Athletics runs out the winner in Olympic Park refit
By Eddie McGuire
Sunday Herald Sun
May 15, 2011
IN THE next few months the wrecking ball will come down on the Olympic Park athletics track.
For some in the athletics world this is seen as a travesty. For others, it's a new beginning and a chance to have a home to call their own.
That the ground will be handed over to the Collingwood Football Club makes for some juicy headlines and the fact I am president of Collingwood and a board member of Athletics Australia gives the conspiracy theorists something to play with.
Throw in that Athletics Australia president Rob Fildes played 14 games for the Magpies (as an amateur so he could continue as Australian decathlon champion) and there's more ammunition for some.
For those in the athletics world looking to point the finger, once they get past their inaction over the years, they can look straight at the owners of this newspaper.
Lachlan Murdoch wanted a ground for his rugby league team, the Melbourne Storm, and co-existing in a cold, asbestos-ridden Olympic Park with athletics, soccer, rugby and monster trucks etc was not his vision for one of his premier sporting products.
Then-premier Steve Bracks agreed. The time was nigh for a rectangular stadium of quality that would be home to the Storm and give Melbourne the chance to win a Super Rugby franchise. Eventually the Melbourne Rebels came to be.
It also led to the formation of the Melbourne Heart A-League soccer team.
At that stage the premier needed land.
That's when Collingwood received a call.
The Magpies, like athletics, had failed to upgrade its ground at Victoria Park for decades and, by 1999, it had become unsuitable for AFL football and, by 2004, even as a training ground.
An opportunity arose at the old Olympic swimming stadium in what became the Westpac Centre. Collingwood pays full commercial rent for the venue and an MCG training ground.
In signing the deal, Collingwood's contract stated that in the case our training ground (built over what was a carpark and the Olympic Park dog track) was to be recommissioned, Collingwood would be given a ground no further in distance from the Westpac Centre. That left two options. The athletics stadium or across the road in front of Rod Laver Arena.
That was the contract.
For the greater good of sport and to help facilitate one of the world's greatest sporting precincts, Collingwood gave up its oval and has travelled down a "goat track" to a training ground on Punt Rd. The first thought was to build a new athletics track on Gosch's Paddock. But tennis made a bold play and in getting its development on the north side of Olympic Boulevard, it took up what was left of the land not legislated as "passive recreation ground".
Whether Collingwood was there or not, the legislation demands more "free" land had to be opened up.
The old aths track was dead.
At one stage athletics was headed for the suburbs.
Fildes and his Athletics Victoria team, along with Peter Hertan, the executive director of Sport and Recreation Victoria, with the support of Collingwood, then went into battle to get a result of significance for athletics.
The sport somehow over 55 years had seen an Olympics and a Commonwealth Games come and go and miss out on a designated stadium. Not any more.
With swimming relocated to Albert Park, the old Lake Oval is a perfect fit.
Yes, our memories have been of great nights at the old venue and school sports.
The story of John Landy's sportsmanship, the building of careers of Clark, Elliott, Pollock, Norman, Boyle and Freeman to mention a few will never fade. But it was when Jana Pittman told me she won a world championship by running around Collingwood's training ground because she could never get on to Olympic Park because of all the other activities that the realisation came to me that nostalgia was killing the future of athletics.
This week Sebastian Coe told me the new venue at Albert Park was far superior to the wind-affected, antiquated old arena.
Just as the Pies made the MCG their own and watched membership go from 22,000 to 70,000 in just over a decade after leaving our spiritual home, athletics has a purpose-built arena with parking for buses, television-standard lighting, a new track, warm-up facilities, a cross-country course and use of the sporting infrastructure and transport in the shadows of the city to call its own.
EVEN better, the Victorian Institute of Sport has new facilities at the same venue.
What also will happen is that Collingwood will reinstate a two-lane athletics track at the Westpac Centre and, hopefully with Victorian Government support, build infrastructure to allow for passive runners to use the track, the Tan track, the city bike paths and even the Collingwood facilities with a special emphasis on women.
If you want to have a training session you can't get on the aths track and you either get changed in your car or in one of those toilets around the gardens if you want to run the Tan.
Let's make it a city hub for our extensive bike paths.
A safe, lit, world-class facility.
There is so much that can be done for the community, inner-city sport and after-school and weekend activities.
Sport is all about the people not the buildings.