Overcoming Age: Peter Crombie

When Peter Crombie lines up for his 10th race in 11 days at a World Masters Athletics (WMA) Champions he expects a slow start. Not because the meet is taking a toll on his 66-year-old body, but because he’s always been slow out of the blocks.

In fact, the legendary sprinter from Dee Why, New South Wales relishes the common occasion when he rolls his international rivals down the home straight. “I love coming from behind, I don’t freak out or tie up, I just focus on finishing strong every time,” he says.

For 24 years Crombie’s been a world class Masters sprinter. It’s his “maturity”, he says, that gives him the discipline required to keep a cool head and speedy legs when it counts.

While many his age might settle for taking an intermittent stroll along the foreshore to stay in shape, Crombie works tireless to keep his body in peak condition all year round. Four track sessions, two water running efforts and two visits to the gym each week are what gives him the edge.

His success recently saw him named the 2010 IAAF World Masters male track and field athlete of the year. The accolade was, rightly, his “proudest achievement in sport”.

Cutting a powerful figure at 185 centimetres and weighing in at 77 kilos, Crombie shows few signs of slowing down. Sure, he’s had some setbacks – what elite athlete hasn’t? His worst: a torn medial meniscus in his right knee in early 2009 – it stemmed, he believes, from a broken ankle years earlier, which weakened his gait over time.

“My surgeon told me I would never run again,” recalls Crombie. But that was not an option. Rehabilitation was agonising. The risk of running again: another tear and the onset of osteoarthritis.

But with resilience and his dogged determination Crombie was back in March for the 2010 WMA World Indoor Championships in Kamloops, Canada. He won the men’s 65 years 60 and 200 metres, and finished second in the 400 metres. Not only that, but his 60-metre dash time of 8:35 was faster than the winner of the age group below. He still had it!

Three months later Crombie faced off against his arch-rival Steve Robbins of America, the current world record holder in the 100 and 200 metres, at the US Championships. Crombie won both races, setting new Australian records for his age group in the process.

“Being a Masters athlete means injuries do make it harder to keep going, but you must have confidence that if you follow a set program and reach your targets you will get there,” he says.

Growing up in Canterbury with his two brothers, it was the long and high jump and race walking that took his fancy. Although he competed regularly since age 16, athletics was barely more than a hobby as he went through school at Canterbury Boys High and studied chartered accounting. Starting a family and going on to work as a property developer took priority for many years.

It wasn’t until his own three sons developed an interest in athletics that Crombie realised there was no athletics club in his local area – an omission he set about amending. Working with the Bankstown Sport Club, Crombie helped establish the Bankstown Sports Athletics Club – where he is now a life member.

In 1985, after moving to northern Sydney, he founded another, the Ku-ring-gai Athletic Club. It became the first club to be sponsored by a shoe company when Reebok contributed $25,000 a year. “At its peak, the new Reebok Athletic Club had more than 350 members,” he recalls.

Two years later, Crombie turned his attention back to the track and at age 44 entered his first world titles as a Master. He came away from the 1987 World Masters Athletics Champions in Melbourne with three gold medals and was ranked the fifth fastest 100-metre sprinter in the world for his age after clocking 11:21. He’s never missed a competition final in the 100, 200 or 400 metres since.

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