September 25, 2000: Magical Monday
A race known to all Australian athletics fans, Athletics Victoria set out to uncover what impact 49.11 seconds had on the lives of many.
“What impact did the race have on your life?”
A coach and mentor to hundreds of athletes, Peter Fortune admits with a laugh “I look back at the Olympics as a very pleasant time, funnily enough”. A public servant for the better part of 30 years, Fortune’s 11 years of coaching involvement with the determined “Catherine” may be described as “rather full-time”.
Taking a year of long service leave in 1995, Fortune worked for the VIS from 1996 to 2004. Humble to a fault, Fortune has recounted the race itself hundreds of times, paused for a moment to consider how the race impacted his life following September 25th.
“My coaching life, whilst it had a fair build-up with Freeman, my coaching life was probably set in a bit of concrete then… it was fairly momentous.”
Prior to Sydney 2000, Fortune found coaching Freeman led to interest from other athletes. For a period of time Fortune’s “little group” consisted of Freeman, Tamsyn Manou (née Lewis) (51.42, 1:59.21) and Susan Andrews (51.55, 2:00.32). With a busy Sydney Olympic schedule as team coach, Fortune chuckles in mentioning the group had “two in the 800m… which was quite good actually!”, Andrews running in the heats, with Manou missing the final by 0.03sec.
Working with such a talented group, Fortune was, and remains, well known for keeping an ‘even keel’ – remaining calm regardless of the results on track, “well, I try not to show it!” he laughed.
Fortune did find the transition interesting, going from a coach with a fervent “non-working hobby” to being introduced around the traps as “Peter Fortune, he coached Cathy Freeman!”
A job at the Tasmanian Institute of Sport followed, spending 2006-14 in Launceston, travelling regularly to Hobart. Fortune recalls early involvement with promising youngsters James Hansen and Abbey De La Motte, the latter of which he continues to coach in Melbourne. Employed by the TIS at the age of 64, Fortune felt it extended his coaching career, leading to another “nice little group” in Melbourne.
Fortune continues to orchestrate training for a swathe of talented 800m runners, including national record holder Catriona Bisset (1:58.78), Abbey De La Motte (2:02.19), Gigi Maccagnini (2:05.71), Shanie Landen (2:05.76) and Connor Gist (2:06.05). Not one to forget the single lap race, Fortune coaches Olympian Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw (51.51sec) via distance, with coaching visits pre-COVID-19.
As our conversation wraps up, Fortune reiterates an earlier sentiment. Considering the 20 years of coaching since.
“It was very significant, my whole athletics life after that was built around that I’d coached Freeman”
The video below was hosted as part of the 2019 Athletics Coaching Conference in Townsville, Australia. See Peter Fortune cover practical tips for coaching athletes for the 400 to the 800 metres.