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RIP Les Perry

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#1 old miler


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Posted 21 September 2005 - 03:13 AM

With so much discussion taking place on this forum regarding the relative merits of our best distance runners, it's time to reflect on one of the all time greats.

Les Perry may just be a name from the distant past to many, but his impact on athletics in this country should not be underestimated.

The following obituary was written by Len Johnson:

Les Perry, who died recently at the age of 82, was literally a larger-than-life character.

Dimunitive, nondescript in appearance (apart from a ready smile) and with a seemingly modest set of achievements, Les Perry was nonetheless a giant of Australian distance running.

Indeed, John Landy, who counts Perry as one of his greatest influences and supporters, reckons he can accurately be described as the father of Australian distance running.

Les Perry did not start running seriously until after his war service in the army. He competed in the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland and the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games (running the marathon in the 1956 Olympics and also finishing third in the Australian Championships that year).

In terms of titles, he won the Australian 3miles four times in a row from 1949-50 and the national cross-country title once.

Compared to today, when athletes have a major championships to race every year, it seems a modest list of achievements, but Perry's influence extended far beyond what he did on the track.

Les Perry's breakthrough performance was finishing sixth in 1952 Olympic 5000 metres final. Three more Australians have finished one place higher since - Albie Thomas in 1956, Dave Power in 1960 and Ron Clarke in 1968 - but it ranks with any performance by an Australian in an Olympic 5000 metres final.

Until Craig Mottram's bronze medal in Helsinki this year, it surpassed any world championships performance at the distance too. As influential as that performance was in showing Australians that they could mix it with the world's best - as people like Percy Cerrutty contended - it was the contacts Les Perry made in Helsinki that were as important.

Perry was one of the handful of Australians to fall under the spell of Emil Zatopek, the Czech master runner who won the 5000, 10,000 metres and marathon in Helsinki. Indeed, such was the bond forged between them that Perry brought home Zatopek's Olympic singlet - probably the most photographed object in the sporting world in 1952, John Landy reckons. The singlet remained with the Williamstown Athletics Club - Perry's club - for 30 years until the Czechs, with a belated eye to history, asked if they could have it back.

It probably speaks much for Les Perry's broader view of things that he readily gave the singlet back. It was an attitude that Perry had already and that was reinforced by his friendship with Zatopek.

John Landy, who ran in Helsinki, broke four minutes for the mile in 1954, and took a bronze medal in the 1500 in Melbourne in 1956, reckons that Perry and Zatopek shared similar characteristics.

Now the governor of Victoria, John Landy says both were imbued with a generosity of spirit. They were totally open about what they did. There were no secrets. If you could do it better than them, good luck to you.

Perry was one of those who sought out Zatopek in Helsinki. The eastern bloc athletes stayed in a separate village then, but Landy recalls Zatopek training at the Elaintarha track (the one used as the warm-up track for the world championships), ''like the Pied Piper of Hamelin'', with runners trailing in his wake.

Perry brought the Zatopek influence back to Australia. It gelled with Cerrutty's ''no gain without pain'' approach to hard training, too. Like Landy, Perry had worked with Percy but preferred to strike out independently.

Back in Australia, Perry, with Cerrutty and others, helped set up the Victorian Marathon Club, which fought for and won better conditions for distance runners and events and founded the annual Emil Zatopek 10,000 metres race.

Les Perry also was a co-founder of Ringwood Athletics Club when he lived in the area in the 1960s. Perhaps his greatest service to Australian athletics was to take Ron Clarke out for a training run when the former world junior mile record holder moved into the area at around that time.

Clarke recalls how Perry and the local mayor - Bob Horman - had to wait for him at the top of every hill. ''You've got some work to do if you want to get fit,'' Perry told Clarke. When Clarke did, he won an Olympic bronze medal, broke over 20 world records and re-defined track distance running.

Through Les Perry, it is possible to trace a line linking Zatopek to Craig Mottram. It is a wonderful legacy, as is his support and advice to so many athletes over the years from club level to Olympian.

Les Perry is survived by his wife, Audrey, and three children, Bronwyn, Richard and Melinda.

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 01:23 PM

This means now that the 5K down at Willi for the allcomers meet takes on extra significance.

Thanks old miler for the bio. I, like others, would have thought of Les Perry as just another athletics "name" attached to a run, but clearly he was "da man" in his day and the sport has a lot to be thankful for.

#3 Davo

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 04:56 PM

It's the unsung heroes like Les Perry that really makes the world go round, isn't it. We should all spare a quiet thought for him.

#4 Oldntired


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Posted 21 September 2005 - 05:50 PM

Les was an absolute supporter for Victorian distance ruuning back in the 'good old days'.  

My favourite memory of his generosity was the first (198?) South Melbourne Marathon held around Princes Park (13 x 2 mile laps!!).  It was held in November to celebrate the xxth runnning of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Marathon and was even called the "Olympic Tyres Marathon" (O T being a tyre brand back then).  
Because of the event's Olympic connection, Les was asked to present the Trophies.  The winner was Gerry Sofianos in a time in the 2h 20's.  

After Les presented Gerry with the trophy, Les reached in to his back pocket and pulled out his Australian Olympic racing singlet and gave that to Gerry.  
It quite suprised the onlooking crowd that Les had been so generous as to give away his 1956 Olympic singlet but it was one of Les's ways of encouraging an up and coming local runner.  (Gerry went on to gain a second and a third in the Australian Marathon championships).

Les was truly a great supporter of Victorian distance running.


#5 Digger

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 09:38 PM

I never new Les personally, but I did know him by reputation, both as a runner and official, and he was like so many other unsung Australians, who are responsible for making our sport possible today.

Some comments on other parts of this Thread.
1-I ran 13 laps at Princes Park in 1979, and Deeks father, after Heart Surgery broke 3hrs(I Think).
2-In 1980, this race moved to Albert Park, on a 5km loop, with a 1km out and back at the finish.
3-Is the for mayor of Ringwood(Bob Horan), the same Bob Horan who now lives in QLD?
If so, he still runs, and I down-loaded the following from the LWF web site for the Brisbane Marathon.

1997  Full Marathon  3:41:08   Age 79
1998  Full Marathon  3:39:15   Age 80
1999  Full Marathon  3:43:33  Age 81
2000  Half Marathon  1:46:54  Age 82
2002  Half Marathon  1:58:41   Age 84
2004  Half Marathon  2:11:01   Age 86

Which shows Bob has still got what it takes!

#6 nullapino


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Posted 22 September 2005 - 02:44 AM

I got to know of Les Perry at a very young age of 14-15 in the early 60s.. I was a miler running for Mentone AAC, and was told to do extra miles during the winter by paticipating in the VMC races.

Les was nearly allways at these events and I was told how he had been a great runner for Australia and had co founded the VMC with Percy Cerutty. I was also told to have the uttmost respect for this man.

I was introduced to the VMC race scene by Percy Cerutty about mid 1964. The club had a great deal of its races from a hall at South Melbourne Lake...Percy said to me out at the VMC marathon championship at Preston in 1965 to go into the doctors tent and have my medical...and keep my head down and dont say anything to anybody, as I was only 15....Percy was standing near me and when the doctor had taken my pulse he said to Les Perry .."Gee Percys getting these blokes running marathons young these days"...Percy replied with..."Les, hes one of my new Portea boys, and he's just 18, and will be ok"...once this statement had been made the doctor looked at me and Les, (who just shrugged his shoulders in disbelief), and Percy and said OK...next runner...Percy was right I ran 2 hours 45 mins for the 26 miles...and for years after I always had great admiration for Les Perry..

my Respects go out to the Perry family

Neil Padley

#7 Eagle

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Posted 22 September 2005 - 04:06 PM

Sad to hear of the passing of Les perry. I have read a lot about him when reading books about Australian runners in the late 40's and 50's. He seemed like a great runner in those rather simple times. That is out on a pair of running shoes and just run. They ran great times with basic equipment and not much science. One wonders how their times would be today with the aid of the equipment,science and significantly different training methods..   B)

#8 donw


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Posted 05 October 2005 - 06:13 AM

I found this thread by accident, and am very sad to hear the news about Les, whom I knew very well in the 60's.

I ran on many occasions with him, Bob Horman and Ron Clarke in the hills of a weekend, and was a founding member with him of the Ringwood Athletics club.

He gave freely of his support and encouragement to all of us.

Don Williams

#9 Colac

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Posted 05 October 2005 - 06:59 AM

Les is a great loss to Australian sport. What an amazing record of achievement and contribution to helping other athletes.

#10 Rudolf

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Posted 05 October 2005 - 01:19 PM

i read Zatopek bibliography hundreds of times,
the original old version in Czech lanquage
(As I am from Czechoslovakia).
From the book, I remember the friendsip mentioned above between these 2 runners.
Lot of what Zatopek did and did not do, was since missrepresented, throught the media and translations.
Sadly Zatopek life took the sad turn, he was sucked into wrong sides of politics, his personality missused by various political currents, a his personal life drawning in alcohol

As for many people, everything turn for the worst after so called velvet revolution in 1989
and so called new found freedom, which is the illusion pushed by western media about former komunistic block countries.That was the critical point for Zatopek too.

#11 Dave Byrnes


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Posted 05 October 2005 - 01:56 PM

I was also there when Les gave Gerry Sofianos that Australian singlet of his as an extra prize for the Princes Park Marathon.  I was amazed that he could donate something that must have had such emotional value.  The memory of that generosity has always been a benchmark for me and was consistent with all of my dealings with Les.  He was a great role model as an athlete and a person.

#12 RussellF


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Posted 15 December 2005 - 03:54 PM

Les Perry was president of the Ringwood Athletic Club when I joined in the 1960s. He was an affable fellow and thoroughly unassuming.

As Perry was into his 40s when I knew him, I did not really appreciate his athletic accomplishments until recently, when reading Neil Bascomb's enthralling book about the race to break the four minute mile. Bascomb interviewed Perry about John Landy's efforts and revealed some information about Perry.

A friend who saw Perry compete in his prime described Perry to me as a "very gutsy" runner. reflecting, perhaps, the influence of the idomitable Zatopek.