Bob Gardiner is Collingwood Harriers’ royalty!

Selected for three Olympic Games, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist, the Club’s only World Record holder, Bob is one of a kind and still an integral part of our Club after over sixty years of membership and competition.

Bob has submitted the following for publication (only after much prompting) …………

On 22nd March 1936, the population at 2 Diamond St. Preston rose from three, Dad, C.H. (Bert) Gardiner, Mum, Mary (Molly) and sister Joan, to four.

While doing an unremarkable stint at East Preston State School I joined the 1st Preston Cubs, leading on to the Scouts where I played bugle with John and Ray Francisco under the tutelage of their dad Norm, who was an old athletic mate of Bert’s. Bert had assisted in the formation of Collingwood Harriers in 1925/6.

Having been overexposed to athletics through my family, (Bert had begun with Moreland Harriers, Mum had run with Melbourne Harriers and Joan with Coburg Harriers), I resolved to do anything but athletics!

While at Preston Technical School I was beaten in the cross-country by Ron Barassi (and 300 other kids as well!) Through my scout friendship with the Francisco brothers I came to the great dances held at the old Harriers clubrooms and eventually joined and started walking with George Knott and Bill, Tom and Geoff Tunaley. Although my dad had left the Moreland/Brunswick Club to be a founder of Preston Harriers, he did not press me to join Preston as they did not have an A grade team.

My first interclub walk was on November 14th 1953 at Olympic Park on the number two ground grass track. It was an F Grade one mile walk which I did in 8 mins 59 secs. Tunna (Bill Tunaley) had told me to take it easy and ‘go for it’ in the last lap. As I took off in the last lap I heard a voice shouting, “Get off, get off!” It was Collingwood official, Norm Goble, chasing me down the track to disqualify me!

My first training companions and tutors were George Knott and the Tunaley brothers Bill, Tom and Geoff. On the grass track outside the old clubrooms near the railway gates at Clifton Hill (well before the overpass) we would do laps, about five to the mile, or quarter mile reps down to where the present track is situated. If we had gone much further we would have been swimming, as the land fell away to the creek. The hospital ‘loop road’ was a regular session. Few cars bothered us in those days. No bike paths! Roads were our only option!

About this time I went to Bendigo for a country carnival where I raced against my dad for the first time. Bert, a prolific runner and winner of several walking titles including the Australasian 7 Miles in 1925 had only raced occasionally at the time. As it was a handicap event. I gave him a start and didn’t catch him. He retired unbeaten by me and did not race again until 1987 when he won the Victorian Veterans 85-59 event and a silver medal in the World Veterans Championships held in Melbourne.

By December 1953 I was racing in C Grade on the main cinder track and by February 1954, made the A Grade team alongside London Olympian, George Knott and got my mile time down to 7:23. That season I also won the Victorian and South Australian junior (under 19 in those days) Championships. In 1955 I again won the Victorian junior title at the St. Kilda Cricket Ground. I also won my first Club Championship.

Nineteen fifty-five saw my first senior placing (3rd) in a Victorian Championship – the 10k walk held at the Showgrounds. We walked on the shellgrit trotting track. If it rained we finished up caked in fine white mud!

In July 1956 the Olympic 20k trial was held on the roads around Olympic Park. A 5th placing was not enough to get me in the team, so I worked as an official on the road event feed stations during the Games. Bert was the Road Event’s Referee for the Melbourne Olympic Games.

Around that time many of the Club’s (future) stalwarts of walking, including Ron Miller, who eventually took over the walk coaching from Tunna, Bruce Conboy, Claude Martin and Allan Minter began long associations with the Club. These four would give me great support when I was doing serious training at the old rooms, with each coming out to do a few laps with me during those long sessions. Some of our great junior walkers, including Laurie Hehir, Peter Heeney and Graeme Light joined over the next few years.

In 1957 I was invited to race in New Zealand, so for the 57/58 track season I transferred to the Nae-Nae club in Wellington. One 5 mile race started on the track and went out onto the nearby roads. I stubbed my toe and with John Smythe, another Aussie, caught the bus back to the track. John said. “Let’s walk in and dead heat for fun.” Next thing I heard was, “WORLD RECORD WALK!” being announced. We had to confess and we were banned for a while. When I came back to Australia, NZ walker, Ray Temperton, decided to come too. Ray settled here and walked with Collingwood for many years.

In 1961 I won my first Australian Title in the 2 mile walk and started working towards the Olympics in 1964. Over Christmas 1961/62 Barb and I moved into our new house in Mitcham. Our daughter Kelly was then six months old. ‘Big’ Peter Heeney came out in a truck, bringing young Peter, Laurie Hehir, Ronnie Miller and Ray Temperton to help dig our drive. About 12 o’clock I said, “Let’s dig another couple of feet and then have lunch.” Ron threw his shovel down and said, “I’m going for a beer!”

About this time I served as Club Captain for one year. Gordon (Snowy)Thompson George Bartlett was President, Ray Coverdale was Secretary and Terry Lanham, Treasurer. Terry and I still know each other as “Treash” and “Skippy”. The teams were picked on Tuesday nights and announced on Thursdays. There was always much discussion about the selections. Just who should be in D or F grade? Competition was fierce for team spots in those days!

The 1964 Olympic 50K trial was held in Adelaide. Barb came over bringing Scott who was nine months old. George Knott drove over in the Mayoral car, bringing Ron Miller and Earl Tunaley. I think they slept under the car. It was great to have them there at the presentation night as I won and made the team for Tokyo!

After having seen the course in Tokyo, I set a schedule for the 50k walk to better the Olympic record by 5 minutes. Previous Olympic races had been on hot days on demanding courses, but the day of the 50k in 1964 was cool and damp and the course quite flat. Consequently I broke the Olympic record by around 8 minutes, but I couldn’t peg back the last four walkers, finishing in fifth place.

In 1967 a Commonwealth team was selected to compete in Los Angeles against the U.S.A. There I became friends with Trevor Mayhew from New Zealand. In the 20k walk I placed 4th with Trevor 5th. Trevor later moved to Australia, joined Collingwood and competed with us for many years.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, the day was hot for the 50k walk and we well knew the possible effects of the altitude following Ron Clarke’s collapse at the conclusion of the 10,000 metres. In the lead pack the English walker, Paul Nihill, was stirring two grim faced Russians. “Let’s have a sing song Bob! I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”, he started. He took off with the eventual winner, Hohne, the German, but Paul collapsed at about 35k from the effects of the altitude. At about 20k lack of oxygen cased my legs to seize up and I slowed dramatically, finishing over half an hour slower than Toyko.

In late 1969 the trial race for the 1970 Commonwealth Games was held. In winning the race I equalled the world best road time. Noel Freeman and I were selected for the walk, along with fellow Collingwood Harrier, Ray Boyd in the Pole Vault. Off we went to Edinburgh. Noel won the event and I was rapt to pick up the silver medal.

To top off an exciting year I was awarded Life Membership of Collingwood Harriers.

The World All Stars were a team consisting of some European and Commonwealth athletes sent to San Francisco in1971 to compete against teams from the U.S.A. and Russia. In the 20k walk, a Russian walker was disqualified placing me fourth. The Russian manager threatened to take the whole team home, so the Americans reinstated him and I dropped to fifth!

Later that year I won the 50k trial for the 1972 Olympics to be held in Munich. I made the team and had picked up the uniform, but an infection following an operation put me out of action for some months, so I missed those Games and the dramas which unfolded with the terrorist attack on the village and the shooting of the Israeli team.

I was able to return to racing the following track season, but at a greatly reduced level for quite some time. It was about this time that my son Scott, joined the Harriers as part of the under 16 team with Roger Groppi and David Buttifant, having a go at most events, but after two years returned to his first love, hockey.

During my serious walking career I did not run, but in the early 80s I began running with the Harriers at interclub (now Shield) and occasionally at Cross-Country, continuing for about 25 years until an injury made it difficult. When the Veterans started at Collingwood I also ran there for a while.

Craig Brill began setting junior walk records and when Mark Donahoo transferred from North Old Boys, he and Craig took over as the A Grade walkers for the Club. They were also the State League walkers.

Melbourne was the host for the World Veterans Championships in 1987 and it was great to again compete with Dad, first at the Victorian titles at Glenhuntly and then at Olympic Park, where Bert took silver in the 85-89 5k walk and I managed gold and silver in the 50-54 20k and 5k walks respectively.

In the 1990/91 season Collingwood combined with Waverley and Kew-Camberwell to compete as “Asics” in A Grade, with uniforms sponsored by Asics shoes. George Paton and I filled in when Craig and/or Mark were unavailable. Our lower teams still competed as Collingwood. When the Magpies combined with Waverley, Old Paradians and Diamond Valley to compete as “Ultimate” in 1995/96, Craig had retired, so mark and Ross Sharpe teamed and I filled in when required In 1996/97 and 97/98 the team became “ Striders,” but I was battling to meet the qualifying time so Mark and Ross did most of the comps. Our last combine was “Yarra” in 2000/01.

Leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, George Knott and I were honoured when chosen to be part of the torch relay. George ran through the grounds of Como House in South Yarra, while I ran my leg in the City of Whitehorse.

In 2001 at the Brisbane World Veterans Athletic Championships I took silver in the 5k walk behind Gerhard Weidner, a German Olympian, who had finished a few places ahead of me in Mexico City in 1968. In the 2k steeplechase I faded to finish fourth, but was happy to set a Victorian record for the 65-69 age group, which still stands at the time of writing.

In 2002, I was further honoured by the Collingwood Harriers by being awarded the Norm Francisco Medal.

In recognition of the many years of work by my father, the winner of the Victorian 10,000m Walk Championship is awarded the Bert Gardiner Medal. I have been most pleased to present the medal to Collingwood Harriers walkers on two occasions, Mark Donahoo in 1997 and more recently Stuart Kollmorgen in 2010. In the team’s race associated with the event Stuart, Ross Reid and I gained a silver medal in 2005. Later that year, the Collingwood team of Stuart, Ross and Colin Heywood won the gold in the Victorian 15k team’s race.

When the Commonwealth Games came to Melbourne in 2006, I enjoyed carrying the relay baton on Philip Island.

It was a great honour to be awarded Life Membership of Athletics Victoria in 2010. My dad, Bert had been awarded the same honour in 1953. We just may be the first father- son recipients. The then President of A.V., Anne Lord was gracious enough to visit the clubrooms in November to make the presentation at the Club’s Life Members’ Annual Luncheon.

In January 2013, Adam Garganis competed in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival held in Sydney. Barbara and I were pleased to be there to see him finish in fourth place in the 5k walk. Later that year in May, Adam was selected for the National Under 17 Development Squad and I was pleased to be able to attend the camp at the A.I.S. in Canberra as his coach.

The first week of the 2013/14 summer season saw me begin my 60th (continuous) season of competition. It was great to hear my Collingwood clubmates, lined up along the edge of the track, give me a cheer as I walked down the finishing straight.

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Bob’s recollections may cease at this point, but there are a few other bits and pieces!

Bob told of his exploits in Tokyo.

There was very little training done at Collingwood the night that Bob first appeared at training after the Games. There was a crowd of very eager listeners hanging on Bob’s every word, as he related his experiences, including his slant on the infamous story of the disappearance of the Japanese flag from the Emperor’s Palace attributed mainly to legendary swimmer Dawn Fraser.

Bob told of his exploits in Mexico City.

But he didn’t tell you about the visit to a Bullfight by many of the Australian team one afternoon. The Aussies didn’t really like what they saw and decided to start barracking for the bull! This did not go down all that well with the local crowd, many of whom began to throw anything they could get their hands on at these interlopers. The Aussies had a good laugh – later!

In regards to his involvement with the Masters, one suspects that Bob is eagerly awaiting his eightieth birthday when he will slip quietly into a new age group and fix up a few of the old blokes once again.

Not content with being just a competitor Bob has always been very involved in the off field happenings of the Club. Bob has filled many positions over the years and has been our maintenance man for many seasons.

He has coached many of our juniors and takes great pleasure in watching them develop their talents. On the other hand many young athletes are sure to be telling their schoolmates, “Last night I trained with a triple Olympian!”

Bob’s wife Barb has also played a part in the Club. A major part of our social committee for many years, Barb has always been very involved along with Bob. Both have also played a big part in the Victorian Walking Club, where they have both been made Life Members. At the time of writing Bob is also the President of the Walkers Club.

Just a couple of weeks after Bob’s much acclaimed walk at the start of “Season Number 60”, a huge crowd gathered in the clubrooms to acknowledge Bob’s achievements and career. Many friends from all stages of Bob’s time at the Club were in attendance as were many of the Gardiner family.

A great day for great man!

October 2014