Everyday Obituary: An ode to my old man, the Olympics and Usain Bolt.



Ode to my old man, the Olympics and Usain Bolt.


by Matt O’Hanlon



Sport was a critical component of life through the eyes of my dad. He loved it. All sport. After his family, his great love was sport. He firmly held to the tenet that sport taught life lessons and he always thought if you were involved in sport you would be ok. You would learn how to win and how to lose. How to lead and how to follow. And how to be an individual and a team member.

His sport of choice was Rugby League.

But the Olympics were also special for Dad. He loved them – and his favourite part of the Olympics was Athletics, and his favourite events were the sprints – the blue riband and the 200m.

Dad passed away just before the Olympics so it was eerie to watch the sprints and not have him call me to talk about the field.

When people close to you leave the planet it is the mannerisms, events and communications that you are used to that are missed in the time passed. Just as how he would say to me that such and such an event would remind him of his dad, when I am in old age the Olympic 100 and 200 will always remind me of mine.

His love of the Olympics started from his much older brother who was blind from age 5 and a devotee of sport on ABC radio. He would tell stories to his two much younger siblings with the colour and detail only a blind person could give. At school, Dad’s teacher at St. Joseph’s CBC Rockhampton, Brother Murphy, noted he was a genuine speedster. Br. Murphy used the book Why the Science of Athletics as his bible. The great Harold Abrahams was a contributor. Dad competed for his school in many events and the big night of the year was always the Interschool Athletics at Browne Park where the stands would be full as the local schools competed for the Aggregate Trophy. As a 15 year old he ran in the Open events. “The blokes in Grade 11 and 12 were boffins,” he would say, “you know, scientists and musicians, and even future teachers and they couldn’t run real fast.”

“Why do you mention teachers,” I would say, having been  a teacher for years.

“Well you can’t run real fast!” he’d shoot back with a grin. He was good at logic. If I was slow and I was a teacher then all teachers had to be slow.

The sprints, long jump, high jump and relays were his specialty and the style was drilled from Murphy’s tome. Rocky Grammar were the main opposition- the Grammar Grubs in their traditional Red and Black against the good guys CBC in the butcher’s stripe. School bands, school urgers and the school war cries were the sounds of the night. Dad and his brother John could break into the old school war cry at any time – “Wikita Wokata Yarrrabee Ya- Bimbola Bombala Barbara Ba” and on it would go. Old Murphy gave Dad the book and even visited us in the 70s and regaled us with stories of those nights at Browne Park.

A favourite story was when Dad had to run the 400 in 1954. Br. Murphy told us his instructions to Dad were not to go out to hard because you didn’t have to lead until the end. Dad was pumped and didn’t really listen. He hit the George St. side and cruised from the back to the lead. How easy is the 400 he thought as he rounded the Albert St. end to enter the Murray St. (the street that he had grown up in) grandstand and the touchline side of Browne Park. Glory awaited just 90 metres away. But then something happened. His legs felt like lead weights. His lungs were cramping. His head, in the elongated moments, was ringing with Murphy’s words and the footsteps were pounding. Dad, as in all his self-effacing stories just couldn’t hang on. He ran fourth. Years later he said to me when Rex ’the Moose’ Mossop and Bruce Mackawankee (as he liked to call him) started talking about Lactic Acid that he knew exactly what it was and that his old coach Br Murphy did not need a science lab to work that one out.

In 1954, the 60th Jubilee year of the school, Dad received a framed certificate that recognised him as the Champion Sprinter in the School winning the 100 yards in school record time. I now keep that family sporting artefact of a time when local awards were a big deal.

In 1956 he was selected to carry the Olympic Torch. The finest young athletes from the district were given the opportunity. He received a Bronze Medal for his efforts. It was his most prized possession. Anyone who visited our house was told a different story as to how he won the medal. He would always say he didn’t like to brag that much and it was no big deal but he came third in the – long jump, 100m, hop step and jump, 200 and even the Marathon. On it went. Sometimes people would come back and say they checked the records and he wasn’t there. Instant reply: “Dead heat. The book is most probably Yankee and they leave us Aussies out.” End of story and thank God Google wasn’t about.

Dad’s hero as a kid was the great Jesse Owens even though he ran two years before Dad was born. As a young man he was fascinated by Hector Hogan whom he saw run in the flesh. A Queensland Brothers bloke who took on the world.

In 1972 during the Munich Olympics our yard was set up as an Olympic track. We had all the events and my siblings and I were given pointers from Abraham’s section on Athletics. Each arvo when he got home we would compete under handicap conditions with records kept so we could try and break the record the next day. We used the names of athletes from the paper to supplement the grainy coverage on the Pye in the lounge room of our small Housing Commission home. Dad could not believe that Australia did not select a sprinter for Munich (and that is another story) so it was O’Hanlon’s filling the void. Sadly at 9 years of age and being slow, I was not going to be the solution for Australia in the 80s. Dad coached athletics (as well as footy of course) at our school and always read up and coached from the old green book. He even taught us all to do the Fosbury Flop at school – something which is basically banned from the school ground now.

A highlight for Dad was the Sydney Olympics where he was in the stand to see Cathy Freeman win the 400m Gold. Highlight is most probably an understatement. I remember speaking to him before the event and all he was worried about was if she went out too hard because if you do, you hit the wall at about the 330 mark. Personal experience he said. I said I’m sure she will be right and that her coach will have plotted it out. Like the rest of the nation we all hoped that Cathy Freeman wouldn’t hit the wall but would burst straight through it. And she did. What a defining Olympic moment not only for all Australians but for a lifetime fan of athletics and especially Australian athletics.

But it was none of that that made me think of my recently departed father. It was Usain Bolt. What a sprinter. What an athlete. What a showman. Dad said Bolt was the greatest runner he had ever seen after he won his second 100 Gold in London where he basically toyed with the field. For Dad to place someone ahead of Jessie Owens really meant something. The 100 and 200 in Rio have been something else. Bolt is something else. As every muscle and sinew strains on his competitors bodies he just seems to be effortless. He is on a different level and after he won the 200 I looked at my phone awaiting the call with his voice saying: “You will never see anything like that again.”

Dad may well be right but I know for the rest of my days the Olympics will always cause me to think of athletics whether it be Abrahams, Owens, Br. Murphy, Hogan, Freeman and especially Bolt. After the 100 and 200 I will think of the 1954 60th Jubilee school champion who like any kid on the day they win the sprint at any level feels a bit like Bolt.

And such is the beauty of sport.

RIP Dad, Michael Joseph (Mick, Mike, Pop, Poppy Mick, Uncle Mick) O’Hanlon.


  1. Tom Cranitch says

    Great story Matty. Left a few tears in my eyes.

    Up Brothers!


    Tom Cranitch

  2. Such a nice read. So moving. Well done.

  3. Lovely piece Matt. Sport allows us to dream, that’s what I love about it. Sounds like your Dad did too.

    I reckon that, for men anyway, the passing of our fathers makes us more like them. Like a passing of the baton. We pick up where they left off. Some parts of them move across to us. Perhaps this is immortality?

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    A good old CBC boy.

    A life well led.

    Deepest sympathy.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A fantastic read deepest sympathy Matt

  6. Good to talk on the phone Matt. Hope all is going well up there at Aurukun.

    I just love the medal. If you meet Matt one day get him to tell you the story of the medal at the funeral. I think during the eulogy Matt pulled it out and gave it to someone in the front row like it was show and tell and said “Pass it around”. It didn’t get past Uncle John in about the third pew. (“None of these thievin’ bastards is takin’ this home with him.”)

    Is that right Matt?

  7. Matt O'Hanlon says

    Almost – my brother Jim handed the medal out at the service and at the end in his classic central qld strine said “you wouldn’t believe it but I’ve lost the effing medal.” I said it’ll turn up and then Uncle Johnny kept his lifelong younger brother role as wingman for Mick.

  8. Wonderful sentiments Matt. Thanks for sharing your father’s wisdom. As Dips said they lives on in us. Hope I can live up to the high bar you and your dad set when the time comes.

  9. Good on you, Matt. And thanks.

  10. That is a very touching article. Congratulations.
    It is amazing that when you speak of one “old Fella” the story resonates.
    My father was glued to the television of a Saturday afternoon.
    we would even watch the wrestling which he referred to as the “Gruntin’ groaners”.
    It is unsurprising how sport and television are so important to each other.
    That generation of sports fanatics sealed the deal.
    As a kid I can remember being able to watch a complete test cricket series when living in Cloncurry.
    My father told be in tones of utter indignation that he had been to one day of a test match live up until that time. Although to give him his due it was the tied test in Brisbane. not the last day sadly.
    It is hard to comprehend for people who were not brought up with television what a revelation it must have been to be able to watch sport rather than reading of it.
    I particularly remember one old fella (A Tasmanian living in sugar cane Queensland) complaining bitterly about “The Winners” being on so late on a sunday evening.

    JTH tells me you had a sister who is an alumni of Union College.
    I have a recollection of Josephine from Rockhampton.
    If she is related to you please extend my condolences to her.

  11. Lovely story mate- what a great relationship you had with your dad- cherrish that- too many of us dont hat that relationship with our fathers. RIP Big guy.

  12. Marcus Holt says

    Thanks for sharing your memories and honouring your Dad Matt. I suspect my kid’s will identify sport as the central binding element in my life when the time comes. And like your dad, I was lucky enough to be there to see Cathy win Gold. Nothing comes close to that night in Sydney but I guess your Dad’s bronze is a worthy place-getter.

  13. Beautiful.

  14. lovely obit, Matt. Thanks.

  15. Quality read, great bloke by the sound of it. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Comment