By David Tarbotton
This ANZAC Day we pay tribute to Gregory ‘Dad’ Wheatley.
114 years ago, Wheatley was celebrating the opening ceremony of the 1906 Olympic Games in Athens and preparing to compete on April 25 in the 800m heats.
Five years later he won a silver medal in the 800m at the Festival of the Empire Games in 1911.
Both Games were not recognised as official Olympic or Commonwealth Games, but his performances during this period suggested he was one of Australia’s finest early middle-distance runners.
Exactly nine years after Wheatley made his debut at the 1906 Olympic Games, his younger brother Noel landed at Gallipoli on ANZAC day 1915.
Two months after landing in Gallipoli, Noel lost his life.
Just 20 days later Gregory and his brother Horace, enlisted in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) ‘to avenge the death’ of their brother.
‘Dad’ departed for Europe in November and saw action in France, before returning to Australia nearly four years later in July 1919.
Wheatley dominated Australian middle-distance from 1905 to 1911, competing in three national 880 yard and mile championships winning two gold medals and a silver in each event.
His performances against the clock were ahead of his time, as Wheatley ran a series of 1:56.0 times for 880y/800m, breaking the Australian record.
In 1906, running on the ancient Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, the same track Edwin Flack competed on 10 years earlier, Wheatley ran 15 seconds faster than Flack, smashing the national record. The time would remain unsurpassed for 22 years.
But arguably his best performance was a mile time of 4:23.0 (equal to 4:05 1500m) to win the 1904/05 national title held on the SCG, a record which remained unbroken for 16 years.
After winning silver in the 800m in London at the 1911 Festival of the Empire, hopes were high Wheatley would qualify for the 1912 Olympic Games, but alas injury would curtail his career.
However, five years later he would return to Europe representing Australia in the greater game – World War I.
Lest we forget.