FRANZ STAMPFL MBE (18 Nov 1913 – 19 Mar 1995)
Franz Stampfl was born in Vienna in 1913 and in his early years studied art. He also had some success as a skier and javelin thrower.
In 1937 he left Austria and moved to England to pursue his interests in art. At the outbreak of World War II he gained a job coaching athletes in Northern Ireland. In 1940 he taught physical education at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School but by June of that year he was interned as an enemy alien and shipped to Canada.
During the voyage to Canada the ship was torpedoed and sank. Franz survived the sinking and the icy waters and was shipped back to England where he was again interned before being sent to Australia. He was placed in an internment camp in Hay, New South Wales and later in Tatura. During his internment he organised various sporting activities within the camps including athletics.
In 1946 Franz moved back to London with his wife Pat whom he had met in Australia to practice as an athletics coach, doing so at various locations including Oxford and Cambridge Universities as well as the John Fisher School.
In 1954 Franz achieved one of his greatest coaching feats when he coached Roger Bannister to the first sub four minute mile. In that famous race the two pace makers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway were also coached by Franz. Brasher went onto win the steeplechase gold in the 1956 Olympic Games and become the race director of the London Marathon whilst Chataway emerged as a world record holder and Olympic finalist. Bannister that year won gold at both the European Championships and Commonwealth Games.
In 1955 Franz immigrated to Australia where he became director of athletics at Melbourne University. Franz introduced his interval training to the many athletes he coached there over the years - resulting in great success for many of them. His training methods became legendary for their toughness - many hard repetitions with short recoveries.
His most famous pupil was Ralph Doubell who won gold in the 800 metres at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 - equalling the world record, a mark which remained the Australian national record in 2013.
Franz did not only train middle distance runners - also coaching sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers. Many of his athletes went on to represent Australia at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, Pacific Conference Games, World Championships and World Cup. He had a magnificent eye for both talent and technical improvement, it often being said of him that he had a natural ability to see things in slow motion.
Some of his higher achieving athletes for all or significant parts of their careers included Hec Hogan, Tony Sneazwell, Gael Mulhall, Peter Bourke, Ken Roche, John Higham, Merv Lincoln, Alan Crawley, Petra Rivers, Sue Howland, Pam Matthews, Bruce Field, Judy and Lawrie Peckham and Bill and Erica Hooker – but there were many more. At the 1968 Nationals in Sydney, the Victorian male athletes he coached would have won the interstate points trophy – the Richard Coombes Shield in their own right.
But he did not work only with the elite – his squad often grew to 50 or more regulars, required his attendance at training from 10.00am until well after normal working hours had ceased. The size of his team led to both group and individual sessions – with even the burliest of throwers often engaged in Sunday morning time trials.
And he was an early advocate for participation and was perhaps also Melbourne’s first “personal trainer” – initiating the Como Park Joggers at 6.00am every weekday, a concept which drew people from all walks of life to running for fitness, including come of the city’s most affluent and successful in business. Some even ended up at the Uni track doing reps.
International athletes came to Australia for his tutelage and it was not unusual for AFL players or test cricketers to seek out his guidance.
Tragically Franz was seriously injured in a car accident in 1980 which left him a quadriplegic. But this did not stop him continuing to coach from his wheelchair and famous office beside the Melbourne University track.
Franz was a very fit man prior to his accident and was a strict disciplinarian. However he was also a great motivator and was able to get the best out of his athletes. He was a great talker and could do so on many subjects and, from the recollection of some of his athletes, was “always right” - according to himself!
He never lost interest in art and many of his works are retained by his athletes and others amongst their proudest possessions.
Sadly athletic officialdom never fully embraced him nor recognized his enormous input into the sport. However he was awarded an MBE in 1981.
Franz was a larger than life figure and a legendary coach.
Paul Jenes OAM
Acknowledgements: Bill Hooker, Franz Stampfl – On Running, Wikipedia, various magazines and newspapers.