Vale Chris Perry (21 May 1959 – 5 October 2012)

Date: 11th October 2012

The Stawell Athletic Club and supporters of athletics throughout Australia were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing on Friday, 5 October 2012 of Chris Perry – the 1982 Stawell Gift champion.

Chris was not only a revered winner at Central Park and subsequently an Australian Championship medallist and representative, but he was also a central figure in the upheaval in Australian track and field in the mid eighties when the then highly controversial decision was made to open up the sport to all athletes – both amateur and professional.

The presence at the time in the professional ranks of Chris, his training partners John Dinan and Matthew Webster, and the Hunter-based Paul Singleton had brought the matter to somewhat of a head. They were clearly all fine sprinters but under the rules of the day were ineligible to compete in Australian championships or represent their country because they had run for money prizes.

When the then Board of Athletics Australia at the urging of key figures in the professional ranks such as Reg Austin and the emerging coach, Neil King took the unexpected decision in 1984 to make domestic athletics completely open, the ball was placed firmly in the court of the athletes to react.

Chris was one of the trailblazers, if not the leader of the pack.

In 1986, he not only became the first Stawell Gift champion to subsequently win a national championship medal – a silver in the 100m (behind Gerrard Keating) but he and John were also selected in the 1986 Commonwealth Games Team.

By virtue of his event being contested earlier in Edinburgh, Chris who set a personal best for the 100 metres of 10.34 seconds in London en route to the Games, became the first Stawell winner to represent Australia at a major international. Sadly injury intervened and his Games performance was affected. He finished fifth in his heat of the 100 metres and eighth in the semi final.

His story was big news at the time – which may seem strange now, given that within the relatively short space of time since, the winners of five Stawell Gifts have gone on to be Olympians.

But as it happened, the assimilation was very fast. Within two years, inspired by the trailblazing efforts of Chris and John, the 1986 Stawell runner-up Robert Ballard was donning the green and gold in the 4x400m relay in Seoul. The reverse of the process also quickly gained momentum as young runners with amateur backgrounds, Simon McIntyre and Dean Capobianco snared the big cheques at Central Park in 1989 and 1990.

Chris won a second national silver medal in 1987 – again in the 100 metres, this time finishing second to Shane Naylor.

In a recent interview with Scott Gullan of the Herald Sun, Chris spoke of what the Gift meant to him,

“Stawell was the catalyst and the springboard for what ended up being for me a very satisfying athletic career.  Nowadays it is an integral part of the Australian sprinting calendar which is something we are very proud of, given we were part of an orchestrated campaign to change the rules.”

Chris continued to maintain a strong interest in the sport after his retirement. Always a popular figure within the athletics community and a regular and welcome visitor to Stawell, he was also often a television commentator for the Easter Carnival. This year’s coverage featured a vignette celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Stawell victory. In it he recollected,

“For me, this was my third ever race, and I was nervous and I would imagine all the other guys were nervous as well. But the secret is to be able to focus down your lane and concentrate on the task at hand. This is your moment.”

“I couldn’t hear anything that was going on. There were 15,000 people here and I couldn’t hear a thing. As I’ve hit the line, as I’ve thrown for the tape I was confident that I had won the Gift. But it wasn’t until my stable mates celebrated and jumped all over me at the finish of the race did I know that I was the 1982 Stawell Easter Gift winner.”

Chris is survived by his wife Shirley and son Thomas. His service will be held at the Melbourne Cricket Club at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday 17 October, commencing at 11.00am.

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