The Northern Advocate
‘He was one in a billion’
Friend and teammate: Barry Magee remembers Sir Murray Halberg
It was Sir Murray Halberg’s mind that made him “beyond human”, according to friend and teammate Barry Magee. The New Zealand athletics legend passed away on Wednesday night at the age of 89, leaving a tremendous legacy both on and off the track.
Magee, who trained with Halberg under the tutelage of revolutionary coach Arthur Lydiard, claimed bronze in the marathon at the same 1960 Olympics where Halberg won 5000m gold. Recalling what Halberg overcame just to reach the start line in Rome, Magee paid tribute to his friend’s indomitable spirit.
“Halberg had a mind and attitude that was unbeatable,” Magee told Newstalk ZB’s D’Arcy Waldegrave. “He was never beaten in his mind.
“He nearly died when he was 17 from a rugby tackle, and his operation left him with a withered arm, but somehow he came back with a determination that was beyond human.
“He won hundreds of races by one inch or a centimetre, with sheer guts and determination, against people who were possibly far faster than he was. There’s been nobody like Halberg — he was the toughest competitor I ever raced in my 54 years of running.
“That’s what he put into sport — if he had the determination to do something, he did it. You can’t measure that. He’s one in a billion and he’s certainly the greatest athlete I have ever raced against.”
That arm disability, which forced Halberg to teach himself to do everything with his right hand, was severe enough that Magee believed he would in modern times have competed in para-athletics.
Instead, after conquering the world, Halberg turned his focus toward helping those facing similar hurdles through his foundation, continuing to make his mark long after his racing career had concluded.
“He did something and put something into place with his heart and his arm,” Magee said. “To think that Halberg today, if he was 22 or something, he would be running in the disabled games because he would be considered disabled.
“But he just went out and beat the world, which was six billion people. In certain sports like rugby, you don’t have to beat 200 countries. But the likes of Halberg and [Sir Peter] Snell, that’s what they did. They massacred them.
“That legacy is incredible, but then Murray went on to do all this wonderful charitable work. They have done many things with the Halberg Foundation all over New Zealand, and now the whole world has disabled things, all because it was started off by the likes of Halberg.”
Magee, now 88, believed everything the Kiwi athletes accomplished was owed to Lydiard, who instilled in his pupils “determination and guts”, but said Halberg had something extra that made his passing a great loss.
“It’s a loss to the world, a loss to New Zealand, a loss to sport,” Magee said. “But what a legacy he leaves behind.
“There’s only one Sir Murray Halberg. What he has done with disabled children in society and sport, and Olympic gold and two Commonwealth golds and five world records, it’s just incredible.”