Last week (23/3), major athletics returned to ES Marks Field in Sydney for the first time in three decades with the Chemist Warehouse Track Classic, where a surprisingly big crowd saw some of the nation’s finest young athletes competing in what turned out be a fascinating night, and fans witnessed some of the best performances of the season, with a number of current and future stars of the sport on display.
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As expected, Jess Hull and teen sensation Cameron Myers won their respective national titles in the 3000m, with some impressive depth in both races. Ebony Lane, Bree Masters, Ella Connolly & Torrie Lewis broke the national record in the 4 x 100m relay (42.94), a record that had survived the best part of two and a half decades. The junior girls also broke their national record in the 4x100m, running 44.34.

There was a great battle in the women’s 800m, with stars Abbie Caldwell and Catriona Bisset fighting it out down the home straight, with only a couple of metres separating the two women (1.59.71 to 2.00.29). The men’s 800m was equally captivating, with Luke Boyes just edging out Peyton Craig (1.45.86 to 1.45.87). We also saw Olympic semi finalist Rowan Browning stamp his class on the field with a relatively easy 10.29 win in the 100m.
Photo ©Steve Christo/Athletics Australia

There is a rich history of athletics at ES Marks, spanning about 65 years. It was originally a cinders track, on the edge of the Moore Park Golf Course, around 4 to 5km from Sydney’s CBD, just across the road from Centennial Park and was Sydney’s premier athletics venue of the 1960s. It was the home of Sydney Interclub, with some other events – schools championships etc. – using the old Sydney Sports Ground and, on occasion, the hallowed turf of the SCG.

In the ’70s, most of Sydney’s Interclub athletics and NSW Championships moved to Hensley Field at Pagewood, with Narrabeen’s synthetic track (now Sydney Academy of Sport and Rec.) catering to Little Athletics and some other events. These were, at the time, Sydney’s only viable venues able to cater to larger athletic events and the only synthetic surfaces up to scratch.
By the late 1970s, Hensley and Narrabeen were in dire need of upgrades. The tracks were worn through overuse and the grandstands and other facilities were severely limited in their ability to cater to big events. The NSW Government, in consultation with the NSW AAA (now Athletics NSW) and Randwick Council, began a huge overhaul of ES Marks. It was an ideal spot. It was centrally located and had plenty of space around the track, so could cater to bigger crowds. The grandstand was upgraded, a state-of-the-art electronic timing system was installed and a brand new Olymprene synthetic rubber surface was laid.

The first big test of the new track came in early 1980, when the 1979-80 National Championships were held at ES Marks for the first time in 7 years. It was a memorable event. The late great Rick Mitchell ran a national record (45.35) in the 400m, winning by a second-and-a-half. Ken Lorroway came out on top in his duel with Ian Campbell in the triple jump (17.29w) and Steve Austin won the 5000m/10,000m double. Denise Boyd destroyed a star-studded field in the women’s 200m, which included a resurgent Raelene Boyle, running what was a  top-tier world-class performance and long-standing national record of 22.35.

Rick Mitchell winning silver at the 1980 Olympic 400m final
From 1980 until 1994, when championship events and Interclub moved to Homebush upon the completion of Sydney Olympic Park, there were many memorable moments at ES Marks.Legendary walk champion Kerry Saxby broke a world track record for 3000m and in 1983, 18 year-old local star Darren Clark produced a 45.37 400m and a 20.49 200m on consecutive weekends. A few months later, Mike Hillardt snuck inside Graham Crouch’s national 1500m record (3.34.20) to defeat world record-holder and Olympic champion Steve Ovett.
The 1985 NSW State Championships saw a thrilling finish to the men’s 400m, with Nowra’s Alan Ozolins coming from nowhere to mow down the 17 year-old future Olympian and World Junior Champion  Miles Murphy and take the title in a huge PB (46.10).
In 1987, the Nationals returned to ES Marks and we saw Olympic medallist Gael Martin dominate the shot and discus. Future Commonwealth 5000m champ Andrew Lloyd moved down to the 1500m and ran down former Commonwealth 800m champion Peter Bourke to grab the silver behind Hillardt. Murphy won another 400m title and the Honey brothers (Gary and Neil) dominated the long jump and pole vault respectively.
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In January 1990, ES Marks hosted an Australia  vs England match prior to that month’s Commonwealth Games in Auckland.  Fans were lucky to see future Olympic and World Champions such as Linford Christie and Colin Jackson,  as well as one of the last appearances of the great Sebastian Coe, who won the 800m.
The Nationals returned the following year. Here we saw the emergence of a few stars of the future. West Australian Dean Capobianco won the 100m/200m double and the AIS athlete Simon Doyle (QLD), who somehow had ranked second on theTrack and Field News rankings for 1500m the previous year, won the 800m/1500m double. Doyle was one of a group of successful AIS athletes at these Championships. Shaun Creighton had begun his dominance of the steeple, easily winning the gold. The multi-talented Creighton, originally from Armidale NSW, was a class above his competitors. Rod Higgins, another athlete from the New England region of NSW, won the first of two national titles that year, with a win over Steve Moneghetti in the 5000m. Another exciting race saw future Olympic finalist Rohan Robinson beat fellow Victorian Tony Briggs in the 400m hurdles. Briggs, originally from NSW, is now a renowned actor/writer/producer and has been a big name in Australian cinema for many years now.
There were a few more major events over the next couple of seasons. Simon Doyle broke Steve Foley’s national 2000m record, running 5.00.84 in early 1992 – a record which survived 14 years and, a few weeks later, Andrew Lloyd ran what is still the track record (7.46.18) in a narrow win over Doyle in a 3000m race. Darren Clark returned from an ill-advised foray into Rugby League, running a 45.53 400m in January 1993 and backed it up with a 46.26 in blustery conditions at the State Championships the following month, before winning a bronze in the World Indoor 400m a month later. One of the last big races at ES Marks, a meeting in early 1994, featured Clark vs Capobianco over 400m. Capo got the nod by 1/100th of a second over the champion Clark in a thrilling home straight tussle (45.48 to 45.49).
The move of all major athletics events to Homebush meant that ES Marks was relegated to a training venue, which catered to the occasional school event and the facility became run down and, eventually, was desperately in need of a complete revamp. In recent years, the local and state governments have redone the Boronia St entrance and knocked down part of the southern end of the grandstand and repaved the driveway. The track surface – in a terrible state a few years ago – has been completely redone. The grandstand seating has also been markedly improved.
Last month’s event was obviously a huge success. Given the central location of ES Marks and the popularity of the Chemist Warehouse Track Classic, we can probably look forward to important athletics events returning to Sydney’s inner city at this historic venue in the near future.