The history of Athletics in Australia has been dominated by Aboriginal athletes. There was once a time when Aboriginal sprinters were known as the fastest people on the planet.
In recent years Aboriginal athletes have continued to reach the international stage, but many of us are questioning if Australia is doing all they can to see us dominate on the world stage as we did in years gone by. Up until 2010, the only people to have ever run the 100m in under 10 seconds were all of African descent, except for 1 Aboriginal man, Patrick Johnson, from Australia. Johnson still holds the Australian record for 100m with a time of 9.93 seconds set in 2003. Another long standing record holder is the sprint hurdling champion Kyle Vander-Kuyp whose 110m Hurdles record of 13.29 seconds set in 1995 still stands today.
Long before their time, Aboriginal sprinters (when they were permitted) dominated track events in Australia. One of those sprinters, Lynch Cooper, was even crowned the World Sprint Champion in 1929. Cooper is one of four Aboriginal men to have won Australia’s richest footrace, The Stawell Gift. When he won in 1928, he not only collected the prize money of 250 pounds but also collected around 3000 pounds from bets he placed on himself to win at 60 – 1 odds.
The other Aboriginal athletes to have won the Stawell gift are Josh Ross who won the event twice in 2003 and 2005. Tom Dancey won in 1910 and Bobby Kinnear won the Gift in 1883. Another Aboriginal sprinter, Bobby McDonald, was also the first man to start his races from the crouch start position. He did that way back in 1887.
When we look at the times these men were running, you can start to wonder if some of these Aboriginal men were actually running sub 10 second 100 metre times before anyone else in the world. In 1888, Charlie Samuels was recorded to have run 100 yards (around 91 metres) in a time of 9.1 seconds. When Josh Ross won his second Stawell Gift from scratch (a full 120 metres) he did so with a time of 12.36 seconds which aligns well with his personal best 100m time of 10.08 seconds.
With this tremendous history it makes you wonder why Australia isn’t doing more to explore, identify and nurture Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes. Speed still sees many Indigenous athletes dominating in the AFL, NRL and even the NBA. Could a pathway designed specifically to meet the needs of Indigenous athletes result in sprinters that rival the worlds best?
Could Aboriginal athletes once again become known as the fastest people on the planet?