Home of the Greats

20:37, Jul 26 2012
Olympic HEros
GOLDEN HISTORY: Owairaka Athletics Club life member Pat Munro and club president Sydney Morrow reflect on the club’s past as they look to reinvigorate its membership.

The world tunes into the opening of the London Olympics this weekend. Today Hannah Spyksma visits the place where some of New Zealand's greatest athletes started their careers. And she finds out that history never repeats - but sometimes it goes full circle.

A speed walker is into her 10th lap around the 400m oval when I finish speaking with Pat Munro and Sydney Morrow at Owairaka Athletics Club.

A woman supported by a zimmer frame plods past, followed by an elderly man in trackpants and a checkered flannel shirt.

Olympic HEros
ROSKILL LADS: Olympic gold medallists Sir Peter Snell and Sir Murray Halberg both started their running careers through Owairaka Athletics.

"Look at him go, we should sign him up for the veterans' squad," Mrs Munro says to club president Mr Morrow.

Owairaka started in 1943 with a group of "kids over the back fence wanting to run" and is an organisation that still values its community roots.

The unassuming club is tucked off Sandringham Extension Rd between state houses and the industrial area of Mt Roskill.


The suburban venue has a lot to be proud of despite the low-key atmosphere.

World records have been created right here and Mr Morrow says it was at one point "the world's base for middle-distance running".

And it's Owairaka that comes to mind when New Zealand revisits its athletics history.

The association's refurbished clubrooms are now part of the Auckland Council-run Roskill Youth Zone premises.

An impressive four out of nine of New Zealand's athletic gold medallists come from here, he says.

The array of shots lining the walls include pictures of Sir Murray Halberg, Sir Peter Snell and coaches Arch Jelley and Arthur Lydiard.

Talking about where the club is now and where it came from is an emotional subject for Mr Morrow.

"I think one of the best things about this association is it gives an opportunity for the average person to meet some of the best athletes in the world," he says. "You don't get that opportunity very often."

The park was a backup venue for the 1990 Commonwealth Games and it's where Arthur Lydiard's jogging boom started in the 1970s.

That's a history Mr Morrow has worked hard to have acknowledged as athletic club memberships decline.

"I think we can now look back and reflect on our achievements - probably in the 60s and 70s we were actually doing it, we didn't appreciate how good it was."

History isn't repeating and while it's fair to say the club isn't booming, it's important to continue the international legacy of excellence, Mr Morrow says.

He is focusing on connecting with the community through youth over the next few months. Children's evenings start next Wednesday and and on the back of the Olympics members will visit schools to join students up.

"I'm confident that over time and with our history we will encourage a group to continue through with athletics," Mr Morrow says.

"When those children arrive here with their parents we're able to say that there's a real connection with the Olympics - it'll just work well," he says.

Central Leader