Sir John Walker bronze statue unveiled
Athletics royalty were in attendance for the unveiling of a statue honouring New Zealand middledistance running legend Sir John Walker last Saturday.
They included NZ Sports Hall of Famer Bill Baillie; 1972 Olympic Games 1500m bronze medallist Rod Dixon; Arch Jelley, Sir John’s equally famous coach; and Millie Sampson, a multiple NZ women’s cross-country champion and first Kiwi woman to set a world best in the marathon.
A number couldn’t make the unveiling but sent congratulations, among them middle-distance running greats Sir Peter Snell, winner of three Olympic gold medals including the 800m and 1500m double in Tokyo in 1964, and double Olympic gold medallist and International Athletic Federation president Sebastian Coe.
Coe promised Sir John he’ll be going to Manurewa to see him and visit his statute one day soon.
The life-sized bronze statue sits on the footpath outside 171 Great South Road, facing Manurewa Central School where Sir John was educated.
It was sculptured by Flat Bush artist Joanne Sullivan, whose previous works include Phar Lap. It depicts the moment Walker crosses the finish line to win the 1500 metres gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
It cost $160,000 and was commissioned by a group of supporters - Keith Mackinlay, Graeme Douglas, one of Sir John’s first coaches, Dave Sirl, and Sir Ralph Norris - who make up the Sir John Walker Legacy Trust. They travelled the country looking at statues before settling on Sullivan as the artist.
Sir John, who was initially taken aback by the idea of having a statue in his honour, liked what he saw.
‘‘I’m really happy with it. It’s so lifelike and really captures the moment,’’ Sir John says.
Sullivan says it was an absolute dream to work on the project. ‘‘There was a lot more anatomy and athleticism to show but I’m happy and comfortable with the piece.’’
Sir John, who later attended Manurewa Intermediate and Manurewa High, broke the mile world record in 1975 with a time of 3 minutes and 49.4 seconds. The runner of 100 sub-four-minute miles broke the world 2000m record the following year.
Sir John remains actively involved in creating sports and recreation opportunities for children through his Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation.
Lady Helen Walker, left, Sir John Walker, and sculptor Joanne Sullivan and the new bronze statute of the champion runner.