DARREN CLARK (6 Sep 1965 - )
Darren was born in Sydney and from a very early age showed promise as a sprinter. His first national appearance was in the 1980 All-Schools Championships in Sydney where he finished sixth in the U17 200 metres in 22.81 secs. The following year in Brisbane, still competing in the U17s he made a mark for the first time - winning the sprint double in 10.89 and 21.88 secs and was second over 400m in 49.16.
At the 1982 National Junior Championships in Brisbane he was just outside the medals in both the 100 (fifth) and 200 (fourth). However by the end of that year, Darren had lowered his bests to 10.52 and 20.90 secs and perhaps most ominously to 46.62 secs for 400 metres. It was a national U20 record.
Those who had not heard of the precocious young talent by then, certainly did three months later when Darren won the junior sprint treble at the Nationals in Melbourne in 10.47, 21.31 and 46.73 secs.
Despite his tender years and inexperience at international level, Darren was selected for the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1983. In May he won over 400 metres race in Tokyo, Japan in 45.42 secs and by July had improved sufficiently to win the prestigious English AAAs in 45.05 seconds.
Suddenly the junior looked like a possible finalist in the World Championships. However in Helsinki it was not to be. After a strong 45.84 secs in the quarter finals he could only run 46.36 in his semi and finished seventh but still an outstanding result for a young man still to celebrate his eighteenth birthday.
He also anchored Australia’s 4x400 metres relay team with a 45.4 second leg but he had too much to make up and the team finished fifth in their heat.
Darren started his 1984 Olympic international campaign by retaining his AAAs title before a big win at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway in June in 45.38 secs.
At the Los Angeles Olympics, after a second place in his heat in 45.68 secs, there was an outstanding personal best of 44.77 for another second in the quarter finals. A time of 45.26 and a third placing in his semi put him into the final.
There the young Australian went out hard and led into the home straight but was overhauled by Alonzo Babers (USA) who won in 44.27 from Ivory Coast’s Gabriel Tiacoh (44.54). Another American Antonio McKay pipped Darren on the line for bronze - 44.71 to 44.75 secs. Another PB was a small consolation.
The Australians had a competitive team in the 4x400 metres relay and even resting Darren, won their heat in 3.03.72 and with Darren running anchor in the semi made it through to the final. Bruce Frayne opened with a 45.38 second split to give Australia the lead and with Darren producing an amazing 43.86 next up, they were still in the lead at the half way mark surprising the Americans.
Gary Minihan (45.07) was only passed by Babers and although Rick Mitchell ran a strong 45.39 anchor, the team was passed by Great Britain and Nigeria. It was a new national record of 2.59.70 but another narrow miss for Darren.
In 1985 Darren missed the Nationals for a second time but again won the AAAs in 45.45 and after a second place in the Bislett Games in 45.07 secs, went on to complete a fabulous European tour - winning eight major races.
Darren was selected for Oceania at the World Cup hosted by Australia in Canberra and performed impressively in front of his home crowd – finishing third in the 200 metres (20.78) and fourth in a top notch 400 metres in 45.12. He also anchored the Oceania team to third place in 3.01.35 behind the USA and East Germany in a highly controversial 4x400 metres relay.
The 1986 Nationals in Adelaide finally delivered his first national senior title in 45.69 secs. He again undertook an extensive European tour and again won the AAA’s – this time in 44.94 secs and picked up another Bislett Games victory in 45.08. By now Darren was a big name on the European circuit and had developed a popular following.
He was in great form going into the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh which was ‘rocked’ by mass boycotts over ‘apartheid’ in South Africa. Darren easily won his heat and was a comfortable second in his semi but was surprised in the final by England’s Roger Black who stormed home in 45.57 to win by .41 seconds.
There was the consolation of another silver in the 4x400 metres which he anchored. His fastest time for the year was 44.72 seconds at the Weltklasse in Zurich. A reasonable year but not what Darren had been aiming for.
He won the NSW championships treble in 1987 but again missed the Nationals. On arrival in Europe he again won the Bislett Games but the remainder of the northern summer season was up and down with his only other win in Bratislava. At the Rome World Championships, an eighth place in his semi left him out of the final. Darren tried hard as usual in the 4x400 metres relay but seventh in the semis was the best the team could manage.
Until this time Darren had largely been trained by Alan Hawes but he changed coaches on Australia Day in 1988 to Sydney journalist and former long jumper Mike Hurst. Although he ran little during the domestic season due to injury Darren continued to prepare for the Seoul Olympics. Some sub-par performances in Europe did not auger well but Darren was indeed ready for his second tilt at Games glory.
In Seoul he won his heat in 45.93 secs and was second in his quarter final in 44.96. The semis delivered a third placing and a fine personal best of 44.38. Once again Darren ran a superb race in the final but alas he was again fourth – this time in 44.55 secs behind three Americans. The men’s 4x400 metres team again managed to make the final and ran a solid 3.02.49 for sixth. The team comprised of Rob Ballard, Mark Garner, Miles Murphy who were anchored by Darren in 44.51.
In a seemingly rare Nationals appearance, Darren won 200 and 400 metres in Brisbane in 1989 ahead of a solid European tour with good results in Nice and Lausanne.
And then finally some real joy for a super talent was just around the corner. The 1990 Commonwealth Games were close to home in Auckland, New Zealand after winning his heat, quarter final and semi, Darren appeared to be the dominant Commonwealth quarter miler. This time it was confirmed - Darren won that elusive gold in 44.60 secs.
He did not run the relay as he was being saved for the final but sadly the team was disqualified after winning their heat for a changeover infraction – one of a number of teams to incur the wrath of some ‘overzealous’ Kiwi judges.
In 1991 there was a break from athletics and Darren played rugby league with the Balmain Tigers. He also competed in the World Rugby Sevens Tournament.
But the lure of the track was too great and he soon returned and won the 1993 Nationals in Brisbane in 45.65 secs. In the World Indoor Championships in Toronto, Canada there was a bronze medal over the two laps of the board track in 46.45 seconds.
Darren’s last race was in the Sydney Grand Prix in 1994 where he just lost a highly publicised race to Dean Capobianco 45.47 to 45.49 secs.
As 2014 drew to a close, Darren Clark still held the Australian record with the 44.38 seconds he ran in the Seoul Olympics, He retired with personal bests for the 100 metres of 10.43 and 200 metres of 20.49 secs both set in 1983. He represented his country in eight majors and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2000.
Paul Jenes OAM
Athletics Australia Statistician
Acknowledgements: Mark Butler, Athletics Statistics Book, London 2012; Mark Butler, IAAF Statistics Book Moscow 2013; Paul Jenes: Fields of Green Lanes of Gold; Mike Hurst; Bob Phillips, Honour of Empire, Glory of Sport, Brian Roe