Starting block inventor dies

Starting block inventor dies

By Eoin Blackwell

May 22, 2008 12:00am

CHARLES Booth downed six beers the night before he won the 200m dash in Eugene, Oregon, a race he was never supposed to run.

It was 1986 and Charles Booth was 81.

But that was typical of the inventor of the sprinters’ starting block and life long athletics enthusiast who died peacefully at Queensland’s Gold Coast Hospital on Monday. He was 104.

When Booth started running about 90 years earlier, Australia’s athletics scene was made of rockier terrain than the springy tartan tracks that today’s stars run on.

Still in his teens he was competing in night time race meets in his birth place, Moonee Ponds, Melbourne.

In the 1920s runners shared their track with racing dogs. They would dig their feet into the earth to start the race, leaving holes that would injure the dogs.

"The dog owners started complaining,’’ Charlie Booth’s son and last surviving relative, Neville, said. "He then got into a bit of trouble with his father because he was digging holes in the front yard to make a mark.’’

In 1921 he took a T-bar and two halves of a four inch block of redgum wood and fixed the problem, but Charles Booth created a few more of his own.

Commenting to a race steward in Heidelberg, Victoria, that the starting blocks he’d built helped him run better, Booth was disqualified for life by the official.

The decision was overturned a few weeks later and Booth’s invention became a staple of modern athletics.

Booth was fond of getting young people into the sport, and took a great interest in promising young runners at the Stawell Athletics club, home of the famous Stawell Gift run each Easter.

"He devoted an awful lot of time to them, and he never accepted a penny,’’ says Neville.

An avid traveller, one of Booth’s great thrills was to fish for trout in the Madison River in Montana. He fell in love with the US after a stint training athletes like Arthur Ashe for tennis coach Harry Hopman.

Even though he’d spent his life competing and training young stars, he was most proud of his early victory in the Stawell Gift hurdles in 1925, Neville said.

Winning the $25 dollar prize, Booth gave the money to his mother. His son said he was also proud of winning one race despite tearing his stomach muscles after hitting one of the large stone and metal hurdles at full tilt.

The primitive hurdles are still at the Stawell Athletics club, said Neville. "They’re painted blue and used for crowd control.’’

Charles Booth will be remembered with a minute’s silence at the next school carnival at the Stawell Club, Neville said. "He never wanted to cause a fuss.’’

He will be cremated in Queensland.

Good stuff.