JOHN ‘JACK’ PATRICK METCALFE (3 Feb 1912 – 16 Jan 1994)
Jack Metcalfe was born in Bellingen, New South Wales and was educated at Sydney Boys High School and Sydney University, and whilst there competed for its famous athletics club, SUAC. He studied law as a student and eventually had his own law practice. Throughout his career he was self coached.
Jack was intervarsity hop, step and jump (triple jump) champion in 1932 and 1933. In 1933 he also won the NSW triple jump title with 14.31 metres, and set an Australian high jump record of 1.96m and a NSW decathlon record of 6,773 points. In May he cleared 15.30m in the triple jump to rank him number one in the World and in December he raised the national high jump record to 1.99m on the Kensington Bowling Club green. He used a modified eastern cut off technique.
The following year, he set a new Australian long jump record of 7.33m at the NSW Championships and then successfully toured New Zealand.. Jack was selected for the 1934 British Empire Games (Commonwealth Games) in London where he won the triple jump with 15.63m, finished third in the long jump with 6.93m and fourth in the high jump with 1.88m. It was a difficult competition as the jump area had been churned up a week earlier when the White City Stadium hosted a rodeo.
At the 1935 Centenary Games in Melbourne Jack won the high jump at 1.97m and the triple jump with 15.36m. He was also a handy javelin thrower and finished second there with 55.96m losing only to European Championship silver medalist, Matti Sippala (Finland).
The 1935/36 NSW championships were held in December and Jack won the triple jump with a new World Record of 15.78m narrowly beating Basil Dickinson who leapt 15.64m. This gained both athletes Olympic selection to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
The two Australians faced a formidable trio of Japanese triple jumpers in Berlin – all of whom had by then jumped further than Jack, although wind assisted. Jack broke down international barriers, to become friendly with the Japanese jumpers and trained with them in Berlin sharing information.
In the Games Jack opened with a solid 15.50m which was to be his best jump but Naoto Tajima who had begun with 15.76m, in round 4 became the first man ever to jump 16.00m – enough to win the gold medal. In the final round Masao Harada went out to 15.66m for silver, leaving Jack with the bronze. Dickinson finished sixteenth with 14.48m.
Jack also finished equal twelfth in the high jump with 1.85m. His bronze medal was the only medal Australia won at the Berlin Games.
The 1937 Australian championships were held at Bowen Park, Brisbane and despite being an Olympian, it was Jack’s first Nationals. He won the triple jump with 15.16m and the javelin with 54.84m and took silver in the high jump with 1.87m.
The 1938 Commonwealth Games were held at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January/February of that year. Jack led an Australian clean sweep of the top four placings in the triple jump - with a winning jump of 15.49m, followed by Lloyd Miller 15.41m, Basil Dickinson 15.28m and Ray Graf 14.62m. Jack won bronze in the javelin with 55.53m but was well back in his other events finishing fifth in the long jump and seventh in the high jump. He was the only male athletics gold medalist for Australia at those Games.
In 1940 Jack won the NSW high jump, long jump and javelin titles to make a total of nineteen state championship wins over four individual disciplines and decathlon in a seven year period.
World War II ended any further Olympic dreams for Jack as a competitor in the jumps but he did continue competing and he finished third in the shot put at the 1947 National Championships in Perth. He continued to compete in inter-club well into the 1950s.
But Jack’s involvement in the sport was far from over. In 1948 he returned to the Olympics as manager of the athletics section to the London Olympic Games. At these Games Australian jumpers achieved a gold (John Winter -high jump), two silver (Theo Bruce - long jump, George Avery - triple jump) and a seventh (Les McKeand - triple jump), no doubt having taken good advice from their team manager.
Jack was a member of the Organizing Committee of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and he was also appointed chief jumps referee.
Jack Metcalfe’s athletics involvement over the years also included service as a national selector and as a leading coach and administrator at both state and national level. He was twice, in 1934 and 1955, awarded the famous American Helms Award for athletics.
Paul Jenes OAM
Acknowledgements: Keith Donald & Don Selth - Olympic Saga; Harry Gordon - Australia at the Olympic Games; Paul Jenes - Fields of Green, Lanes of Gold; Gary Lester - Australia at the Olympics; Fletcher McEwen; Phil O’Hara; Robert Solomon - Great Australian Athletes; Ray White & Malcolm Harrison - 100 Years of the NSW AAA; The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport