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Born December 1922 – died October 2016

By Bryan Thomas

Jack Pennington, who died last month, was a significant force as a competitor, publicist and organiser in veteran/master athletics in Australia.

In 1958, Jack arrived in Canberra as a “ten pound pom” and almost immediately began organising cross-country races. In 1960, he established the Canberra City Harriers Athletics Club and shortly after the ACT Cross-country Club (ACTCCC). Jack was a foundation member of the ACT Veterans’ Athletics Club (ACTVAC), NSW Veterans’ Athletics Club, Australian Association of Veterans’ Clubs (AAVAC) and the ACT and NSW coaches associations.

Jack, who became patron of ACTVAC in 1994 and was later awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to athletics, was involved with the veterans/masters branch of the sport from its early days. He was a prominent middle-distance runner, coach, mentor and writer long before the movement began. Jack had a life-long interest in sport physiology and fitness testing.

He had a close working association with the fitness clinic attached to the Australian National University Health Service and its director Dr Bryan Furnass, who said: “Jack has been a driving force in the ACT for encouragement of sport and recreation throughout the whole community … it was largely through Jack’s enthusiasm that a clinic for cardiovascular testing was established at the ANU in 1967.”

For almost 60 years Jack was a prolific writer on athletics and fitness, particularly in relation to mature-aged people. He published two books on athletics, A Life on the Run (1995) and The Evolution of Veteran Athletics 1966-1981 (2010).

Perhaps the most important vehicle in communicating to mature-aged athletes during the 1970s was Jack’s magazine The Veteran Athlete, which had a circulation of over 500. In the first edition Jack outlined the magazine’s philosophy. “We are concerned primarily to promote running, which we consider every man’s birthright. Not to be able to run is, in our opinion, an unfortunate condition and usually due to man’s own neglect of an ability he was born with.”

Jack was one of a small group who established the Australian Association of Veterans’ Athletics Clubs in 1974. The journey to this achievement began several years earlier when several mature-aged men travelled abroad to participate in marathons and athletic meets. In 1969 Jack promoted the inaugural Canberra Times Fun Run and arranged for two 67-year-old Sydney runners to participate. Jack reported: “Nobody had seen old-age pensioners race before.”

Jack had been corresponding with the UK Association of Veteran Athletics about a planned tour of Europe that would include a first international track and field championships for veteran athletes (men over 40), to coincide with the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Jack was involved in athlete selection and obtaining government support for a national team to participate in this historic tour. The Australian Amateur Athletic Union was convinced the team of 35 was worthy of representing Australia so granted them permission to use their badge incorporating the national coat of arms and the words “International Veteran Athletics, Cologne 1972”.

Upon arrival in England the Australians were invited to an international cross-country race in London and the following day to an international track and field meet featuring the US and Great Britain. They also attended the Munich Olympics and after the Games participated in the two-day International Masters Athletics Championships in Cologne.

Jack said it was a tour never to be forgotten and the Cologne meet was reported as being a genuine world championship by the press in Germany, New York, London and in the Canberra Times.

Jack’s success in middle-distance running lasted almost 60 years. In addition to the historic 1972 tour he competed successfully at the US Masters in New York, in London again and at three world championships (Toronto in 1975, Hanover in 1979 and Christchurch in 1981).

An unusual incident occurred in Hanover when Jack finished fourth in the M55 1500-metres final only to discover the winner from Puerto Rico was underage and therefore ineligible to compete. Some months later Jack received an apology from the event organisers and his bronze medal. By the time he retired from competing at age 72, Jack had run hundreds of races and won numerous medals in national and international competitions. Although he had run many half-marathons Jack only attempted the marathon once, age 59, finishing the event at the 1981 Christchurch world championships in 3 hours 12 minutes.

Jack was a successful coach and mentor and guided several athletes to national championship victories.

Jack’s contribution to athletics was acknowledged in 2000 when he received the Australian Sports Medal. In 2006 he was awarded an OAM and in 2013 he was inducted into the Australian Masters Athletics Hall of Fame. In 1999, ACTVAC introduced a track handicap competition incorporating the classic middle-distance events to be known as the Pennington Series.

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