"My dream has come true." Sitting in front of a plate of fish, with the Pacific Ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, Ron Clarke caresses with his eyes the panorama that surrounds him.
It is wild, unspoilt and fascinating: among the sand dunes, two young kangaroos race away between the clumps of brush. And Ron tells us that there are over thirty thousand of them on the island.
We are at Couran Cove Resort, the latest undertaking of this great Australian distance runner, who set no fewer than 19world records at all distances and was the first athlete to go under 28 minutes in the 10,000m (with the biggest differential: 35.6 seconds). Today, Clarke is a successful businessman in Queensland and the founder-owner of the Couran Cove resort, a corner of paradise that occupies Stradbrooke South Island, a little island some sixty kilometres south of Brisbane, Australia.
It’s a twenty-minute ferry ride here from Runaway Marina, or fifteen minutes if you’re lucky enough to hitch a ride with Ron Clarke himself. He skippers a cabin cruiser which, after a few difficult moments, heads out into the open sea and towards the tiny port of Couran Cove.
Nature is virtually unspoilt here: there are some buildings (lodges and cabins) for the tourists, but even though these have all the creature comforts, they have been built respecting the environment. There are plenty of little cottages in the woods too, all carefully built on stilts, their grey walls blending perfectly into the surrounding vegetation. The Couran Resort can accommodate 1500 guests; this number will increase to 2500, when the Resort is working at capacity. Officially opened a year ago at a cost of 150 million Australian dollars, Ron Clarke’s resort is also a training centre for elite athletes.
It has been tried out by Wilson Kipketer, Sonia O’Sullivan, Haile Gebrselassie and Grit Breuer and received full marks. The centre has everything an athlete needs to train: a fully-equipped gymnasium, with weights room, high jump and triple and long-jump pits, a three-lane covered track with a sophisticated timing system for measuring performance (inaugurated by Carl Lewis, a year ago).
A couple of kilometres to the north, verging on the white sand beaches, is the throwing area, with a large field of verdant grass. In the woods, alongside a tropical forest, threaded with a tortuous trail of wooden gangways, there are thirty kilometres of trails for jogging fans. One of these bears the name of Ron Clarke and Clarke’s Run is the favourite of all the guests of the Resort.
But Ron Clarke’s own favourite place is the Olympic Room – a sort of mini-museum on the second floor of the main house on the island: it is here that Clarke displays the most treasured souvenirs of his career.
Alongside a photo of Clarke lighting the Olympic Flame as a nineteen-year-old, in Melbourne in 1956 (burning his arm and hair in the process), there’s the gold medal won by Emil Zatopek in the 10,000m at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Given, says the dedication in Zatopek’s own hand, "to a great athlete of the Sixties who never won Olympic gold."
Today, Ron is a close follower of athletics: "Giant strides have been made since my days and this is largely thanks to Primo Nebiolo. I do not know him personally; indeed, I would very much like to meet him. We could chat about athletics for hours and hours…"
Claudio Colombo for the IAAF