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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Tom Flood Sports Centre.

Tom Flood Sports Centre.

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1 Tom Flood Sports Centre. on Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:20 am

JH

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Tom Flood Sports Centre
Home of the World Record sub 4 Min Mile – 50 Years ago

The Tom Flood Sports Centre was named after a former Councillor, Mayor, businessman and well-known cyclist in Bendigo Mr Tom Flood during the early 1970’s. Tom Flood was also a member of the fledgling Bendigo Sportsmen’s Association with the likes of the late Cyril Michelsen. Tom Flood operated a bus service that is still operating today from Arnold Street North Bendigo. Prior to the naming of the Tom Flood Sports Centre it was known as “The Showgrounds” and as the site became too small for staging the annual agricultural shows in October each year Council decided to re-locate the showgrounds to the Prince of Wales site in Holmes Road North Bendigo.

However the grassed surface of the “Sports Centre” was home to both amateur and professional athletes for their summer track and field events. This surface was imbedded with a cinder sub surface when curated properly both with the precise amount of water, drying and rolling became a formidable competition surface The Amateurs conducted their Saturday afternoon track and field under the State amateur body known as the VAAA at the time. Women competed under the VWAA banner. It was during the mid to late 1960’s that Little Athletics began of a Saturday morning.

Not many Bendigonians – unless having a keen interest in athletics - would be aware that this “haloed” turf set the entire World abuzz in 1963 when little known 23 year-old school teacher from Portland Harold Downs became the first Professional athlete to break the magical four-minute mile at the Showgrounds in a special Backmarker’s Mile at the Golden Fleece Thousand meeting. The irony being that Cr Tom Flood on this occasion was the current Chairman of the Bendigo Easter Fair Society. The event was held on the Easter Saturday night. Downs raced off the Scratch mark recording the World record-breaking time of 3 minutes 59.7 seconds – the first for a professional athlete ever.

Whilst this was a clear decade later than Roger Bannister’s first sub 4 minute mile as an amateur broken in 1952 the breaking of the sub 4 minute mile within pro ranks was more difficult to achieve given the handicap system and many athletes on marks ahead of the scratchman meant any pro athlete breaking this sub 4 minute mark would invariably run a lot further than the pegged mile often running wide to pass slowing athletes. Downs had a stellar lead-up to this World record breaking achievement having won 8 professional track races beforehand.

Downs was assisted in his World record-breaking feat by a Bendigonian Mr John McCracken who could have possibly won the race but may not have broken the sub 4 minute mark as he set off from the 25 yards handicap. McCracken set a grueling last lap surge that almost pulled off the race for McCracken but Downs was able to extract every ounce of energy in the final 220 yards and up the finish straight to break the tape first.

Downs had commenced his pro running career in 1958 at 18 years of age and it was considered at the time of his World record-breaking sub 4 minute mile (March 1963) that Downs was Australia’s best both amateur or professional middle distance athlete.

In January 1962 at Cook’s Garden Reserve Whanganui NZ Kiwi athlete Peter Snell broke the then current World amateur sub 4 minute mile record. Snell was coached by famous NZ Arthur Lydiard. Snell won three Olympic and two Commonwealth gold medals in his short career and has been a resident in Texas USA since 1971. It was in Feb 2008 that the first professional athletics meeting was conducted in NZ at the Whanganui Cooks Garden’s Reserve ground. At that time the Victorian Athletic League (VAL) under the Presidency of Bendigonian Mr George Flack introduced Pro Aths to NZ by way of a franchising agreement between the VAL and Cooks Garden Reserve Trust Board. And so another link to these remarkable athletic performances was struck.

Often it is said that lightning does not strike the same place twice. However in Harry Downs case 3 years later at the age of 26 the Portland Arts Teacher shattered the World Professional 880 yards (1/2 mile) record of 1 min 49.6 secs– yes at the Bendigo Showgrounds – proving for all that this venue was unique in the world.

It is with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first Professional sub 4 minute mile record in March 2013 that plans are afoot (pardon the pun) to recognize this milestone with a specially sponsored Mile. Flack Advisory’s director Mr George Flack say he has been proud to be associated with this milestone and that having participated in the sport for the past 45 years it was a way of ensuring due recognition is given to Harry Downs for his remarkable efforts and that of those around him such as John McCracken.

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