Kerryn McCann was not a Melbourne person; neither were many of her outstanding athletic performances achieved in the city which rightfully prides herself as Australia’s sporting capital.
But McCann’s most memorable performance (her triumph after a stirring battle with Kenya’s Hellen Cherono over the closing kilometers and last 300 metres on the track to win her second Commonwealth Games marathon gold medal) was achieved in Melbourne. Moreover, it was played out to its dramatic finish around the purpose-laid track at Melbourne’s Shrine of Sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The MCG also hosted Australia’s first Olympic Games back in 1956, a Games which threw up heroes such as Betty Cuthbert, Shirley Strickland and John Landy. Then, as in 2006, a track was put down specifically for the Games and torn up straight afterwards. There are lasting mementoes of the ’56 Olympics, the so-called Friendly Games, in the statues of Cuthbert and Strickland in the immediate MCG precinct and in the displays within the National Museum of Sport housed at the ground.
The legacies of the 2006 Commonwealth Games are not as tangible but, like McCann’s fabulous performance that day, they reach a wider audience. One is the decision in 2007 to relocate the Melbourne Marathon so that it starts in the MCG precinct and finishes around the hallowed stadium turf.
The 32nd Melbourne marathon was launched by race patron Robert de Castella on Wednesday, 3 June with the announcement that the race will be the Australian championships for the next two years and that the first Australian female to finish will be awarded a trophy named in honour of McCann, who lost her battle with breast cancer late last year.
Coincidentally, one of the strongest candidates to get their hands on that trophy will be McCann’s sister, Jenny Gillard.
Gillard, the 2006 national champion, told de Castella of the role her champion sister had played in her running career. Gillard started running to get fitter and initially followed programs written for her by McCann. Often they ran together, although Gillard now lives in Tasmania with her husband Kim Gillard (2001 World Marathon Cup representative) and children Hunter (four years) and Lola (one).
“When I run, I definitely feel closer to Kerryn,” Gillard said.
Gillard said her sister was “my inspiration” and that Kerryn had been proud of her running. The two have already joined the rare club of sisters to have won the same national title. Kerryn McCann was Australian marathon champion in 1988 and 1993.
Besides her win in the 2006 Australian title, held in conjunction with the Gold Coast marathon, Gillard has finished ninth in the 2005 Chicago marathon and seventh in the 2003 Austin Marathon.
The marathon also announced a new naming rights sponsor, St George Bank. The St George Melbourne Marathon will be held on 11 October.
Len Johnson for the IAAF