No pain, no gain.
This must surely have been the motto of former world 5000m record holder and Commonwealth games gold medallist Anne Audain. Never one to sit back and let others do all the pace making, Audain could regularly been seen at the front of the pack in her heyday.
This was never more the case than in 1982 at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane where in the 3000m she went to the front from the opening gun and at no stage relinquished her place at the head of the field. It didn’t seem to concern her that Englishwoman Wendy Smith decided to sit right behind her and with only one hundred and fifty metres to go, make her move. Audain simply responded by powering away from her foe to a coveted gold medal, leaving Smith faltering in her wake.
Then there was the time in early 1982 that she ran solo at Mt Smart stadium to a world record over 5000 metres. None of the pace making that the modern day stars have to contribute to their efforts to eclipse records. Just good old fashioned guts and determination on the part of Audain in her quest for world domination. Her nearest rival being at least one lap down on her, while all she had for competition was an unforgiving time clock ticking down on her chances of rewriting the record books. After 15m13s, the lady from Auckland who was born with deformed feet had become a world record holder, as well as a soon to be gold medallist.
All the more remarkable for someone that as a girl had trouble with the usually simple act of walking let alone being able to run. It was only at the age of thirteen, after having had reconstructive surgery on her feet that she was able to walk correctly. Within three years, she was quite the runner and had qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics. A future star was born. It was to be the first of six Olympics that Auckland school teacher qualified for. The next year she finished a very credible ninth placing at the world cross country championships at the tender age of seventeen.
During the second half of the seventies, Audain continued to perform consistently, competing at numerous world cross country champs for New Zealand and also in the 1500m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that Audain would truly make headlines, both for her running talent as well as the stand she made in accepting prize money. Having won the Cascade runoff in Portland, Oregon in 1981, she was banned from the sport for having taken the money.
It was a stand that changed the face of athletics, paving the way for athletes in the years since to make their living from the sport, and still be able to compete for their countries at major events such as the Olympics and World Champs. There are a plethora of professional runners that owe a lot to the likes of Audain for bringing the sport out of the dark ages, allowing today’s athletes to compete openly as professionals.
After battling the IAAF and IOC, she was eventually reinstated in early 1982 and went on to record tremendous success in what was to become her signature year.
Not only did Audain claim the above mentioned world record and gold medal, she went on a winning spree on the American road racing circuit that took her through the year unbeaten and ranked number one in the world in road racing.
Despite 1982 being her most successful in terms of winning, it certainly didn’t stop her continuing on as a force in the sport over the next nine years.
In 1988, being thirty-three, she finished 11th in the 10000m at the Seoul Olympics and was ranked number four in the world in road racing. So, despite the standard having improved hugely, she was still in her element knocking out wins to become the winningest Kiwi , as she was to become known in the States. Such was the extent of Audain’s talent that she was able to compete with distinction-still winning- right through until her retirement in 1991 at the age of thirty-six.
What was exceptional was that she finished in the top three in her races ninety percent of the time. This was true consistency that takes real talent to achieve at a professional level.
What really sticks in the mind was her fearless attitude of running from the front. She could have so easily gone for the softer option of letting others do the pace making. But, it just didn’t appear to be in her psyche. There were no short cuts for Audain and this attitude, perhaps, comes from the fact that she knew what it was like to suffer, to not be able to even walk properly.
In 1995, Audain became an American citizen where she has lived for the past fifteen years. Regardless of where she now presides, Audain is a New Zealander that we as a country can be truly proud of. A trailblazer that didn’t let anything, not least some set in their ways old administrators, get in the way of achieving her dreams. Audain’s steely determination was very much to the detriment of her rivals, it has to be said.
Perhaps she should have forgone the operation on her feet all those years ago...it may have given those rivals a chance.