It is hard to imagine that anyone in Australian and Oceania athletics possessed a bigger “wing” than Geoff Martin who passed away on 22 April 2018 - such was the number of the sport’s family who were taken under it.
Geoffrey was one of the real characters of national, regional and world athletics over more than 50 years – a perfectionist at his craft as a starter and relentless in his pursuit of providing opportunities and a welcoming environment for everyone with whom he came into contact.
Geoff was a fixture at the start line of every significant athletics meet held in Australia from the 1970s and at countless state and grassroots competitions from even earlier. As a competition and team official, he served with distinction - earning a reputation as one of the world’s leading starters and as a mentor and educator of others of the highest quality.
Fellow Athletics Australia Life Governor and past President David Prince recalls a first contact with Geoff from Sydney interclub athletics competitions from the 1957/58 season - the commencement of a “magnificent service to athletics”. Geoff ran well enough to become the state junior 220 yards champion before turning his hand in 1969 to officiating and administration.
After competitive involvements with the Eastern Suburbs and Sutherland clubs, Geoff was active in the formation and operation of one of New South Wales more unusual affiliates – Randwick Rugby Athletic Club. It had a good number of club level athletes but perhaps not surprisingly under Geoff’s influence a significant cohort of technical officials. He was also a long-term vice-present and beloved member of Sydney University AC.
In state administration, Geoff undertook various roles on the NSWAAA executive committee and as assistant secretary from 1971. From then on there was also extensive service on officials and awards committees.
He was rightly recognised for his contribution to the sport as a Life Member of Athletics Australia (2003) and of Athletics New South Wales and through the Australian honours system with the Australian Sports Medal (2000) and the Medal of the Order of Australia (2010).
Geoff became a Life Governor of Athletics Australia in 2012 and received the IAAF Veteran Pin three years later.
Geoff’s service to the sports officiating was prodigious – in both volume and in years – both as a starter and start referee and in educating the next generations of start area officials. In 2008 he attained the status of the Athletics Australia Platinum Service Award – acknowledging more than forty years of dedication to the sport.
In more recent years Geoff found a new passion and became a great supporter of Pacific Island track and field – educating officials and supporting Oceania Athletics’ programs and competitions. He received the Oceania Athletics Merit Award in 2013.
When the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) first established a Panel of International Starters in 2008 to ensure greater uniformity in the starting at major international athletics meets, it came as no surprise to those involved in the sport in Australia (and in many other countries) that Geoff was one of just eight starters appointed to the group.
Should the Panel have been established at any other time over the previous 30 years, the situation would have been the same and Geoff’s presence on that panel would have been for a good deal longer. He was appointed as International Starter for key IAAF events including the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Geoff’s commitment to excellence as a starter resulted not only in a fine reputation amongst his peers and athletes but virtually automatic appointment to all major international competitions held in Australia for which he was available – from the 1977 Pacific Conference Games to the 1982 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 1985 World Cup, the 1996 World Juniors, the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the 2001 Goodwill Games and the 2001 IAAF Grand Prix Final.
Like each of his fellow national technical officials, Geoff’s service to the sport was voluntary and included meeting his own travelling expenses to officiate wherever national events might be held around the country. But there are few others who have made such a commitment over such a length of time.
As well as achieving and maintaining a high level of personal excellence, Geoff was the most enthusiastic and productive of mentors for his colleagues – both in establishing sound practices for the operation of the start area at athletics events, templates of which have been adopted in many other countries and for major international events held elsewhere, and in teaching others the skills to become start area co-ordinators, starters and starter’s assistants.
Geoff was a lifelong student of officiating - advocating strongly for improvements to the rules and when necessary a tweaking of a change that might not have worked as well as anticipated.
If he did not believe something an athlete did was a false start Geoff would find a way around it. He was delighted and proud when the IAAF created a clear distinction between the consequences of technical and disciplinary breaches on the start line – something he long believed should be the case.
In his case, it is absolutely right to say that Geoff was adored - as well as appreciated for his willingness to involve others in the sport and ensure that they have the skills and knowledge both to make a sound contribution and to enjoy their own involvement.
His sense of humour and congeniality, his pranks and his ability to converse at length on myriad topics made others want to be part of athletics.
He was firm but fair with athletes whether as a starter or referee. He had the ability to relax a situation with a throw-away line. AA Life Member and media man and then athlete Mike Hurst recalls regular start line banter with Geoff along the lines of – “Mike you go on set – everyone else wait for the gun”.
Geoff was also the lead organiser of many a social function for his fellow officials, and in this regard certainly not limited to the start team. He was an important and crucial member of the national technical official's panel as a result, for much more than his skills as a starter and a teacher. His contribution to team morale should never be underestimated.
Geoff had a heart of gold and was passionate about ensuring others were appropriately recognised and honoured for their contributions.
Geoff also served as a team manager for national athletics teams, including a tour of Europe in 1977 and the athletics section of the 1978 Australian Commonwealth Games Team. He was an efficient and knowledgeable manager but perhaps more telling is that the relationships he formed with the athletes he managed remained numerous and strong forty years later.
Geoff also made a substantial contribution in similar ways in surf-lifesaving and to schools athletics, serving regularly as a starter or jury of appeal member at school “house” and inter-school events.
It would be an extraordinary task to determine how many New South Wales school athletes of the last 50 years or more would have run or walked in a race started by Geoff Martin and impossible to imagine that there is a club athlete who would not have done so.
His contribution was exceptional and without doubt above the norm – even taking into account the sterling service of so many in officiating in Australia.
Amongst many other achievements, it was both logical and fitting that Geoff started the men’s 100 metres at the Sydney Olympic Games and that the honour of reciting the official's oath at a subsequent Australian Youth Olympic Festival was accorded to him.
In surf-lifesaving Geoff was a proud and passionate member of the Coogee Club, serving as its president as well as a starter and officials at its competitions. He was a beach referee at numerous NSW state and Australian Surf-Lifesaving Championships.
As a single person, Geoff probably found it easier than many others to devote more time to his twin passions of athletics and surf-lifesaving but the length and breadth of that contribution and dedication was nevertheless something special. Even knee replacement surgery in 2017 held Geoff back only for a short time.
He mentored the start team for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and at the National Junior Championships shortly beforehand had been a member of the jury of appeal – a role which Geoff had taken on in recent years with no less commitment than he made to his beloved role on the starter’s stand.
The realisation that Geoffrey Martin has started his final race, leaves Australian athletics without one its greatest characters and servants. But his special commitment to education and mentoring leaves his areas of influences in great shape and sound hands.
Geoffrey’s funeral service will be at St Brigid’s Parish Church, corner of Brook and Waltham Streets, Coogee on Thursday 3 May commencing at 11.00am followed by a celebration of his life at the Coogee Surf Club.