Athletic icon Percy Cerutty’s life (1895—1975) is a
fascinating story of an unusual and determined individual. Graem
Sims has captured his spirit magnificently. Following is the
verdict from one who knew Cerutty well.
"It is exceptionally well written, and I couldn't put
it down. You have given me new insights into Percy and a
greater understanding of his genius and his torture. Some of
the passages made me want to get the running shoes out and
get back into camp for a few months and become a 'real man'.
Cerutty was Australia’s most enigmatic, pioneering and
controversial athletics coach. He is best remembered as the
exhibitionist eccentric of the Portsea sandhills who
controversially trained the likes of
John Landy and
Herb Elliott in the Golden
Age of Australian athletics in the 1950s and ’60s.
But his interests and ambitions transcended mere sport. After
a complete breakdown at the age of 43 (1938), Cerutty set about
reconstructing himself through natural diet and violent
exercise. On the way, he not only performed extraordinary feats
of endurance but developed an entirely original theory of human
movement (based on the movements of wild animals) and "Stotan"
philosophy that placed him completely outside of the square of
conventional running theory – indeed outside all convention. He
was an outrageous personality, but Cerutty’s exhibitionist ways
in public were just one manifestation of an extraordinarily
complex and passionate man.
His legendary camp in the sandhills of Portsea, on the tip of
Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, was effectively Australia’s
first institute of sport, grandly branded the International
Athletics Centre. Thousands were drawn there from around the
world to hear his captivating lectures, eat their raw oats, lift
heavy weights, and run.
Why Die? includes previously unpublished letters, essays and
personal writings of Percy Cerutty, as well as anecdotes and
reminiscences from many of the key figures of his time.
Key events in the athletics calendar
In 2004, the Olympic Games will return to its spiritual home
in Athens. Percy anchored his philosophy (his “reason”) in
2004 also signified 50 years since Briton Roger Bannister
famously broke four minutes for the mile – one of the great
quests between nations of the 20th century. Less well known is
the fact that John Landy broke his record just seven weeks later
– and might easily have broken it earlier had he been running on
the properly prepared tracks of Europe. Through interviews with
Landy (now Governor of Victoria) and others, and from previously
unpublished letters and notes of Cerutty’s, the Australian end
of this story is told for the first time. Landy joined Cerutty’s
gang in 1950, but split with him after a disappointing Helsinki
Olympics in 1952 – so Percy could make no coaching claim for the
18 months leading up to Landy’s record-breaking run. But he did
anyway. The details of this rift are revealed for the first
In Why Die?, Ron Clarke reveals that he ran disturbed
by a pre-race incident with Cerutty at the Tokyo Olympics in
1964 “You’ve got no hope, Clarke,” Percy goaded him in the
dressing rooms minutes before the start. “You always were a weak
bastard.” A typical Cerutty tactic.
Cerutty died at age 80 of motor neurone disease – without
even thinking he was ill until the end.
Graem Sims is a Sydney-based journalist and was senior editor
of Inside Sport for ten years. He is now editor of the ABC’s
Sport Monthly magazine.