CHARLES ‘CHILLA’ PORTER (11 Jan 1936 – )
Charles Porter was born in Brisbane and educated at Brisbane Grammar. He first came to attention as a talented high jumper in 1952 when he cleared 6’0¼” (1.835m) as a 16-year- old. He was tall at 6’3” and thin, and used the straddle technique. Widely known as “Chilla”, he was originally coached by his father, then Doctor Cyril Wilkinson and in Melbourne by Franz Stampfl.
The following year Chilla cleared 6’3¾” (1.925m) and by late 1954 he was over 6’6” (1.98m) for an Australian junior record. He trained hard - especially on technique.
Chilla competed at his first National titles in 1955 in Adelaide and won on count-back from NSW Commonwealth representative, Kevin McMahon at a height of 6’4” (1.93m). He improved to 6’7½” (2.02m) in February 1956 and defended the national title in Melbourne with 6’6” (1.98m) from 17-year-old Victorian Colin Ridgway who would in 1962 become Australia’s first 7’0” (2.135m) high jumper.
After the selection trials in October Chilla, along with Ridgway and John Vernon, was selected to represent Australia at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
His event in Melbourne was destined to become one of the most dramatic and drawn-out high jumps in Olympic history. The large field of 29 jumpers began the qualifying round at 10am on the first morning of athletics and due to the low qualifying height of 1.92m only seven were eliminated.
Extraordinarily as it would now seem with modern practices requiring even a rest day between qualification and final, the 22 finalists resumed combat at 2.30pm on the same day. Even as the bar reached 2.00m there were still 16 jumpers in the competition.
Ten cleared this height including Porter and Ridgway. Ridgway and others then exited at the next height of 2.03m, still leaving five to do battle. Canadian Ken Money’s clearance at that height left him fifth whilst Sweden’s Stig Pettersson jumped 2.06m for fourth spot.
The bar was raised to 2.08m and the remaining three athletes, including Chilla were all successful.
At 2.10m with the cinder take-off significantly chopped-up and treacherous, the powerful Soviet jumper Igor Kachkarov was likened to a cargo plane trying to take off from a sand dune. He was eliminated, leaving Porter and history’s first 7’0” jumper, Charles Dumas of the USA left.
A captivated 60,000 spectators remained inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, as the lights on the stands were switched on as both men attempted 2.12m. At 7.23pm Dumas sailed over on his third attempt. Chilla was unable to clear and finished with the silver medal.
But his work was not done and Chilla won the 1957 and 1958 Nationals with 2.03m and was selected for the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. He had raised his season best to 6’10¼” (2.09m) in Brisbane in 1957.
In Cardiff another big field of 27 athletes started the qualifying round at 5’8” (1.73m) and eventually 11 athletes cleared the qualifying height of 6’5” (1.955m). Surprisingly Chilla’s teammate Ridgway failed to qualify. As in Melbourne, the final was held on the same day. Chilla had no problems until 6’8” (2.03m) where he required two attempts. However he found 6’9” (2.09m) beyond him and had to be content with silver once again, this time behind Jamaican Ernie Haisley who cleared that height.
The 1960 National Championships were held in Perth and with only two competitors in the high jump, Chilla cleared 6’10” (2.08m) to win his sixth national title beating Ridgway by four inches. Chilla, surprisingly alone, was selected for the Rome Olympics.
There were 32 starters at the Games and the qualifying height was 2.00m. Unfortunately Chilla was not in the same form as in Melbourne four years earlier and after clearing 1.95m he missed the qualifying height and was eliminated.
With his main Australian rival Ridgway in the USA, he claimed the 1961 National title at Brisbane’s Lang Park with 6’6”. However a new group of high jumpers were emerging in Australia to challenge him. They included Tony Sneazwell, Graeme Morrish, Percy Hobson and Lawrie Peckham. Chilla did not compete in the 1962 Nationals but was back in action in September in Brisbane with clearances of 6’10¼” (2.09m) and 6’10” (2.08m). He was selected for the Perth Commonwealth Games after finishing third in the trials with 6’7” (2.005m) along with Hobson, Sneazwell and Peckham.
In Perth there were only 11 high jumpers including the four Australians who were looking for a clean sweep. Chilla came in at the starting height of 6’0” (1.83m). It took him three attempts to get over 6’4” (1.93m) and then two attempts at each height until 6’10” (2.08m) where he and Percy Hobson were left to fight out the title. Chilla took three attempts to get over 6’10” but Hobson was superior, clearing 6’11” (2.11m) to take out the gold medal. It was Chilla’s third silver medal at major international games.
He retired after the Perth Games and became a successful businessman. Chilla had moved to West Australia earlier in his career and remained, later taking on significant roles in the administration of the State’s Athletics Association including as Chief Executive Officer and then as a Board Member and also as a fearless delegate to Athletics Australia.
Paul Jenes OAM
Acknowledgements: Keith Donald and Don Selth - Olympic Saga; The Official History of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games Wales 1958; Fletcher McEwen & Paul Jenes - Australian Annual Rankings; Paul Jenes & Peter Hamilton - Australian Athletics Results, Brian Roe