Rick Mitchell

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For the American television meteorologist, see Rick Mitchell (meteorologist).
Rick Mitchell
Personal information
Born 24 March 1955

Richard ("Rick") Charles Mitchell (born 24 March 1955 in Sydney) is an Australian triple Olympian who competed in the 400 metres.

Commencing in athletics at the relatively late age of seventeen, he joined the Waverley Athletics Club in Melbourne in 1972 with the aim of improving his fitness before the following rugby union season. After two seasons with Waverley, Mitchell met coach Norm Osborne, who coached at St Stephens Harriers. He transferred to St Stephens and they would work as coach and athlete for the remainder of Mitchell's career.

At age nineteen Mitchell placed second in the Australian 400 metre title in 1974 when five days too old to contest the junior title in a time of 47.7s and things looked promising. However, he was to miss the next full off season build up following a bout of glandular fever and despite lowering his personal best to 46.8s at the end of the 1974-5 season, Mitchell placed second again to Steven Gee from New South Wales.

The following off season in 1975 saw Mitchell complete his first dedicated build up and he quickly emerged as the dominant Australian 400 metre runner during the following summer, defeating Gee for the first time in December 1975, before equalling the Australian record of 45.7s and claiming both the Victorian and Australian titles easily.

Mitchell was chosen in the Australian team for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and in a competition notable for disappointing Australian performances, he reached the Olympic Final on his international debut, finishing 6th in an Australian record.

Two years later Mitchell competed in his first 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, where in extremely windy conditions, and having to run four rounds of 400 metre races in 30 hours he proved too strong for his opponents, taking the individual 400 metre gold medal and anchoring the 4x400 metre relay team to third place.

In 1979, Mitchell elected not to contest the World Cup, preferring to remain in Australia to build up for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in similar fashion to the preparation he followed in 1975. He again dominated the domestic season, lowering the national 400 metre record on four occasions as well as winning the Victorian 200 / 400 metre sprint double and again claiming the national title. In that race Mitchell lowered the national record to 45.35s in demolishing a field where the runner up ran 46.80.

Named as Australian team captain, Mitchell enjoyed good lead up form, winning at his first run after the national titles in Pisa, before defeating a strong,largely American field in Stuttgart and 1979 world 400 leader Harald Schmid of West Germany, in an Australian record time of 45.26. It was Mitchell's last competition prior to contesting the Olympics. In Moscow he easily reached his second Olympic final. The race itself was won by Russian Viktor Markin in a European record of 44.60s (The fastest time in the world for three seasons), while Mitchell finished strongly to take the silver medal in 44.84s. This time was the 12th fastest in history (full electronic timing) and was a Commonwealth record. Third placegetter, Frank Schaffer of East Germany, produced the fastest time ever for third outside of the altitude influenced Olympics conducted in Mexico City in 1968. Mitchell's silver medal from Moscow remains the last individual men's running medal won at the Olympic Games by an Australian and the only track and field medal won by an Australian in an eastern bloc country.

Mitchell then continued to race in Europe, where he frequently met American athletes who had not contested the Olympic Games following America's boycott of the meeting over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. However Mitchell defeated all of the prominent Americans during this time. He remained unbeaten against Billy Mullins with whom he shared the equal second fastest time of the year and was ranked second for the year over 400 metres by Track and Field News ahead of all American athletes. In 2012, Rick Mitchell was inducted into the Australian Athletics Hall of Fame. Among his other honours, Mitchell was also the Australian flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.