Len Johnson and Laurie Keaton add their names to a distinguished list of Australian athletics servants who have greatly contributed to the success of the sport as an athlete, coach, official or administrator, named as Life Members of Athletics Australia at Friday’s Annual General Meeting in Melbourne.
LEN JOHNSON (Vic)
Len Johnson’s association with athletics started in earnest in the early 1970s when he began to train seriously as a distance runner in Melbourne – amidst the great culture for that part of the sport which had developed in Victoria – of pack runs, of the Zatopek, of the VMC and the like. Chris Wardlaw and Rob de Castella, with whom he later produced a biography, were amongst many training colleagues.
It was the beginning of a genuine love affair with a sport that Len has since been able to pursue both professionally and as a committed voluntary contributor.
As an athlete, there were some noteworthy moments. Len was no slouch. He would say his best achievement was in 1978 in Fukuoka, then the pre-eminent marathon race in the World after the Olympics. Len ran 2:19.32 – then the seventh fastest time ever run by an Australian in the marathon.
But there was also a fifth placing in the Australian Olympic Trial in 1980. The first three went to the Games, so strong was Australia in the event at the time. If two of them had not been there, so well too may have Len.
The Moscow Olympics and the controversies that surrounded them seemed to engage Len with his sport even more. He researched a book with Chris Wardlaw on the Games boycott and related politics, but it was never published.
But it inspired him to change career, taking up the option to work with Terry O’Halloran on the staff of his then-fledgling magazine, Australian Runner. Despite having no formal training as a journalist, it led to a career in the profession that spanned over 30 years.
After four years with the magazine, Len went to work with Athletics Australia, which had established an office in Canberra to organise the 1985 World Cup. It was an exciting period, culminating in an event which began a year out almost as a secret and ended with an extraordinary set of performances at the meet itself, including two world records.
Having expanded his involvement in journalism earlier by becoming a freelancer with The Age, Len was then in a position to accept a full-time role with the paper in 1986. In an article in Inside in February 2006, Michael Gordon admitted that as Sports Editor in 1986 he had taken a chance with someone with no formal training in the industry,
“I had come to know Len as an occasional contributor and was impressed by his knowledge of, and passion for, athletics (and distance running in particular) and his willingness to learn more about journalism.”
After that Len immersed himself in providing a superb coverage of athletics, as well as working in other sports such as football and hockey. While his connection with and love for distance running as emphasised in Gordon’s comment, was without question an ever-present theme in Len’s writings on athletics, there was much delivered about athletes in all events and the issues of the sport.
After 22 years with the newspaper, the opportunity to take a package from his employers opened up the next stanza in Len’s career, one which has continued to include a substantial connection with athletics through his freelance work including with the IAAF and Runner’s Tribe.
Len has been a regular member of the media team at IAAF events, providing media services and support to both those covering the sport on site and those relying on astute observations and useable quotes from a distance.
One of the great benefits the sport received courtesy of Len Johnson, was his preparedness to write about the small good news issues as well as the major stories. Not that this prevented Len from being at the forefront of commentary on all of the sport’s big controversies.
His detailed knowledge of athletics and his ability to retain a broad range of statistical and historical data, have provided depth to his writings on the sport to date. The great John Landy was happy to trust Len to author his most recent long work, “The Landy Era”. It has also enabled Len to make valuable contributions as a member of the Athletics Victoria and AA Awards panels.
Len has played myriad volunteer roles in the sport, mostly very much behind the scenes as he would prefer. These have included in various roles with his club, Glenhuntly; assisting with the weekly Monash Running Group; as a member and advisor to the AA Distance Running and then the Out of Stadium Commissions; as a member of the Grants Review Panel for the Ron Clarke Foundation and in undertaking research for a range of historical projects.
Len was an inaugural member of the Victorian Milers Club Committee when it was established in 2005 and remains in that role.
He is one of only four people to have been elected a special category member of Athletics International. He was inducted in 2009 and serves on its Awards Committee as well as regularly contributing to the very informative AI newsletter.
Len was recognised by the sport when he was chosen as the winner of the best overall coverage category at the 2000 Athletics Australian Media Awards and when invited to submit his most worthy piece “Picking Up the Torch” as the feature contribution to the 2011-02 AA Annual Report.
Len Johnson’s contribution to club, state, national and international athletics has been long, varied and substantial – and it continues. He is a most worthy recipient of Athletics Australia Life Membership.
LAURIE KEATON (NSW):
Laurie Keaton is widely recognised throughout the athletics community as one who has given selfless service to all facets of the sport of from junior through to elite international level over a period of more than 50 years.
His first involvement with athletics was in 1964 as manager for one of the New South Wales high school zones, and by 1970 he was on the founding committee for what has now become the combined NSW All Schools Championships.
As a then member of the Nowra Club Laurie coached several athletes, including some who became national champions but by the 1980s he had started officiating seriously – initially at NSW Schools, and AAA meets. It is, without doubt, the area of athletics for which he is probably best known.
Laurie eventually became an IAAF International Technical Official (Area) in 1997, one of the first Australians appointed to the Oceania Panel - a significant and important international recognition
Laurie has held senior technical official appointments at two Commonwealth Games, the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and many other national and international meets and served as the Director for officials on the Athletics ACT Board of Directors responsible for appointments and training and development of officials.
There has been more recent significant service as a most diligent Chairman of the Jury of Appeal at the AA National Championships.
It is in the area of technical officiating that Laurie is most recognised for his significant contribution. And over the years that was seen first in New South Wales, then in the Australian Capital Territory and now again in New South Wales. Not only as an official of the highest international level but, as an administrator and trainer and developer of other officials, many of whom have themselves gone on to the highest levels of technical officiating.
From his earliest days of officiating, Laurie’s primary focus has been on track events, and his expertise was quickly recognised, and he was soon appointed as track referee at important meets such as the Combined High Schools Championships for many years and the Pacific Schools Games in Sydney in 1998.
Internationally his first appointment was as a track umpire for the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and in 1996 he was appointed Assistant Chief Track Umpire at the World Junior Championships held at the newly opened Sydney Olympic Park Athletics Centre.
The year 2000 was an important one for athletics in Australia and AA had made it clear that only the very best officials could expect to be appointed to officiate at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Not surprisingly Laurie was appointed to both those major international championships in key roles.
For the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Laurie was appointed Assistant Chief Track Umpire and for the 2000 Paralympic Games as Assistant Track Referee. And in the latter role once again for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
It is Laurie’s approach to officiating that sees him repeatedly given these key appointments. His interpretation of the IAAF rules is widely recognised as being impeccable. His recognised expertise is not limited to the track. In NSW he regularly serves as a track, jumps or throws referee and Technical Delegate at many of ANSW’s major championships.
But his contribution to officiating goes much deeper than just doing it himself. Since he first joined the AACT Board of Directors in 1997, Laurie has been a respected officials administrator and mentor for other officials hoping to further their education in athletics. He is an official AA mentor for those wishing to pursue officiating education, and his “students” have included both Ian Colquhoun and Barry Pecar, now “first choice” track referees in their respective states.
In 2017 Laurie continues to make his contribution to athletics at all levels. Not only making himself available for major championships and ANSW events such as the Treloar Shield and All Comers meets, but also for many schools meets (primary and high school) throughout the years.
He received the AA Platinum Service Award for a forty-year devotion to officiating and administration in 2011.
Based on a long, wide and extensive contribution to athletics in Australia, Laurie Keaton is a worthy addition to the Life Membership Roll of Athletics Australia.