10th January 1895 - 14th August 1975
Percy Cerruty is buried in Sorrento Cemetery.
Athletic icon Percy Cerutty’s life (1895—1975) is a fascinating story of an unusual and determined individual. Graem Sims has captured his spirit magnificently. Following is the verdict from one who knew Cerutty well.
Cerutty was Australia’s most enigmatic, pioneering and controversial athletics coach. He is best remembered as the exhibitionist eccentric of the Portsea sandhills who controversially trained the likes of John Landy and Herb Elliott in the Golden Age of Australian athletics in the 1950s and ’60s.
But his interests and ambitions transcended mere sport. After a complete breakdown at the age of 43 (1938), Cerutty set about reconstructing himself through natural diet and violent exercise. On the way, he not only performed extraordinary feats of endurance but developed an entirely original theory of human movement (based on the movements of wild animals) and "Stotan" philosophy that placed him completely outside of the square of conventional running theory – indeed outside all convention. He was an outrageous personality, but Cerutty’s exhibitionist ways in public were just one manifestation of an extraordinarily complex and passionate man.
His legendary camp in the sandhills of Portsea, on the tip of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, was effectively Australia’s first institute of sport, grandly branded the International Athletics Centre. Thousands were drawn there from around the world to hear his captivating lectures, eat their raw oats, lift heavy weights, and run.
Why Die? includes previously unpublished letters, essays and personal writings of Percy Cerutty, as well as anecdotes and reminiscences from many of the key figures of his time.
Key events in the athletics calendar
In 2004, the Olympic Games will return to its spiritual home in Athens. Percy anchored his philosophy (his “reason”) in Ancient Greece.
2004 will also signify 50 years since Briton Roger Bannister famously broke four minutes for the mile – one of the great quests between nations of the 20th century. Less well known is the fact that John Landy broke his record just seven weeks later – and might easily have broken it earlier had he been running on the properly prepared tracks of Europe. Through interviews with Landy (now Governor of Victoria) and others, and from previously unpublished letters and notes of Cerutty’s, the Australian end of this story is told for the first time. Landy joined Cerutty’s gang in 1950, but split with him after a disappointing Helsinki Olympics in 1952 – so Percy could make no coaching claim for the 18 months leading up to Landy’s record-breaking run. But he did anyway. The details of this rift are revealed for the first time.
In Why Die?, Ron Clarke reveals that he ran disturbed by a pre-race incident with Cerutty at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 “You’ve got no hope, Clarke,” Percy goaded him in the dressing rooms minutes before the start. “You always were a weak bastard.” A typical Cerutty tactic.
Cerutty died at age 80 of motor neurone disease – without even thinking he was ill until the end.
Graem Sims is a Sydney-based journalist and was senior editor of Inside Sport for ten years. He is now editor of the ABC’s Sport Monthly magazine.