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Clarke heads honoured sportspeople

10 June 2013

Acclaimed distance runner Ron Clarke heads a group of sportspeople feted in the Queen's Birthday honours of 2013, appointed an Officer (AO) in the General Division. 

Australia's first Tour de France cycling winner and four-time Olympian Cadel Evans and champion motorcyclist Casey Stoner were appointed Members (AM) in the General Division. 

Medals (OAM) in the General Division were awarded to Olympic swimming medallist Matt Welsh, squash stalwart Michelle Martin, AFL identity Ross Oakley and rugby union legend Bill Ross. 

But, with respect, Clarke trumps them all. 

As an athlete, Clarke set multiple world records, over distances ranging from two miles to 20km. 

As a businessman, Clarke headed organisations including sportswear company Adidas Australia. 

As a philanthropist, Clarke founded the Council for the Encouragement of Philanthropy in Australia - and helped organise donations of more than $25 million to 65 different charities. 

Clarke, a Gold Coast mayor for two terms, gained prominence on the athletics track in the 1950s and 1960s and officially set 17 world records. 
Clarke won silver at the Commonwealth Games and bronze in the 10,000m at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games. But he never won a gold, with bad luck and illness at major championships thwarting him.

But Clarke is still the proud keeper of an Olympic gold medal - given to him by distance running legend Emil Zatopek, the Czech who won the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon at the 1952 Olympics. 

Of Clarke's multitude of medals it is this one, that he first saw in an airplane toilet, that takes pride of place. 

Clarke was in Prague in 1968 - the year he nearly died from altitude sickness after collapsing at the 1968 Mexico Games after the 10,000m. 

The Australian and Zatopek were mutual admirers and spent a day in Prague together.  Zatopek dropped Clarke at the airport, embraced him, and handed him a small parcel. 

"Not out of friendship, but because you deserve it," Zatopek told him. 

Clarke kept the package in his pocket until his plane was air-borne. 

"I wondered whether I was smuggling something out for him," Clarke said.  "I retired to the privacy of the lavatory. When I unwrapped the box, there, inscribed with my name and that day's date, was Emil's Olympic 10,000m gold medal. 

"I sat on that toilet seat and wept." 

AAP and AOC

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