Sydney:10 continues the rich history of the NSW Road Championships 

Saturday the 7th of May will see the 86th edition of the NSW Men’s Road Championships and the 32nd edition for the women’s race will be held in conjunction with the Greater Sydney:10 at Sydney Olympic Park. 

Men’s race

The inaugural men’s NSW Road Championships was held around Manly on Saturday  September 10, 1927.  The event was conducted and combined with the Manly Modified Marathon which was first conducted in 1911 and until 1926 run over 12.5 miles. The Amateur Athletic Association of NSW sanctioned the 1927 event and the distance was increased to 15 miles (24.1km). The Road Championship was the final winter championship of the season and the summer track and field season was welcomed in on the same day by the conduct of a few athletics events on Manly Oval.

Track and field events held included: 220yards handicap, 880 yards, high jump, 1320 yards handicap walk, 75 yards ladies handicap and 352 yards ladies relay. The women’s 75 yards was won by Australia’s first female track and field Olympian Edie Robinson, running for her club Hordern’s (in that era, women ran for major businesses including Winn’s, Farmer’s and Gramophone Company). 

A field of 31 athletes started the inaugural road championship which commenced at 3.19pm on the out and back course. After four laps around Manly Oval, the runners headed off to the turn-around point at Collaroy via Dee Why. The inaugural winner was Alleyn Gainsford of St George in 1:26.27. Second was Rowley Bateman (South Sydney) with Jeff MacKenzie (Westerns Suburbs) third. Four clubs entered the teams race. The results were: Western Suburbs AAC 27 points (3, 7, 8, 9), South Sydney AAC 32 points, Botany Harriers 37 points, St George AAC 40 points. 

Gainsford won the first three titles, followed by Bateman who won the next four. Gainsford would go on to become a great club administrator with St George, considered the father of athletics in the district and hold the position of St George club president for 55 years. 

The event would be held annually with four races between the war years 1941 to 1944 considered non-championship races. Between 1927 and 1944 the event was often held at Manly, but other venues used during this period included: Parramatta to Enmore, Stanmore to Lakemba and return, Hurstville and Tempe. Manly would become the most common venue, hosting the event on 22 occasions. In the late ’60s it was held five times outside Sydney in Canberra and Muswellbrook. The race was held at various defence force bases, including: Williamstown RAAF base Newcastle, Holsworthy Army base and RAAF Base Richmond.Other venues included: Centennial Park, Hensley Field Botany/Pagewood, Parramatta Park, Appin Scout Camp, Rose Bay, Eastern Creek Raceway, Sutherland, Pier One, Nowra and Sydney Olympic Park. 

Most of NSW’s leading distance won titles, including: Olympians Alan Lawrence (4 titles), Dave Power (4), Bob Vagg (5), John Farrington (5) andAndrew Lloyd (1). 

The first 39 editions (until 1969) were held over 15 miles (24.15km), but in 1970 the distance was changed slightly to 25km. This was the distance for another 16 years, then in 1985 it went to 15km, then eventually to the current race distance of 10km in 1991.  

Women’s race

The first women’s race was held in 1979 at Richmond over 10km as have most since, except for five races in the ’80s when the distance was 15km and once when it was run over 8km. The first gold medallist Angie Cook was a leading NSW distance runner in the ’70s, representing Australia at the World University Games, World Cup and Commonwealth Games.

Famous names to win the women’s race are: Tani Ruckle, Liz Miller (nee Rose), Kerryn McCann and Heather Turland.

David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW