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Vale John Atterton

Published Thu 24 Nov 2016

With the passing of John Atterton on 22 November, Athletics Australia bids farewell to a respected Life Member, and the sport, one of its most passionate and devoted coaches.

News of John’s battle with motor neurone disease only became broadly known within the athletics community in the final weeks of his life. It therefore leaves most of the Australian athletics family with a picture of a colleague in his 82nd year, still active in coaching and inspiring athletes of all levels towards the achievement of their next goal.

But John’s involvement in athletics extended well beyond his love of and commitment to coaching.

He was a high achieving athlete himself – winning the 1957 and 1958 New South Wales state titles and the silver medal at the 1962 Australian championships in the 3000m steeplechase.

John also ran as a professional – becoming the Australian one mile and two miles champion in the then divided sport. He enjoyed success in army and inter-service competition at both 880 yards and the mile. His love of running continued on, becoming masters’ 800 and 1500 metres champion at Oceania level.

Having run as a professional, there were problems when John sought to become involved in the amateur club scene after his retirement. When he initially sought to become secretary of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Club, there was resistance and much debate about whether the rules allowed him to take on the role. After some angst, he was permitted to do so and John’s long period of extensive service to the administration of the sport at all levels was underway.

As well as his first, now known as Athletics Easts, John served the Ryde and Sydney Pacific clubs, including as president of the latter, before joining UTS Norths as a coach and committee member.

John found ways to marry his business life, especially during his time with Seiko Australia, with his sport – providing sponsorship for the New South Wales Schools Championships, the Pulsar Games. It was one of the first meets in Australia to involve athletes from across the school systems in a single competition and became the standard template for other states to follow.

Working with the AIS in Canberra, the Seiko AIS Invitational was born in 1986.

He became President of Athletics New South Wales and served as the association’s delegate to Athletics Australia, before also becoming a board member of the national governing body. He was still a member of the committee of UTS Norths at the time of his passing. 

John was elected a life member of Athletics Australia in 2009, at the same time as his wife - international athlete and revered coach, Nancy. He became a life member of Athletics NSW in 2012.

But John’s devotion to coaching continued well beyond his other involvements in athletics. He was highly qualified to pursue his passion – a level 4 specialist coach (middle and long distance) on the Australian Coaching Education Framework.

He coached athletes of all abilities and mentored across the age groups. His first international was Carmen Campton who was one of the early pioneers of 400m hurdles before running the middle distance events at the 1978 Commonwealth Games under John’s guidance. More recently his high achieving charges have included Nick Bromley, Lachlan Renshaw, Anneliese Rubie and Georgia Wassall.

John loved the coaching environment at major events, rarely missing a minute of the action at state and national championships but was equally devoted to watching his athletes competing at local interclub, cross country or on the road.

As observed by fellow coach and AA Life Member, Mike Hurst, “Athletics has lost a great force for good with the passing of John Atterton. JA was a larger than life figure possessed of great wisdom, intelligence, goodwill and energy. John enhanced the track experience for all he coached, advised and mentored.”

John’s Memorial Service will be held at 5.30pm for 6.00pm on Wednesday 30 November at Futter Hall at The King’s School, 87-129 Pennant Hills Road,
North Parramatta, NSW