German athletics journalist Gustav Schwenk (IAAF) © Copyright
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Leading athletics journalist Gustav Schwenk passes away

It is the sad duty of the IAAF to announce the death of Gustav Schwenk (Germany), one of the best-known and most respected athletics journalists of all time. Gustav Schwenk died in Düsseldorf aged 91 on Sunday (11).

At the request of the family, the IAAF is publishing this notice of his death only today, the day after his funeral, which was held in Düsseldorf-Heerdt on Friday (16) and was attended by family only.

Gustav Schwenk was born on 17 December 1923 in Düsseldorf. After World War II, he found his professional calling in sports journalism. Schwenk began his career at the "Sport-Informations-Dienst" (sid) news agency in Düsseldorf, working for them from 1947 until 1957.

In addition to athletics, during this time he was also responsible for handball, a sport which was his second great passion as sports reporter. Thereafter, he wrote as an independent journalist, mainly for the "Rheinische Post", "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "Kicker" and the German specialist athletics publication "Leichtathletik". He was writing his unique historical reviews and commentaries for "Leichtathletik" until very recently.

In total, he was to report on 15 Summer Olympic Games, a record number for which he was honoured at the London 2012 Games by IAAF president Lamine Diack and LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe.

Over more than six decades, Schwenk was an impassioned reporter whose criticism could be tough but fair, writing from almost every major athletics event.

In addition to 15 Summer Games, he reported from nearly all European and World Championships. A series which will probably never be trumped is his attendance at 63 (!) consecutive German National Championships.

Nationally and internationally, he always favoured Youth and Junior Championships journalistically; that is where he got to know the stars of the future and therefore often had the best access to them.

Schwenk personally witnessed more than 300 world records. He often talked about his personal highlights, the 1959 and 1960 Meetings in Zürich, where he was the only German media representative to observe the world records of Martin Lauer over 110m hurdles and Armin Hary over 100m.

When Hary had initially run the 100m at Letzigrund in 10.0, the time was not recognised due to an alleged false start, so Schwenk successfully petitioned for a re-run. Hary won this in an official world record time of 10.0, and so Schwenk himself wrote a piece of athletics history.

Schwenk, who was usually accompanied and supported by his wife Marlene in his worldwide travels, was often called a "walking encyclopaedia" due to the depth of his knowledge and his phenomenal memory. He was, however, much more than that. He always saw the human being behind the record, not just the number.

He was able to recount countless stories about any top athlete, stories of their families and friends, for athletes from the early days of athletics right to the present. His memory for numbers was infallible, and he could always cross-reference a date with events from throughout the past century; a century which he influenced as a journalist like few others, which is why the IAAF honoured him as the inaugural World Athletics Journalist in 2009, an award he was especially proud of.

Awards had followed him throughout his journalistic life, from the German Athletics Association's Golden Pin in 1959, the Carl Diem Plaque in 1984 and the Heinz Cavalier Prize in 1987 to the IAAF's Plaque of Merit in 2007.

In addition to covering athletics, Schwenk was also actively engaged in pushing organisers to provide the best possible working conditions for his profession. He was a founding member of the AIPS Athletics Commission from 1962 and a member of the IAAF Press Commission 1991-2006, as well as a Press Delegate at numerous World and European events, including nine World Junior Championships.

He embraced the changes in communication technology right into the internet age. But, even aged 90, he was known to complain that some of the websites of national athletics associations did not provide enough information. Of course he himself surpassed any computer.

With Gustav Schwenk, whose signature "Gus" became legendary, we have lost a piece of sports history. The athletics world will forever remember an outstanding journalist and a great human being.

Olaf Brockmann for the IAAF