Athletics Australia Hall of Fame
Anthony 'Nick' Winter (1894-1955)
It happened nearly 80 years ago, on October 4 1924, and it had to be the most splendid day in Manly’s history. First there was the arrival through the Heads of the liner SS Tahiti, bringing home Australia’s heroes from the Paris Olympic Games --- crowded by bustling little launches, ferries, yachts and all manner of small craft as she made her way up Sydney Harbour.
A motor cavalcade through Sydney followed, not as grand as some we’ve seen in recent years --- but, let’s face it, there weren’t so many cars about then, and neither ticker-tape nor television existed. So great was the outpouring of emotion that the Referee was moved to comment: “Never in the history of sport have the citizens of Sydney displayed such spontaneous enthusiasm.”
One writer observed: “Sydney people went to the wharf where the Tahiti docked in calm enough mood, but when they saw in the flesh men whose deeds in Paris they anxiously watched in the cables day after day, they could be pardoned for a swelling of the chest and that ‘goosey’ feeling that creeps over one at moments of high tension.”
After all the fuss of the civic reception at Sydney Town Hall, the marching bands, the cheering and the speeches, came the real return: the voyage to Manly aboard the ferry Balgowlah. Remarkably those heroes, back home after five months away, all came from the place most Sydney-siders called “little Manly” --- a suburb that was, in those pre-Bridge days, very much an isolated village, a small urban sandwich between the surf and the Harbour.
Australia emerged from the 1924 Olympics with three gold medals, one silver (for the men’s swimming relay) and two bronze. Most of that hardware --- all three golds, two of the shared relay silvers, and one bronze --- went home to Manly. The gold medals belonged to the local swimmer Andrew “Boy” Charlton, the diver Dick Eve and the triple-jumper Nick Winter, a member of the Manly Fire Brigade. The silvers had been won by Charlton and Ernest Henry, another son of Manly. For good measure, the Australian team had been managed by an energetic Manly citizen, Oswald Merrett. Charlton’s coach, Tom Adrian was from a well-known local family which owned a shoe-shop, and the team masseur was another Manly identity, Harry Hay.
Nick Winter was one of the celebrated group that became known as “the Boys from Manly”; the fire brigade bands in Sydney and Manly oompahed proudly for him, and a local street was named in his honour. But he was very much the odd man out. Charlton, Eve, Henry, Adrian, Hay and Merrett were all members of the Manly Swimming Club (whose pool was run by Eve’s father), but Winter preferred snooker to swimming. In that group, he was always something of a loner --- perhaps because he had a vastly different background.
He was the oldest of the gold medallists, the only one who served in the Great War of 1914-18. Born in 1894 as Anthony William Winter (although he was always known as “Nick”), he worked as a labourer before embarking for Egypt as a light-horseman in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915. He later served as a driver in France, and after his discharge from the AIF in 1919 he became a fireman, stationed at Manly.
He was a natural athlete, with something of the versatility of Snowy Baker and Harold Hardwick --- although unlike those two he never swam. He was tall and slender, muscular, ambidextrous and double-jointed. His father once ran a snooker saloon, and young Nick became a highly competent player himself. He loved any sport that required nerve, skill, speed, stamina, strength and determination. He played rugby league football, cricket, tennis, gold, wrestling and a couple of off-beat sports: single tug-of-war and cycling backwards. The leaping events of athletics, though, were always his favourites.
As a member of Botany Harriers, and later of South Sydney and Western Suburbs amateur athletic clubs, he competed successfully in the high jump and hurdles --- but excelled in the running hop, step and jump (which became the triple jump). He was the last person chosen for the 1924 Olympic team, probably because at the age of 29, he was still untried against opposition outside Sydney.
Although he had established an Australasian record of 47 ft. 7 in (14.5 metres) in the running hop, step and jump, his experience was limited to club competition. The triple jump was so little known in Australia that it was not included in the national championships until six years after Winter won his gold medal.
In Paris, where Winter was one of nine Australian track and field athletes, the 37 competitors in the triple jump were divided into two pools – and Winter was drawn against the favourite, the Argentinian Luis Brenetto. After Brenetto leaped a mighty 15.42 metres, easily beating the Olympic record, the Australian fouled at his first event, overstepping the mark. With his second effort he covered 15.19 metres, also inside the old record. He fouled again on his third jump, but his one good performance was enough to carry him into the final.
With his first jump in the final, Winter equalled his first-round performance; with his second he covered enough ground to win, but fouled again, and bruised his heels badly. So great was the pain that he had to remove his track shoes.
Winter’s third and final jump was the last of the competition. He was still behind Brenetto, who had been unable to improve on his first-round distance. Having fouled three times in five jumps, Winter decided (as Jesse Owens would later do in similar circumstances during the broad jump qualifier at the 1936 Berlin Olympics) to take off inches before he reached the board. He bounded through a hop of 5.78 metres, a step of 3.97 metres, and a jump of 5.77 metres to clear a massive 15.52 metres --- a greater distance than anyone had ever covered before. The previous world record had been set 13 years earlier, by the American Daniel Ahearn.
“It was my life’s ambition to win this,” Winter told reporters afterwards. “I thought I had no hope in the world with one jump remaining.” In breaking the world record, Winter had improved on his pre-Olympic best performance by 14 1/2 inches. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Winter was “rushed by photographers and cinema-men … Australia’s flag was raised for the first time (the track and field events pre-dated the swimming), followed by the playing of ‘God Save the King’.”
Nick Winter returned to the Olympic Games in 1928 in Amsterdam, and during the long sea voyage (when a number of competitors endangered their prospects by putting on plenty of weight) he entertained passengers and team-mates with a repertoire of jumping tricks, including standing high jumps. He was unable to reproduce his best form at the Games, placing 12th in the triple jump with 14.14 metres. The winning distance of the new champion, Japan’s Mikio Oda, was more than 12 inches less than Winter had cleared in Paris.
In Sydney in January 1930, with the triple jump finally admitted to national championship competition, Winter won the title by clearing 14.4 metres. After finishing second in the next (1932) championships, he finally retired from competition. A laconic individual who never talked much about his Olympic achievements, he concentrated afterwards on billiards and snooker.
Having practiced long and hard on the Manly fire station’s billiards table, Winter became a skilled 200-break billiards exponent. He made it clear that he was more interested in setting himself challenges rather than playing the orthodox game --- but he still finished second in the New South Wales championships in July 1927. He revelled in trick shots, and it was claimed that even Walter Lindrum could not execute one of Winter’s masse strokes.
After leaving the fire service in December 1927, Winter ran a billiard saloon in George St., Sydney, as well as a hairdressing and tobacconist business. In the 1940s he managed a billiard-room in Pitt St. He died in 1955 in tragic circumstances at his home. After apparently stumbling in his bathroom, he fell, hitting his head and breaking open a gas pipe. His body was found the next day in a gas-filled house.
© Harry Gordon, 2004. Provided courtesy of the author and not to be used elsewhere without permission.
1924 Olympic Games, Paris
Gold medal, triple jump
Leap of 15.52m at 1924 Olympics was a world record at the time
Ranked No. 1 in the world in 1921 and 1924 in the triple jump