Cliff Young (athlete)

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Cliff Young
Born Albert Ernest Clifford Young
(1922-02-08)8 February 1922
Died 2 November 2003(2003-11-02) (aged 81)
Nationality Australian
Known for Ultra Marathon winner at the age of 61

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

Early life[edit]

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 in size with approximately 2,000 sheep.[3] Young would round up the stock on foot, reckoning that it was the easiest method.[1]

In late 1982, after training for months around the Otway Ranges, Young attempted to break 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 half way at 805 km. Reflecting on the failed attempt, Young wrote that he and his support team were inexperienced and ill-prepared.[1]

Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon[edit]

In 1983, the 61-year-old potato farmer 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.[4] He ran at a slow loping pace and trailed the leaders for most of the first day, but by running while the others slept, he took the lead the first night and maintained it for the remainder of the race, eventually winning by ten hours.

Before running the race, he told the press that he had previously run for two to three days straight rounding up sheep in gumboots.[5] He claimed afterwards that during the race, he imagined that he was running after sheep and trying to outrun a storm. The Westfield run took him five days, 15 hours and four minutes,[1] almost two days faster than the previous record for any run between Sydney and Melbourne. All six competitors who finished the race broke the previous record. Despite attempting the event again in later years, Young was unable to repeat this performance or claim victory again.[4]

He 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".[6]

In 1997 at age 76, he made an attempt to beat Ron Grant's around Australia record and completed 6,520 kilometres of the 16,000-kilometre run, but he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill.[7] In 2000 he achieved a world age record in a six-day race in Victoria.[8]

Personal life[edit]

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.[9] He lived in the family home with his mother and brother Sid. Young had remained single throughout his life, but after the 1983 race, at 62 years of age, he married 23-year-old Mary Howell, 39 years his junior. The race sponsor, Westfield, hosted the wedding for the entertainment of shoppers.[4] Young and Howell divorced five years later.[8] Renowned for his ungainly running style, Young ran more than 20,000 kilometres during his competitive career.[8] 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.

The Young Shuffle[edit]

The "Young Shuffle" has been adopted by some ultra-marathon runners because it expends less energy. 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 her Sydney Comedy Festival show "The Cliff Young Shuffle" in tribute.

Cliffy telemovie[edit]

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, and Young's mother was played by Joan Sydney.[10]


  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 "End of the road for Cliff". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 3 November 2003. 
  3. ^ "Cliff Young – the farmer who inspired a nation"
  4. ^ a b c McGirr, Michael (8 November 2003). "Running the Good Race". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Jameson, Julietta (2013). Cliffy: The Cliff Young Story. Text Publishing. ISBN 978-1-922148-09-4.  ISBN 9781922079862
  6. ^ "Young, Albert Ernest Clifford". It's an Honour. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 14 Sep 2013. 26 Jan 1984 ... for long distance running 
  7. ^ "The Legend of Cliff Young: The 61 Year Old Farmer Who Won the World's Toughest Race". 30 December 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Willis, Louise (3 November 2003). "Cliff Young dies aged 81". The World Today. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Jamieson, Tania (Winter 1997). "Interview with Cliff Young". New Vegetarian and Natural Health. 40. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "Cliffy". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 

External links[edit]