‘WANGARATTA’S WINTER OLYMPIAN’

 

 

His mates at Wangaratta Tech harboured dreams of making it onto sport’s ‘big-stage’…….. visualising, for example, the dying stages of a VFL Grand Final, when they’d evade outstretched arms, throw the Sherrin onto the boot and kick that miraculous goal to clinch victory…….
Or maybe, steam in to bowl the opening over of a Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG, with the cacophony of a noisy throng of 60,000 ringing in their ears.…….

He remembers a few of the kids coaxing him into having a crack at Midget Footy one year, in the late sixties.
It was good fun, he says, but wasn’t for him. He was hell-bent on becoming a champion skiier.
In time, his own dreams would come to fruition – as he proudly marched into an Olympic Stadium accompanying the Australian flag………….
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Chris Allan’s family were captivated by skiing.
His parents, Norm and Elaine had been members of the Wangaratta Ski Club since 1948, and regularly travelled up to the mountains from Melbourne, where they had lived since 1957.
When Norm took over a fuel distributorship in their old home town in 1968, it made life easier. As soon as he knocked off, at midday Saturday, they’d pack the car, with the kids in tow, and a couple of hours later, be testing the slopes.
Elaine, a still-sprightly 87, says the family did everything together. “It was water-skiing in summer; snow skiing in winter.”
“That was one of the benefits of being involved in the Ski Club. You spent whole week-ends in the company of like-minded people. We forged life-long friendships.”
Being an old mechanic, Norm took on the responsibility of being the club’s ‘Maintenance Man’, keeping things in order around the Ski Lodge, organising working-bees and ensuring that the Lift was always operational.
“Wangaratta’s always been a strong club and Mum and Dad were a vital part of it. Us kids ( he and sisters Brenda and Janet ) couldn’t help but follow suit,” Chris recalled the other day.
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When I caught up with him, Chris was recovering from a hand operation. It enabled him to put his feet up and catch a glimpse of the goings-on at PyeongChang, South Korea, where the cream of the world’s skiers were competing for Olympic Gold.
He’s just back, he says, from a skiing trip to Japan. The love of the sport has never left him and he’s still gets the old adrenalin rush when he straps on the skis…….
He was just 15 when he was selected in the Victorian Cross-Country team, which travelled to Norway for competition and training.
In those days, training methods in Australia weren’t terribly sophisticated. There was no AIS program, no sports psychologists and little professional expertise. Without the benefit of World-class competition, most of the improvement came from plain hard work.
But fortunately, Chris came under the influence of Bob Cranage, a skiing enthusiast who specialised in Biathlon. He had dedicated his life to teaching kids to ski – still does – and provided valuable support for the lad.
Showing an aptitude for Cross-Country and Endurance skiing, Chris decided to specialise in these events, with immediate results.IMG_3129
By 1977 he was the Australian 15km champion, at the age of 18, and became the youngest skiier to take out a national title.
He competed in the World championships in Lahti, Finland, in 1978, and a year later. contested the World junior titles in Canada.
His aim had been to procure a spot in the Australian team for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. “Even though I was the nation’s best-performed male skiier in my event, the selectors reasoned that I didn’t have enough international experience,” Chris says.
It was a bitter blow. Determined that he’d be selected four years later, he moved to Norway in 1981 and lived and competed there for 18 months. Training in, and picking up ideas in the home of Nordic skiing, his improvement was obvious.
He contested the 1982 World Championships in Oslo, and on his return to Australia, picked up the national 15 and 30km titles.IMG_3125
It was no surprise when he was named in the Olympic team for the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, being nominated for three disciplines -the 15, 30 and 50km Cross-Country.
“I was motivated to prove that I could compete against the best,” Chris says. “In those days the Cross-Country involved just one technique – the Classic. Now half of the events are done in Classic and half in Skating.”
“It was a big enough thrill to win a spot in the Olympic team, but it’s impossible to describe the pride you feel when you’re representing your country as part of the Games Opening Ceremony. It gave me goosebumps. What a way to spend my 25th birthday ! “IMG_3130
Of course, as all Australian skiiers discovered in those days, when they were up against the world’s best, the competition was pretty hot.
Chris’s first event, the 30km Cross-Country, saw him finish 59th. His favourite race was always the 15km and he was hopeful of his prospects. He lost time in the hills, however, and was 64th overall, in a field of 91. He came in 49th in the 50km event.
He returned to Sydney after the Olympics, and worked for 12 years for a firm called Ski Importers, which allowed him plenty of time off for training.
Later on, as his competitive career wound down, he became involved in coaching NSW junior skiers and coached and guided them through junior ranks. It gave him a huge ‘kick’ to be able to impart his vast knowledge to the up-and-comers, just as Bob Cranage had done for him during his developmental years.
In 1987/88 the NSW team headed to Beaver, Switzerland, and the following year to Royal Gorge, near Lake Tahoe in the United States.
He organised the Kosciusko Tour ( from Thredbo to Perisher ) for a period of 12 years, and was a committee member of the NSW Ski Association for six years.
Chris accepted a redundancy after working for Telstra for 22 years. He now helps his wife Giselle operate a small Market Research business.IMG_3128
He looks forward to getting back to Wangaratta four or five times a year, he says.
“For the last 25 years our family and friends have booked out the Wang Ski Lodge in the first week of August. I make a point of returning for the summer camp in the bush, between Christmas and New Year, and also the Club’s Wine-Bottling in October.”
Chris Allan’s immense contribution to Cross-Country Skiing was recognised in 2001, when he was awarded a Sports Achievement Medal, for dedication to competition, coaching and administration.
As Wangaratta’s only Winter Olympian he holds a special place in the city’s sporting Hall of Fame……….IMG_3124

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