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Athletics - 09. December 2008.

Australia Athletics pays tribute to Vale Kerryn (Hindmarsh) McCann


(2 May 1967 - 7 December 2008)

That Kerryn McCann was not an outstanding junior athlete yet became a dual Commonwealth Games champion in her thirties, is but one of the many inspiring qualities she displayed during her fine athletics career.

Australia Athletics pays tribute to Vale Kerryn Hindmarsh McCann


That she did not give up in her fight for life, even in the face of an impossible struggle with breast cancer, was characteristic of her determination and courage within and beyond the sporting field in which she excelled.

Her second Commonwealth marathon gold medal, most remembered by her epic battle with Kenyan Hellen Cherono over the final 400 metres inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, was the inspirational moment of those Games for very many Australians.

For those who had known her previously her gritty fight to the line to win by that tiny margin of two seconds was no surprise. And for those for whom that day in March 2006 was their first acquaintance with the then mother of two, it was instant respect and admiration.

Of Australia’s 84 gold medals in Melbourne in 2006, Kerryn’s is unquestionably amongst the most often recalled. Her unassuming victory lap with son, Benton (then 9) won the hearts of a nation.

So much so that amongst all Australian success in all sports that year, it was Kerryn who was the recipient of “The Don” Award presented by The Sport Australia Hall of Fame to an athlete who by achievement and example over the previous twelve months is considered to have had the capacity to most inspire the nation.

That citation says everything about Kerryn McCann and her performance in Melbourne. But in so many ways it was simply reflective of the person and her approach to life in general – one who genuinely earned the respect and admiration of team mates, rivals, officials and fans alike.

The young Kerryn Hindmarsh loved athletics. She won a local community fun run at 11 years of age, defeating all the adult women in the field of 900. She made the front page of the local paper. A career had begun.

But it did not immediately blossom in the way that typifies so much other female teenage talent. There was success at state level but no national medals, until at 19 Kerryn bobbed up for third in the Australian marathon championship held on the streets of Sydney.

The celebration of 100 years of athletics in Australia, delivered a first national gold medal in the centenary one mile championship held in Sydney in January 1988, and was followed soon thereafter by Kerryn’s first major national team appearance in the World Cross Country Championships in Auckland.

The result, a 104th placing, was nothing special but a fierce determination to keep trying ensured that a top 20 placing was eventually forthcoming – some 11 years later in Belfast, where Kerryn led the Australian women’s team to fourth, its then best ever team performance.  

In between it was a hard, but always determined, battle. Opportunities for international representation came reasonably often, as did national medals but it was not until Kerryn was amongst the leaders when the group went passed the 5km point in the 1995 World Championships marathon in a record split time, that real progress was made.

As it happened the record split was misleading, the result of officials failing to ensure athletes ran an additional lap of the stadium before running out onto the streets of Goteborg, Sweden. But the coming of age of Kerryn McCann as a world-class distance runner was not.

She finished fifteenth - enough to signal the emergence of an athlete not only of great willpower but also of talent. The successful partnership with coach, Chris Wardlaw, with whom she had linked up after her first Commonwealth Games appearance in Canada the year before, was developing well. Soon after they were joined in their small “team” by Nic Bideau, who provided guidance and race support.

A dream to run in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, delayed plans with husband Greg, to start their family but Benton’s arrival meant there was no second Commonwealth Games in 1998.

Like many other athletes who have returned to competition after maternity duties, Kerryn’s re-appearance on the running scene in 1999 was a successful one, winning the Zatopek 10000 metres and then setting a national half marathon best on record in Tokyo of 1:07.48, which to date no Australian woman has been able to better.

A tenacious eleventh in the Sydney Olympic marathon heralded a series of fine performances in international races, which included third in Chicago in 2001 when Catherine Ndereba set a world record for the marathon.

Just under a year later, the first of her two Commonwealth successes came in Manchester, at the head of an all-Australian victory dais. After the birth of daughter Josie in 2003, it was back to training for a tilt at a third Olympics in Athens.

The 2006 Commonwealth Games was Kerryn’s fourteenth major team appearance for her country and came after ten Australian championship victories. What is perhaps little known is that she almost did not make it to the line. A disappointing run in the Tokyo Marathon in November 2005, almost prompted Kerryn to withdraw her availability. But she and the selectors held faith, and the rest is now Australian sporting folklore.

Kerryn’s passing late on Sunday night (7 December) came after a courageous fight with breast cancer, first diagnosed shortly before the birth of second son, Cooper. She is survived by Greg McCann, children Benton (now 11), Josie (5) and Cooper (15 months), parents Judy and John Hindmarsh, and sister (and fellow Australian marathon champion), Jenny Gillard. Their only brother, Darren was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1988.

Brian Roe
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