1971 – The Sun City to Surf

Aug 23, 2017

It must have been in the late 1960s when foot running moved from purely athletic events to the mainstream and was rebranded as “Jogging”. An American, Dr. James Fixx, wrote a book claiming that he had once been a fat slob and running had changed his life The book became a huge best seller around the world. Predictably, the US craze quickly made it to Australia. Soon after, the promenade and the streets of Bondi were filled with joggers of all shapes and sizes.
Jogging fashion did not exist. Normal dress for men was an old footy jumper and shorts with the preferred shoes being Dunlop ” Volley OC ” tennis shoes. Later, American running magazines came flooding in, featuring famous athletes wearing exotic shorts and singlets plus coloured running shoes with strange brands like “Adidas” and “Nike”. The first available running shoes locally were “Tigers”, from Japan. Tigers had flat soles with no instep support but we loved them. You may bump into old wearers of “Tigers” in the waiting rooms of Orthopedic Surgeons or while queuing for an XRay. Skinny little guys who ran marathons like Rob de Castella became as famous as rock stars.
It didn’t take long for the media to pick up on the new craze. The outcome was “The Sun City to Surf”. Fairfax’s “Sun” afternoon newspaper pinched the idea from San Francisco’s “Bay to Breakers” fun run. A young Derryn Hinch edited the Sun and started in the event.
Bondi boys, always happy to latch onto a new craze, were soon in groups running to Tamarama and Bronte. Keiran started a summer fitness group, the “Bondi Sloggers”. The Sloggers met at Easts Rugby on Monday nights and raced around the golf course. Keiran also handicapped the Sunday afternoon race from the surf club to Tamarama which ran for many years. The club locker room soon filled with sweaty bodies and smelly running shoes.
Naturally, with a Bondi Beach finish, the club entered a large team every year followed by a beer party in the clubhouse.
In the early years, the City to Surf had a single start, from College Street at 10:00am. Getting in to the start required a little organisation. Some of us got to go in style. Col Patterson owned a Rolls Royce and Ken Francis a Rolls-Bentley. The convoy of two black limos would pull up at the steps of the Sydney Town Hall and disgorge a dozen scruffy joggers.
Getting to the start line exposed a moral dilemma. If one stood with the crowd at the start, it would be probably four minutes before you got over the start line making your time at the end a little sick. The alternative was to wander down William Street and stand in the lane behind the “New Zealand ” hotel then blend in with the crowd after the first wave went past. Predictably lots of Bondi Boys (including your humble scribe) chose the cheat option. We rationalised our decision by explaining that our finish times were legit and not ruined by a slow start. One year, a couple of Bondi boys got a bit keen, took off at the gun and were seen on the TV news leading up William Street followed by a bunch of Olympians.
At the end, there was a beer on at the club that carried on long into the afternoon. Sadly, the Sun and other afternoon newspapers closed down, but the race has been rebadged “The Sun – Herald City to Surf”.
The event keeps getting better and better, with bigger crowds and terrific organisation. Bob Stuart once suggested that the organisers of the City to Surf should be asked to run the country. Looking at recent events in Canberra, you would have to agree with him.
– Al Scott.

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