The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games were full of historic moments, stories about triumph over adversity and tales of resilience.
One name that has surely reached legendary status is Queenslander Michael Shelley with his historic win in the marathon, claiming back-to-back titles in the gruelling 42.195km war of attrition.
When you think of legends of Australian marathoning, Rob de Castella and Steve Moneghetti are the benchmarks by which all others are compared. While de Castella won a world title in 1983 and Mona was a world medallist himself, their place in Australian marathoning folklore was spawned by their success at the Commonwealth Games. Australians seem to have a love affair with Commonwealth marathons and cheering on one of our own as they take on some of the best in the world. And of course expecting these arguably toughest of athletes to emerge victorious. Talk about pressure!
Who could forget de Castella’s win at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in an almighty struggle with Tanzanian Juma Ikangaa? Or Moneghetti’s battle with Douglas Wakiihuri from Kenya in Auckland before winning his own Commonwealth crown four years later in Vancouver?
Deek won twice in two attempts, Mona won a full set of medals across successive Games, but intrinsically the performances of Michael Shelley, as he defended his Glasgow title on the Gold Coast, and a silver medal from New Delhi have to be considered at the same level.
Shelley’s respective wins in Glasgow and the Gold Coast are a study in duality. Firstly in Glasgow, he won in cool and foggy conditions with a late race surge. On the Gold Coast, it was in searing heat and humidity that took its toll on everyone in the field in a battle of survival.
His win in Scotland was incredible considering the quality of the field as he finished more than 43 seconds ahead of Kenyan Stephen Chemlany whose best time of 2:06:24 was some 5 minutes faster than Shelley’s lifetime best.
Shelley said after that race that he has always been “intimidated by Kenyans all the time”, although it didn’t appear so on the day as his grit and ability to dig deep bagged him his first big win in the Australian colours.
On the Gold Coast, the horrendous conditions made for a dramatic conclusion as Scotsman Callum Hawkins collapsed 2km from the finish. The disturbing images of Hawkins stumbling were broadcast across the globe. When Shelley later saw replays of Hawkins in the mixed zone he reached out to his fellow-runner to check on his well-being.
Like Deek, Shelley had the pressure of a home Games and a home crowd that wanted to see an Australian stand atop the dias victorious. But for Shelley, the pressure was much greater as he ran in his home city on the Gold Coast. In fact, he was born in Southport Hospital, a stone's throw from the marathon course. With family, friends and loved ones scattered all along the course, Shelley won with a measured run and a steely determination.
Turtle, as Shelley is affectionately known, became only the second in history (after Deek) to successfully defend a Commonwealth crown and only the second after Mona to win three medals.
So when we talk about the long and fine tradition of great Australian marathoners, legendary athletes and standout performers for the green and gold, of course it’s Deek and Mona but now Turtle can be spoken of in the same breath.