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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Melbourne’s Olympic Park is an athletics venue no more.

Melbourne’s Olympic Park is an athletics venue no more.

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The sun sets on Olympic Park. Will it be a new dawn for athletics?

By Tim McGrath
Inside Athletics
Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Melbourne’s Olympic Park is an athletics venue no more.

The spiritual home of Australian athletics was open for public training for the last time yesterday, with work to remove the track that has seen many of the defining moments in Australian athletics set to commence today.

Like the mythical Phoenix, from the ashes of Olympic Park athletics has the potential to be reborn at Albert Park.
The venue is to be converted into a training ground for Collingwood Football Club, while a new track at Lakeside Oval, Albert Park is set to become the new home of Victorian athletics.

A small but loyal number of athletes were at the track last night to go through their paces in the same fashion that generations of Australian athletes have previously. For some, nostalgia was the driving force behind their presence; for others, the convenience of accessing a training venue close to the CBD after work.

Nestled in the premier sporting precinct of the nation, Olympic Park was the training track for the 1956 Olympic Games. The period was a golden age for Australian athletics, but even as the sport diminished in its appeal to the masses, through Olympic Park it still had a visible sign of its existence and relevance. With the Melbourne Cricket Ground and more recently Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and AAMI Stadium within sight, one could be forgiven for thinking that athletics was a mainstream sport.

The eviction from Olympic Park ends that illusion. Despite the tokenistic redevelopment of Lakeside Oval, athletics will for the better part be out of sight and out of mind.

History will ultimately be unkind to those under whose watch Olympic Park was lost – Athletics Australia President Rob Fildes and an Athletics Australia Board containing Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire – but like the mythical Phoenix, from the ashes of Olympic Park athletics has the potential to be reborn at Albert Park. Aside from the opportunity to cast away the kind of out dated thinking which left the sport impotent to react to the threat (and ultimate reality) of losing Olympic Park, Lakeside Oval will house the offices of Athletics Australia, Little Athletics Australia and Athletics Victoria.

The three organisations have an acrimonious history dating back to 1964, when then Vice-President of the Victoria Athletics Association (the forerunner of Athletics Victoria), Trevor Billingham, founded Little Athletics in order to cater for those athletes who were barred from competing in athletics due to their youthful age. The movement took off at an exponential rate and was fiercely independent; At a national level the subsequent half a century has seen crippling distrust from each 'side', speckled with periods of cooperation, most often driven at a state level.

That the Athletics Australia and Little Athletics Australia offices are currently located a block away on St Kilda and Queens Roads respectively – two roads that run parallel most of their way, but intersect near Albert Park – is both a metaphor, and hopefully, an omen for athletics.

Aside from the potential in the longer term for greater staffing efficiency (e.g. as a trivial example, do three organisations doing similar business within the same premise each need a staff member on front of house duties?), the level of cooperation and unity needed to sustain joint funding recently supplied by the Australian Sports Commission to state athletics bodies in NSW and Victoria to focus on the transition of teenage athletes between the two organisations, will be fostered by physical proximity.

Whether that will be enough for athletics not only to survive, but to prosper again as it did in the early days of Olympic Park, is yet to be seen. Athletics may never be a mainstream sport again, but if the loss of Olympic Park is to serve any purpose, it highlights that a strong, united athletics community is needed to face the increasing challenges that the sport will face.


ProTrack Star
ProTrack Star
For the sport of professional running, it's a sad indictment that the article didn't mention that the VAL will also be housed at Lakeside. Never before have all 4 associations been co-located and it is a fantastic opportunity for sharing of resources, talent, ideas, etc.
With the shenanigans of the past 6 weeks at Board Level of the VAL, it is sad that the opportunity to cultivate the relationship with the other Athletics stakeholders has largely gone by the wayside. It is possible to work collaboratively with other bodies without handing over control completely! All senior organisations are stuggling for numbers so it makes sense to work together to provide a better product.

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