Athletics at Melbourne University reaches almost as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. When the campus was established in the 1850s it followed the Oxford and Cambridge model of sports meetings between colleges. A fledgling university athletic club was formed in 1872 in conjunction with the cricket club. But without a governing body, the pursuit of athletics faltered. Running was kept alive largely by the medical students who had been counselled to take up running ‘to enable them to stand the stress and strain of the grandest profession in the world’.

In 1890, a year prior to the establishment of the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association, a new University club was formed. Intervarsity athletics was established in 1897 with Melbourne University taking out the first seven titles.

Twentieth century

The new century saw great success for Melbourne University Athletic Club, which soon boasted significant numbers of Australian champions and record holders.

Regular interclub competition was introduced by the VAAA in 1913 to provide athletes with a year-round calendar of events. By the late 1920s athletics at the University was so popular an admission fee was charged to the university sports. In 1928 some 1500 people attended a relay meeting, said to be the first in the Commonwealth.

Decades of consistent success followed. The Rawlinson track was constructed as a training venue for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and in the same decade, legendary coach Franz Stampfl was appointed, following his coaching of Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile. In this era, the University track was regarded as Australia’s premier athletics training venue. In 1968, Stampfl coached MUAC member Ralph Doubell to 800 metres gold at the Mexico Olympics, arguably Australia’s greatest athletics achievement. Doubell’s Mexico performance remains a national record to this day. (Saying club record is logically superfluous.)

Franz Stampfl remained in the coaching post at Parkville for four decades, passing the baton to current coach Manfred Lewandowski, himself an Australia Olympic and World Championships coach.

MUAC has one of the world’s proudest traditions as a sporting club. With an envied heritage of longevity and excellence, MUAC continues to offer the runner, walker, jumper and thrower unsurpassed opportunities to take part and excel in their chosen field.

Melbourne University and the  Olympic Games

The University of Melbourne has a long and proud involvement with the Olympic movement. Students, alumni, staff and club members have represented Australian at the Games on some 140 occasions and many played integral roles in the success of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Some of Australia’s greatest Olympians studied at the University of Melbourne before, during and after their outstanding sporting careers.

Olympic gold medallists

  • Herb Elliott (Science student; athletics, 1500m, Rome 1960)
  • Ralph Doubell (Science graduate; athletics, 800m, Mexico City 1968)
  • Peter Antonie (Building student; rowing, double scull, Barcelona 1992)
  • Nick Green (Horticulture graduate; rowing, coxless four, Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996)
  • Kathy Watt (Science graduate; cycling, road race, Barcelona 1992)
  • Cathy Freeman (Arts student; athletics, 400m, Sydney 2000)
  • Tom King (Engineering graduate; sailing, 470 class, Sydney 2000)
  • Mark Turnbull (Building graduate; sailing, 470 class, Sydney 2000).

Other Melbourne University Olympians of note

  • Former Governor of Victoria John Landy, Helsinki and Melbourne Games (1500m track bronze, 1956)
  • Kevan Gosper, current International Olympic Committee vice-president (1956 Olympic silver medallist)
  • Margot Foster, former Australian Sports Commission board member (1984 bronze medallist).

Melbourne University Olympic officials

  • Sir Wilfrid Kent-Hughes, MUAC coach, chairman of the organising committee for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
  • Associate Professor Bill Rawlinson, after whom the track is named, visited the 1952 Helsinki Games to study organisational aspects of the event on behalf of the organising committee. Later an IOC attaché.
  • MUAC Secretary Peter Hoobin devised and managed the 1956 Olympic Torch Relay
  • Sports Association Honorary Treasurer Alf Lazer was a torch relay runner
  • Athletics Club member Ken Mason led the team of engineering students in charge of the MCG Olympic flame and cauldron.

In the last Olympics at Beijing, a new chapter in Olympic representation saw the current crop of Melbourne University students and alumni represent Australia.

MUAC in the news:  Recent press clippings.