40 Years Ago: Scott wins race, loses trophy and Games’ chance

Len Johnson

For want of a dollar, Bill Scott won the 1973 Zatopek but did not receive the trophy. For want of a few seconds, he missed out on the 1974 Commonwealth Games team.

The dollar was the cost of becoming a Victorian Marathon Club member. Neither Scott, nor second-placed Peter Fuller, was a financial member so they were ineligible for the club trophy which instead went to the third placegetter, Arch Sansonetti of the famous cycling family.

The few seconds – 4.4 of them, to be precise – was the margin by which Scott failed to get under 29 minutes, the time he needed to press his claims for selection for the Games in Christchurch in January, 1974.

“If I had got under 29 minutes people would have had to sit up and take notice,” Scott told The Age’s Glenn Lester. Scott had run third in the selection trial a few weeks earlier to Brenton Norman and Derek Clayton, who had both been selected in the marathon as well.

Scott must have been referring to people outside the sport, as he was already being noticed within athletics. Uncompromising in his racing approach, he was the vanguard of the post-Clarke generation of Australian distance runners, leading the way for the likes of Chris Wardlaw, Robert de Castella, Dave Fitzsimons (who did make the 1974 team) and Gerard Barrett to follow.

At 21, Scott broke the mould of Zatopek winners, too. In its early years, the race was won by experienced distance runners but in its next 10 years the race was won by Barrett (just short of his 20th birthday when he took the first of his two victories in 1976), de Castella (22 in 1979) and Andrew Lloyd (also 22 at the first of his four wins in 1981).

The 1973 race was held at Essendon’s Aberfeldie Track, as Olympic Park was in one of its several redevelopments. Fuller, a teammate of Scott’s at the Box Hill club and a middle-distance specialist, helped him set the pace early before dropping back to finish in 30:08.

Sansonetti finished third in 30:30. He was the only one of the three placegetters who would have a direct link to the 1974 Commonwealth Games: his older brother Maurice ‘Remo’ Sansonetti, took a bronze medal in the cycling road race.

Scott, too, eventually found his way into an Australian team. He made the final of the 10,000 metres at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, finishing ninth despite a painful foot injury.

Scott went on to run 28:18 the following year, then 28:01 in Europe in 1975 in a race in which he finished second to 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter. He was leading finisher in Australia’s first team to a world cross-country championships in 1975.

An untimely groin injury sidelined Scott through 1976, costing him almost certain Olympic selection, but he came back late in 1977 to begin a productive second career phase. In 1978, Scott made his marathon debut with a win in the Victorian title followed by another in the inaugural Melbourne marathon. He made his second world-cross country team in 1979, ran a personal best 27:48 for 10,000 in Brussels and a marathon ‘pb’ in Fukuoka to finish the year.

Scott began the 1980 Olympic year with an Australian all-comers’ record for Buy Cheap SketchUp Pro 2016 – 5000 metres followed by a 27:46.71 for 10,000, both in Melbourne, the latter in a thrilling race against world record holder Henry Rono. Between those runs, the nationals, then the marathon trial in Adelaide he aggravated an existing foot problem. Despite that, Scott made the 10,000 final in Moscow and was with the leaders until late in the race before finishing fifth.

All the problems notwithstanding, it was one of the best years by an Australian distance runner since Ron Clarke.

We were still six years away from having a stand-alone women’s Zatopek race, but 1972 Olympic 1500 metres finalist Jenny Orr made the back page of The Age for running – by ‘invitation’ – in the men’s veterans’ mile.

Geoff Warren, an early member of the Victorian Marathon Club and designer of the race trophy, won the race, with Jenny Orr beating her father, and coach, Theo, for second place.

Asked how it felt to be beaten by his daughter, Theo Orr replied: “Great.”