Reg and me: Peter Crombie’s last years with the sprint legend

Professional sprinter Reg Austin trains at Centennial Park, Sydney, 18 January 1981.

Centennial Park in 1981.

Peter Crombie, a disciple of fellow Aussie legend Reg Austin, shared his memories of the late sprinter — plus photos. Peter tells of how Reg apparently collapsed from a stroke, leading to his death. He writes: “I have been visiting Reg in his nursing home for some years now, and Magosia (Peter’s partner), and I would take him out for a coffee and morning tea which he used to love. In the early days, some years ago, Reg had had a few falls including down the stairs at home, presumably arising from small strokes. It was then decided it was safer for him in a nursing home where he could receive proper care. At the time, his speech was slurred and he could do no more than shuffle with a walking frame. He could not even hold a coffee cup, which would spill all over him when he tried to lift it.”


Peter continues:

In the beginning, Reg was unable to leave his room but started doing his strength exercises and was ultimately able to shuffle out of the home with me with his frame and we would take him out.

Reg and Peter Crombie.

Reg and Peter Crombie, fellow sprint champ.

His speech was still poor and it was difficult to understand his mumble but this gradually improved. Over a period of time, we took him out for more and more morning teas along the waterfront at Manly, which he said was the highlight of his week.

Over a period, Reg dispensed with his walking frame and gravitated to a walking stick and then to carrying the stick although his walk was still a little slow. At no time during the whole episode did Reg ever have trouble relating his many stories or being up with the latest football scores or being able to carry out a normal conversation.

We took him out to the recent NSW State Titles and the Nationals, which were in Sydney and he was in good spirits, just loving the outing. I took him to training a few times and even to our squad race night, which he particularly loved as squad members came up to him to chat.

None of these people had ever met him before except for his incredible records but treated him with great reverence when hearing of his many track exploits in masters sprinting and professional handicap running where he was also a superstar in his younger days.

Reg with his two best mates at the time, Jim Smith and Peter.

Reg with his two best mates at the time, Jim Smith and Peter. “We went to the inaugural Central Australian Masters Games in Alice Springs.”

Reg used to walk down to the local gym at Manly nearly every day and do an exercise workout and either walk or catch the bus back. He was tireless in his attempts to get stronger and was achieving some success.

Just before he died, I had arranged again to bring Reg to a weekend training session in the winter sun, and he was quite excited. I rang to give him pickup details and he advised that he was in hospital for a gall bladder operation. He had apparently passed some kidney stones.

Despite the fact that they had seemed to disappear and after tests at the hospital it was decided to still proceed with his operation. He had to be under scrutiny as he was taken off his blood thinners leading in to the operation.

He had walked down to the hospital coffee shop to buy himself a coffee where he was found on the ground where he collapsed, presumably from a stroke. He had hit his head in the fall and blood apparently pooled in his head.

Reg Austin anD Peter's partner Magosia

Reg Austin and Peter’s partner Magosia

He was in a coma for some days from which he gradually started to improve, although only marginally to the extent where he could briefly open his eyes and even say a word or two. The doctors advised the family that he would never ever improve from his current state and were surprised at how long he had lasted.

They advised that all life-support systems be turned off, and four days later Reg died on Tuesday 30 June. Reg was one of the greatest sprinters in the world of masters athletics, setting seven world records over sprint distances ranging from 100, 200 and 400 in age groups including M35, 40, 45 and M50. He broke multiple NSW and Australian records during his reign and some of these still stand.

Reg was one of the early inductees into the Australian Masters Hall of Fame in a well- deserved tribute to this famous athlete. I sought Reg out as a mentor some 30 years ago and ran with him in his squad as a workhorse for him for some years despite me being some seven years younger. He was always helpful and a hard-working trainer who would always turn up.

I later left his squad to start up my own and was able to carry with me his fierce determination to succeed.

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July 1, 2015

2 Responses

  1. Matt B. - July 1, 2015

    Fast. A few weeks older and that time would still stand today as a M50 WR

  2. Roger Pierce - July 2, 2015

    Most of us have never heard of Reggie, but I had read about him back when I began sprinting as a Master in 1984. I was very impressed by his incredible sprint times in the 100 and 200m and had the honor of meeting him and at an outdoor USA Masters Nationals ( I believe it was Indianapolis,Indiana in 1990) Because I was born in Australia, I was particularly interested in his career and spoke with him for some time between our events. I saw him run down World Record Holder California’s Ken Dennis (who had an exceptional start)in the 100m in which Reggie came from 4 meters back at the halfway mark to nip Dennis at the tape in an absolutely spectacular race.
    Sorry to hear how difficult the end of his life had been… Thank you Peter for your compassion and kindness to this amazing athlete. Rest in peace Reg.

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