HARRY Giles was hooked for life when he won the 60 yards sprint for nine-year-olds at his primary school zone athletics carnival.
“I thought it was fun at the time and I’ve been having fun ever since,’’ quipped Giles.
Three years later, Giles jogged beside the runner carrying the Olympic torch as it passed through Sandgate en route from Athens to Melbourne in 1956.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics some day,’’ he said.
Athletics has been an integral part of Giles’ life for 60 years.
He has been an athlete, coach, administrator and track official who will be involved at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Giles, a 73-year-old retired physical education teacher, still competes in sprints, hurdles, long jump and relays at Masters Athletics meetings.
Although he was besotted by the sport as a youngster, Giles never seriously tackled competition until he was 24.
“For six years out of high school I used to go surfing with a group of friends most weekends,’’ he recalled.
“Then in 1967 the Toowong Athletics Club brought out the American world 200m record holder Tommie Smith to race at Lang Park. He was the Carl Lewis of his time and I went along to watch.’’
A year later Smith gained global notoriety at the Mexico Olympics when he gave the famous “Black Power” salute with countryman John Carlos after taking gold and bronze respectively in the 200m final.
Australian Peter Norman, who finished second, was the third man on the podium which attracted the world’s spotlight.
Inspired by Smith’s appearance in Brisbane, Giles decided he would “have a go” at athletics and joined the University of Queensland club.
“In every event I tried there was always someone better, so I had to find something that nobody else was much good at,’’ he said.
Giles found his event in the 400m hurdles and within 18 months held the state open age record.
He was a regular competitor until 37 and then transitioned to Masters Athletics.
As he eased down as a competitor, Giles stepped up his involvement as a coach and official.
He coached 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles gold medallist Garry Brown for three years early in his career.
Giles had a first-hand view of Brown’s ’82 victory as he was in charge of the crew which erected and dismantled hurdles on the QE2 Stadium track. It was a job he would undertake at almost every major Australian athletics meet since, including the Sydney Olympics and Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
“When they asked me to take on a hurdle crew prior to the ’82 Games I recruited a bunch of kids from the school where I was teaching,’’ he said.
“They must have liked what we did because I’ve been doing it ever since and have enjoyed every minute.
“You have to make sure it is absolutely right. If there is one hurdle out of place or incorrectly aligned it is grounds for a protest or even a re-run.’’
Giles was ready to relinquish his duties at major meetings until Queensland Athletics chief executive officer David Gynther urged him to work in track management at the Gold Coast in 2018.
Ironically, Gynther was one of the team of schoolkids enlisted by Giles as his hurdle crew in 1982.
“I was going to buy some tickets and just sit back and enjoy things as a spectator at the Gold Coast but then David asked if I’d look after the hurdles again,’’ he said.
Giles, who retired from PE teaching 15 years ago after stints at Brisbane State High School, Kingaroy, Wavell and Aspley, regrets the demise of physical education on the state school curriculum.
“I was very disappointed when the Education Department disbanded the physical education branch,’’ Giles said. “Until then primary school kids had two PE lessons plus sport every week.
“Now, some kids don’t get anything.
“When they disbanded the PE unit we said ‘Ten years from now there will be an obesity epidemic’. They were the exact words we used in 1992 and look what has happened.’’
Aside from his ongoing athletics involvement, Giles finds time for regular golf, fishing, sailing and surfing.
“(Athletics) is a great sport. I’ve never seen any reason to stop,” he said.