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Cliff Young (athlete)

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Cliff Young
Albert Ernest Clifford Young

(1922-02-08)8 February 1922
Died2 November 2003(2003-11-02) (aged 81)
Queensland, Australia
Known forUltramarathon winner at the age of 61

Albert Ernest Clifford Young OAM (8 February 1922[1] – 2 November 2003[2]) was an Australian potato farmer[2] and athlete from Beech Forest, Victoria. He was best known for his unexpected win of the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983 at 61 years of age.[3][4]

Early life


Born the eldest son and the third of seven children of Mary and Albert Ernest Young on 8 February 1922, Albert Ernest Clifford Young grew up on a farm in Beech Forest in southwestern Victoria.[1] The family farm was approximately 2,000 acres (810 ha) with approximately 2,000 sheep.[5] As a child, Young was forced to round up the stock on foot, as the family were very poor during the depression and could not afford horses.[1]

Running and ultramarathons


In 1979, at the age of 56, he competed in the Adidas Sun Superun 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) race which crossed the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne. He ran the race at a very respectable 64 minutes and was interviewed by the media.[6]

Cliff then ran the Melbourne Marathon with a time of 3:21:41 in 1979. He would go on to compete in 1980, 1981, and 1982, setting a personal best of 3:02:53 in 1980, aged 58.[7]

In late 1982, after training for months around the Otway Ranges, Young attempted to break New Zealander Siegfried "Ziggy" Bauer's then world record for 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of 11 days and 23 hours. The attempt took place in Colac's Memorial Square. Young had to abandon the world record attempt just after halfway at 805 kilometres (500 mi). Reflecting on the failed attempt, Young wrote that he and his support team were inexperienced and ill-prepared.[1]

In 1983, now aged 61 years old, Young won the inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon, a distance of 875 kilometres (544 mi). The race was run between what were then Australia's two largest Westfield shopping centres: Westfield Parramatta in Sydney and Westfield Doncaster in Melbourne.[8] Young arrived to compete in overalls and work boots, without his dentures (later saying that they rattled when he ran).[9] He ran at a slow and loping pace and trailed the pack by a large margin at the end of the first day. While the other competitors stopped to sleep for six hours, Young kept running. He ran continuously for five days, taking the lead during the first night and eventually winning by 10 hours. Before running the race, he had told the press that he had previously run for two to three days straight rounding up sheep in gumboots.[10] He said afterwards that during the race he imagined he was running after sheep trying to outrun a storm. The Westfield run took him five days, fifteen hours and four minutes,[1] almost two days faster than the previous record for any run between Sydney and Melbourne, at an average speed of 6.5 kilometres per hour (4.0 mph). All six competitors who finished the race broke the old record. Upon being awarded the prize of A$10,000 (equivalent to $36,011 in 2022), Young said that he did not know there was a prize and that he felt bad accepting it, as each of the other five runners who finished had worked as hard as he did—so he split the money equally between them, keeping none.[11] Despite attempting the event again in later years, Young was unable to repeat this performance or claim victory again.[8]

Young became very popular after this "tortoise and hare" feat, so much so that in Colac, Victoria, the Cliff Young Australian Six-Day Race was established that same year. In 1984, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia "for long distance running".[12]

In 1997, at age 75,[13] he made an attempt to beat Ron Grant's around-Australia record. He completed 6,520 kilometres of the 16,000-kilometre run, but had to pull out because his only crew member became ill.[3]

In 2000, Young achieved a world age record in a six-day race in Victoria.[13]

Personal life

Memorial to Young in the form of a gumboot in Beech Forest, Victoria
Cliff Young memorial plaque

Young was a vegetarian from 1973 until his death.[14] He lived at the family home with his mother and brother Sid. Cliff had never married, but after the 1983 race, at 62 years of age, he married 23-year-old Mary Howell. The race sponsor, Westfield, hosted the wedding for the entertainment of shoppers.[8] Young and Howell divorced five years later.[13] Renowned for his ungainly running style, Young ran more than 20,000 kilometres during his competitive career.[13] After five years of illness and several strokes, he died of cancer at the age of 81 on 2 November 2003 at his home in Queensland.[2]

A memorial in the shape of a gumboot in Beech Forest is dedicated to Young and the Cliff Young Drive and Cliff Young Park there are named after him.[citation needed]

"Young Shuffle"


The "Young Shuffle" has been adopted by some ultramarathon runners because it expends less energy.[2] At least three winners of the Sydney-to-Melbourne race were known to use the "Young Shuffle" to win the race.[citation needed] In 2010, comedian Hannah Gadsby named their Sydney Comedy Festival show "The Cliff Young Shuffle" in tribute.[15]

Cliffy telemovie


In May 2013, ABC1 broadcast Cliffy, a telemovie about Young's victorious 1983 run. The telemovie starred Kevin Harrington as Young, with his race support team played by Roy Billing as his coach Wally, Anne Tenney as his sister Eunice, and Joshua Hine as Paul. Krew Boylan featured as Mary Howell. Young's mother was played by Joan Sydney.[16]

Young appeared briefly as himself in an episode (No. 479) of the television drama Prisoner: Cell Block H.


  1. ^ a b c d e Young, A. E. C. (1995). Cliffy's Book. Dargo: High Country Publishing. ISBN 978-0-646-23241-6.
  2. ^ a b c d "End of the road for Cliff". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 November 2003. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  3. ^ a b "The Legend of Cliff Young: The 61 Year Old Farmer Who Won the World's Toughest Race". Elitefeet.com. 30 December 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  4. ^ Cliff Young farmer who outran field, farmprogress.com
  5. ^ "Cliff Young – the farmer who inspired a nation". my-inspirational-quotes.com. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009.
  6. ^ ""From Gumboots to Glory"" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 March 2019.
  7. ^ "Search for Runners - Ausrunning". ausrunning.net. Retrieved 10 March 2023.
  8. ^ a b c McGirr, Michael (8 November 2003). "Running the Good Race". The Age. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  9. ^ Jameson, Julietta (22 March 2013). "Forever Young: The Cliff Young story". The Newcastle Herald. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  10. ^ Jameson, Julietta (2013). Cliffy: The Cliff Young Story. Text Publishing. ISBN 978-1-922148-09-4. ISBN 978-1-922079-86-2
  11. ^ "When age and modesty won the race". The Sydney Morning Herald. 14 November 2003. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Young, Albert Ernest Clifford". It's an Honour. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 26 Jan 1984 ... for long distance running
  13. ^ a b c d Willis, Louise (3 November 2003). "Cliff Young dies aged 81". The World Today. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  14. ^ Jamieson, Tania (Winter 1997). "Interview with Cliff Young". New Vegetarian and Natural Health. coolrunning.com.au: 40. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  15. ^ Humphries, David (30 April 2020). "From the Archives, 1983: Cliff Young "shuffles" from Sydney to Melbourne". The Age. Retrieved 24 November 2023.
  16. ^ "Cliffy". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 26 May 2013.