05 August, 2012

A golden opportunity

With all the current hype over the London Olympics, naturally I went looking to see if the Barwon had any Olympic credentials. It didn't take long before I was onto something.
Most obvious were the sporting facilities named for our Olympic champions - the Landy Field Recreation Reserve in South Geelong named for Olympic track champion Peter Landy:
John Landy Athletics Field, with the Barwon in the middle distance
and the newly installed Troop Loop, opened by its namesake Lee Troop - the 3 time Olympic marathon runner - earlier last month.
Newly installed Troop Loop Signage
But Geelong has never hosted the Olympic Games and therefore the Barwon would not have seen any Olympic action - right? Well, no it hasn't. However, it very nearly did. In the lead up to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, there was no doubt a considerable amount of to-ing and fro-ing about where various Olympic events were to be held and one of the sports whose location was up for grabs was rowing.
History tells us of course, that the rowing events of the 1956 Olympic Games were held on Lake Wendouree in Ballarat, however in 1951 when planning for the games was underway, this was by no means a foregone conclusion. On 29th March, the Argus carried an article titled "Rowing Row Likely" in which it stated:
Geelong Authorities will protest strongly to the Australian Olympic Federation if Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, is chosen as the Olympic rowing course instead of the Barwon River, Geelong.
A Geelong-based committee, set up to further the Barwon's claim as an Olympic venue, pushed the point that the Barwon Trust had plans to upgrade the rowing section of the river to create an Olympic-standard 2000m course which they felt would be far superior to Lake Wendouree.
In the event, Lake Wendouree was chosen and no doubt the Geelong committee were left wondering what might have been.
Crews on the Barwon, January, 2012
Fast-forward once again to the present day and whilst any dreams of the Barwon becoming an Olympic venue are well in the past, our river has not been without its fair share of Olympic rowers. Of the present crop, women's eight rower Phoebe Stanley is a local girl who has no doubt spent many hours pulling her way through the waters of the Barwon. A former Geelong College student, Phoebe won two Head of the River titles with fellow crew members during her time at the school and it was in part due to the continued support of her old school that she and her crew had the opportunity to row in London where they finished sixth in the final.
The easily recognised orange caps of the Corio Bay Rowing Club's
quad sculls
Another local competitor who incidentally is also an Old Collegian, is men's coxless four rower Josh Dunkley-Smith. Dunkley-Smith and his crew - the current "Oarsome Foursome" - rowed their way to a silver medal on the eighth day of the London games. And like Stanley he has also spent a significant amount of time training and competing along the rowing mile of the Barwon.

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