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AOC participates in 30 Year Anniversary Uluru relay run

18 July 2015

AOC: The nation’s most iconic natural landmark played host to a historic Australian-first relay run to celebrate the 30 year Anniversary of the handing back of Uluru to its traditional owners.


The Indigenous Marathon Foundation (IMF) along with the Mutitjulu Community hosted a special 10km indigenous Relay Run around the base of Uluru, which proved to be one of Australia’s most historical and culturally significant events ever witnessed.

Indigenous runners from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island remote and regional communities across the country, came together with a number of non-Indigenous supporters in to the spiritual heart of Australia.

IMF Founder and Director, Rob de Castella said the event was one of the nation’s most significant events.

“Australia’s Indigenous culture is the world’s longest living culture and we are so proud of our deep, rich history.”

“This was one of the nation’s most unforgettable events, celebrated by political leaders, IMF supporters and Indigenous and non-indigenous people.”

With more than 100 people participating in the event, a broad spectrum of Australia’s Indigenous population were present to celebrate one of Australia’s most sacred and significant historic Indigenous icons, Uluru.

After participating in IMF's Deadly Fun Run championships earlier in the day, the Australian Olympic Committee was proud to be asked to enter two teams in this iconic relay, consisting of Indigenous Olympians and aspiring athletes, Olympic medallists, AOC CEO Fiona de Jong and AOC staff members.

Indigenous Olympians Kyle Vander-Kuyp, Beki Lee and Desmond Abbott all participated in the race, representing the 43 Indigenous athletes who have represented Australia at the Summer Olympic Games.

Vander-Kuyp ran in the 110 metres hurdles at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and remains Australia’s fastest hurdler – his national record for the 110m race stands at 13.29s, which he ran in 1995.  At the Atlanta Games, he finished seventh and was the first Australian high hurdler to run in an Olympic final since Helsinki 1952. 

Vander-Kuyp also attended four Commonwealth Games and four World Championships, winning a total of 12 senior Australian titles throughout his career.  

Vander-Kuyp said this experience was truly life changing for him, and a fantastic opportunity to pay respect to his Indigenous heritage. 

“When we were at our relay change point, all participants lined up, picked up the sacred soil, threw it in the air and said our names and where we came from,” he said speaking of this traditional act of showing respect to the iconic landmark. 

“To be given the opportunity to do his highly respectful Aboriginal act, with both Indigenous brothers and sisters, and non-indigenous Australians was truly amazing, and a phenomenal joining of two cultures."

Vander-Kuyp was joined by fellow Indigenous Olympians, Beki Lee and Des Abbott. 

Beki Lee's breakthrough performance came at the Australian Race Walking Championships in December 2011. Lee smashed her personal best by over two-and-a-half minutes and recorded her first Olympic A qualifier with a time of 1:33:09.

The London 2012 Games saw Lee make her Olympic debut where she finished 28th in the 20km walk.

Darwin-born, Desmond Abbott made his debut in the Australian Men’s hockey team, the Kookaburras, in 2007 and has represented Australia at the Olympic Games, World Cup, Commonwealth Games, four Champions Trophy tournaments and the Oceania Cup.

Making 111 appearances for the Kookaburras, Abbott’s international career saw him win an Olympic bronze medal, and World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold.

In 2010, he was named in the International Hockey Federation’s World All Star team for the year alongside Kookaburras teammates Jamie Dwyer and Eddie Ockenden.

These Indigenous Olympians were joined by a current member of the Australian women’s rugby sevens squad and Indigenous athlete, Tanisha Stanton.

Stanton was welcomed to Rugby Sevens Program in 2014, after representing NSW in netball and Touch Football.

The Australian women’s rugby sevens team secured their qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games earlier this year after coming second in the World Sevens Series, and Stanton was part of the silver medal winning team at the recent Pacific Games in Port Morseby.

These Indigenous athletes were also joined by 2008 Beijing bronze medallist, Hannah Davis, who won her Olympic medal in the women’s Kayak K4 event.

Placed fifth with 250 metres to go, the crew produced an extra effort to finish third behind women’s kayaking powerhouses, Germany and Hungary. This was the best Olympic performance by a women’s K4 crew.

Davis returned to the K4 at the 2012 London Olympic Games finishing sixth in semi-final. Hannah now works as a Programs Manager at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, which aims to creates opportunities for Indigenous youth by delivering life-changing programs and promoting progressive through leadership.

These athletes joined together to form two relay teams, running the very special 10km around Uluru and enjoyed the afternoon of being a part of the IMF and Mutitjulu communities. 

Each of the groups participating in the event also paid their respects to the elders of the region, by presenting a special stick that was passed from runner to runner during the relay, and signified something special for each community. 

Rob de Castella said this ceremony was a vital part of the event. 

"After the run, we had wonderful ceremony when each of the communities presented their message sticks, their relay baton, to the elders out at Mutitjulu as an acknowledgment of the significance of the hand-back, he said. 

The AOC presented the elders with a signed Olympic flag, to symbolise the dedication of ensuring Indigenous Olympians and the wider Indigenous community are always a part of the Australia Olympic team and are represented at the Olympic Games. 

Participation in the IMF Anniversary relay-run marks just one of the ways the AOC is broadening Indigenous partnerships. 

At the Annual General Meeting, held in May this year, members of Australian Olympic Committee demonstrated their dedication of recognising indigenous heritage by unanimously voting to amend the Constitution to recognise the nation’s first people.

The new passage in the AOC Constitution reads: “To recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.” 

These changes to the Constitution, also brought about the re-wording of Team values developed by the AOC Athletes’ commission endorsing the proposal to the value within the word Respect to read: “I respect sport, the efforts of my competitors, my team mates and officials. I respect Australia and its indigenous heritage. I respect our nation’s Olympic past and the spirit of Olympism.”    

As well as the changes to the Constitution, the wording of the Team values developed by the AOC Athletes’ Commission has been amended and the AOC has engaged with the Indigenous Marathon Project run by Robert de Castella to provide practical long-term assistance. 

The AOC will continue to work with the Indigenous Marathon Project, government and other agencies to inspire indigenous children in remote communities.

This Anniversary relay-run marked an incredibly special moment in the lives of all the athletes participating, as well as the ‘deadly’ runners who came from Indigenous communities around Australia. 

The AOC was truly honoured to have been invited to participate alongside the Indigenous Marathon Foundation. 

Ashleigh Knight

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