coaching certificates; when I covered footy I drank at the Maroubra Bay Hotel and trialled on the wing with the mighty Wombats.
How some athletes win is anybody's guess and I've taken a stab a few times at trying to explain the physiology and biomechanics of it all, but the psychology has always been the X factor.
How can one explain the phenomenal success of Cathy Freeman, who was always the shortest in the field but stood tallest on the podium at the world games and Olympics?
Along with fellow Olympic medallists Maureen Caird (1968 100m hurdles gold) and Raelene Boyle (triple Olympic silver medallist), Cathy was great fun to be around, except perhaps on race day.
Darren Clark (44.38sec) and Maree Holland (50.24sec) were the most fun of any Aussie athletes I've known.
I had the honour of coaching both to set Australian records for the 400m on the way to reaching their respective finals at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
They still hold the NSW records, Clark's time is also still the national record 24 years later.Somewhere along the line I managed to cover six summer Olympic Games, seven Commonwealth Games and the first nine World Athletics Championships.
The greatest races I ever covered were the men's 100m finals at the 1987 Rome world championships and 1988 Seoul Olympics, in which Canada's Ben Johnson set a world record in defeating America's Carl Lewis on both occasions.
And through knowing the great, but then suddenly infamous, coach Charlie Francis I was able to successfully predict for readers the likelihood based on training indices of the world record falling each time. Of course Johnson's record in Seoul lasted only some 48 hours before he returned a positive drug test.
Three years ago Lewis's manager Joe Douglas admitted to me that he had planted a man in the Seoul drug testing area to keep an eye on Ben, whom they knew had to be doping. It was that "mystery man" who bought Johnson beer to help him hydrate and urinate. Francis believed that man spiked Johnson's drink and so does Ben now after the guy confessed.
There have been so many great races, notably little Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie's last-lap sprint victory over Kenya's tall Paul Tergat in the 10,000m at the Sydney Olympics, the margin between them less than it was between first and second in the men's 100m final.
But for sheer drama and excellence I cannot go past the men's long jump final at the 1991 Tokyo World Championships as the greatest contest I have ever seen, much less reported.
Mike Powell ended the decade-old winning streak by Carl Lewis, but not before both men had bettered the "unbreakable" world record set in 1968 by Bob Beamon.
The years with News Limited have been exciting, but I've reached the stage of life where I would like to see more of my children, Lynley and Jackson.
Thanks to all my colleagues and confidantes.
It's been a great run.