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Historic Kapyla Club lives on

20 July 2015

Australian Olympians continue to make history 63 years on from competing at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

The Kapyla Club met for the 62nd year a row in Sydney on Friday as the group of sporting heroes came together to share some much loved memories and celebrate their sporting achievements.

The club, named after the suburb where the Olympic Village was built in Helsinki, is the only such reunion in the world that has met every year following an Olympic Games - for such an extended period of time.

The annual lunch at Sydney Rowing Club continued with its tradition for guests on arrival of an Aquavit, a Finnish spirit and a pickled herring.

Rower Vic Middleton toasted the Queen before bronze medallist rower David Anderson lit the Helsinki torch as an afternoon of fond memories and intriguing stories was underway.

“This is a passion that we’ve carried forward from 1952,” said water polo player Ray Smee.

“We decided that when 1953 came around that we should all get together for a drink, so about 18 of us got together and drink we did.

“We captured the whole ethos of the Helsinki Games and our Team from the Games and have tried not to change the event too much over the years. We’ve continued to try and keep the spirit of Olympism alive.”

That spirit that each of the club’s members embodies has been recognised both in Australia and around the world with the IOC contacting the Kapyla Club in recent years to commend their efforts.

“We’ve heard from Lucerne that we are only country in the world that has continued to get together once a year.

“That makes us wonderfully proud and we hope other countries follow suit in the years to come.”

The sporting world has rapidly progressed in recent years which serves to highlight just how hard some of the Australian athletes from the Helsinki Games era had to do it.

“It cost us about 800 pounds each to go to the Games in those days so we had to fundraise to ensure we could go.

“The rowers and water polo team went by boat so it took us six weeks to get to Helsinki which is not like they do it these days.

“The Games were so amazing though. Just getting the opportunity as a water polo player to take on the European powerhouses and fraternise with them afterwards was a dream come true.”

Much like Smee, fencer Patricia Smith had to sacrifice a lot to get to the Games.

“A month after I won the national championships my coach told me to go book a ticket to London because I might be going to the Olympics,” said Smith.

“So then the fundraising started. I gave demonstrations on the beach, my family sold buttons and the council helped me out to get me on that plane.”

With her community and Australia behind her a 20-year-old Smith travelled to London a month out from the Games.

“It was my first time overseas and when they told me the Olympics were in Helsinki I had to go home and get a map to find out where that was.

“When I eventually got to London I had lessons with a French professor who only gave lessons in French.

“I was very lucky to have gotten the chance to go and compete, especially considering only ten women in total made the whole Team for Australia. I still have great memories of the Games though all these years on.” 

It is always an emotional day with plenty of laughs and a few tears. Sadly Phil Cayzer, who was a regular at the annual Kapyla Club event, passed away earlier in the week. This added to the emotion of the day with AOC President John Coates making a special tribute to Phil who he knew well from their time together at Sydney Rowing Club.

And while Phil and others were not there in 2015, the club did expand for the first time to include 1956 Olympians to ensure the club lives on for many years to come.

The new and old members are still as passionate as ever about the Olympic movement and provide inspiration to those aiming to become a part of Australia’s 120-year-old Australian Olympic Team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games next August.

Matt Bartolo

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