The IAAF is saddened to hear the news that Australian distance runner Albert ‘Albie’ Thomas died on Sunday (27) after a year-long illness.
Born in Hurstville on 8 February 1935, Thomas became one of Australia’s greatest distance runners. He broke World records, competed at three Olympic Games, was a dual Commonwealth Games medallist and after his career he coached and worked tireless for his athletics club.
After moderate success as a schoolboy, things started to change in 1953 after a visit to Percy Cerutty’s Portsea training camp. Thomas followed a training program written by Cerutty and his progression took off.
Excited about the upcoming Olympic Games, Thomas bought tickets to attend for him and his girlfriend Nola. He certainly didn’t expect to be competing, but little over 12 months later, he represented Australia at the Games.
In February 1956 he ran 13:36.0 for three miles, just outside the national record of 13:31.8, and in September he set personal bests of 14:04.0 for 5000m and 29:23.0 for 10,000m. At the Olympic trials he earned selection in the 5000m and was named reserve for the 10,000m.
At just 21 years of age at the Olympic Games, he won his 5000m heat and placed fifth in the final.
In 1957 he broke the Australian three mile record of 13:26.0 and one year later broke the national two mile record with 8:37.8.
Later in 1958 he set a World record of 13:10.8 for three miles, breaking the previous mark by nearly four seconds. But two weeks later he had to settle for silver over that distance at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, also winning bronze in the mile.
He ended the summer by pacing Herb Elliott to his 3:54.5 World record in the mile, then the following day Thomas broke the two miles World record.
He went on to compete at two more editions of the Olympic Games, set a World indoor three mile record, won more national titles and formed a part of the Australian team that set a World record in the 4xMile relay in 1959.
Thomas retired from international athletics in 1965 but continued to run and won World masters titles in 1975. He continued to give back to the sport through coaching, administration and inspiring the next generation for 50 years after his racing career ended. He is survived by his wife Nola, daughters Robyn and Patricia, and four grandsons.
IAAF with the help of David Tarbotton