Phil GIfford pays tribute to Sir Murray Halberg:
Sir Murray Halberg is in the callroom at the Olympic Stadium in Rome with the other finalists in the 1960 Games 5000 metres.
“I looked around,” he’d say many years later, “and I realised I was with 11 frightened men. I knew then I could win.”
Halberg’s generosity led to him setting up the Halberg Foundation, which for almost 60 years has benefitted physically disabled Kiwis by allowing them to get involved in sport.
The kindness and empathy expressed through the foundation provided a lovely counterpoint to one of the most fiercely competitive sportspeople New Zealand has ever produced.
His sporting career could have been over when he was just 17. Playing rugby for Avondale College he was smashed in a tackle. His left shoulder was dislocated, blood clots formed, and the nerves in the arm would never recover. . .
By 1956 Halberg was at the Melbourne Olympics, making the final of the 1500 metres. In 1958 in Cardiff he won gold in the three miles.
But the pinnacle of his career would be at the Rome Olympics. He and Lydiard had an audacious plan. Halberg would sprint with three laps left in the 5000 metres final.
“I knew what the other runners would be thinking, ‘He’s mad.’ But it was my destiny to win, not to quit,” said Halberg of his all or nothing dash. “The hours and hours I’d put my body through flashed through my mind, and the strength returned to my body.”
Film of the race shows how much effort he’d put in. Once he ran through the finishing tape he swerved to the inside of the track and, in his words, “hit the deck in a heap”. . .
When we last spoke, in 2011, I asked, at her request, if he’d write a foreword for Valerie Adams’ book. As an official at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester he’d been very kind to a teenaged Valerie, and she’d never forgotten his thoughtfulness.
He wrote: “As a competitor she presents a real game face to the world, but out of competition she is a big hearted, warm and kind natured person.” The same description perfectly fitted Sir Murray Halberg.
The high esteem in which some sports people are held is due only to their sporting achievements.
Sir Murray did much more through the Halberg Foundation which
. . . aims aims to enhance the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders through sport and recreation.
Our vision is for an inclusive New Zealand.
Our purpose is bringing about moments of joy.