Burnie athletics legend John McLaren's streak of 67 years of attendance of the Stawell Gift has ended this year
By Jarryd McGuane
21 April 2019
Hard decision: John McLaren said it was not easy to decide not to go to the Stawell Gift for the first time since 1951. Picture: Neil Richardson.
Burnie athletics legend John McLaren's streak of 67 years of attendance of the Stawell Gift will come to an end this year as he decided against making the trip to the event.
The 1959 880m champion has attended the event every year since 1952 and received a token of recognition from the Stawell Athletic Club in 2002 to honour his 50th year attending the event.
McLaren said it was a heart-wrenching to decide to not attend the event this year because the role it had played in his life and the lifelong bonds it created.
"It is tough, it has been such a big part of my life and I have made so many friends over the years," McLaren said.
Honoured: McLaren is proud of the way he has been treated by the Stawell Athletic Club over the years, receiving multiple awards as recognition for his support.
"I have always wanted to go because it was such a fabulous place and it was the great friends that have always brought me back and my phone has been going mad over the past two weeks since I decided not to go.
"They all wanted to know who will be sitting in my seats, I have six seats booked and I pay for them before I leave every Easter and they are for four of my friends and two are for friends from Melbourne.
Highly regarded: McLaren with the book Twelve Seconds to Glory by Murray Macpherson, in which John wrote the foreword. Pictures: Neil Richardson.
"One of my friends is a pilot for Emirates and I have always booked seats for him, which is important because I stayed with his grandmother for 14 years."
McLaren said his love affair with the Stawell Gift started during his running career and it was the hard lessons from his coach Fergus Speakman that turned him into a champion.
"I went to Stawell again in 1958 and I ran in the trial on the Wednesday and Ferg said that I was not good enough to win Stawell after the 11 months of training.
"He told me we would still have a good weekend and it was the year Malcolm Durant (one of the boys in the stable) won the Gift and I was told I could carry the money (over $7000 from betting and winnings) home on the plane in a Gladstone bag."
Huge collection: Some of McLaren's most precious possession have come for the Stawell Gift, filling the walls of his trophy room.
"It was the next year when I came over a fortnight before Stawell, I won the half-mile at Northcote, Coburg and Dandenong.
"Ferg told me not to get a big head otherwise he would get me back in line and I won the half-mile at Stawell and nearly won the 600-yard handicap.
"Runners nowadays don't know how to run the track properly, you have to look for landmarks around the Stawell track and run your race accordingly."
McLaren would also finish second in the 440-yard race in 1961 and 1962, but some of McLaren's best memories came from watching some of the best athletes to grace the Stawell track.
Meeting all the stars: John McLaren has met a number of Australia's best runners at Stawell, including Alan Wells the 100m champion at Moscow Olympics.
"I have seen some amazing runners in my time, Harry Downes, Bill Howard, John Bell, Joshua Ross, Frank Schultz, they were all great athletes and all knew how to run the track properly."
McLaren was in attendance to see Andrew Robertson become the first Tasmanian to win the Stawell Gift since 1941 and Jacob Despard's break through in 2018, where he had Despard as one of his favourites.
McLaren said he wants to return to Stawell again to farewell the place that has meant the world to him.
Reliable: McLaren's trusty running shoes that helped him to the 1959 880-yard handicap victory, a moment he still treasures.