When he passed away on Sunday afternoon the sport – from the school and club scene in Australia to the very top of the sport internationally - lost a key component of its engine.
There is no replacement part available.
Unlike many of his level of impact and influence might be described, Maurie was not a towering figure in the sport. For he was neither physically tall nor did he seek to impose himself in the public eye.
Although he was known to quip that – “if you stand next to the winner there’s a fair chance you’ll be in a photo”. And when in that regard he practised what he preached it was inevitably totally justified – in myriad instances Maurie Plant had made a positive difference to that athlete’s journey to success. Stewart McSweyn will have the honour of being the last.
Long-time sports promoter, mentor and mate John Toleman says that Maurie was the outstanding schoolboy sprinter and hurdler of his day and for much of the period since.
He was referring to Maurie’s achievements as a teenage athlete for Xavier College in Melbourne’s then thriving APS athletics competition and for Victoria in the then only under age interstate competition in the nation – the Shell East Coast Under 17 Match.
Maurie dominated his APS years in his own age group and sometimes the one above. The 200 metres record he set in 1967 was not bettered for forty years.
He made the Victorian Team for the under 17 match a rare three times – at 14 he was second on the 200m hurdles, an event he then won the following year. At 16 he won the 110m hurdles. He stood on the dais every year from 1966 to 1970 at the Victorian All Schools.
Fellow Athletics Australia Life Member and Sandringham club mate Gary Bourne recalls – absolutely correctly that Maurie remains the reigning Victorian junior champion for the hurdles treble with his victories at 120, 220 and 440 yards at the 1970 State Championships.
The following year when the VAAA finally converted to metric Maurie was the inaugural junior champion at the 400m hurdles – leaving the 110s to his life-long mate Peter Fitzgerald. The 1976 Olympian recalls that until around that time his sole goal in athletics was to beat Maurie Plant at something.
During the same period Maurie was often a training partner for Raelene Boyle during the prime of her career.
A serious bout of glandular fever and the ever-increasing heights of the hurdles as time marched on towards senior ranks ended Maurie’s on-track career but paved the way for an extraordinary journey off it. His known personal bests are 10.7 for 100m and 54.4 for the 400m hurdles.
He had a technical education as a draftsman but soon began working with adidas alongside AFL legend Ted Whitten and international hurdler and later on AA president David Prince.
It was through this role that Maurie developed the extraordinary knack of knowing just about everybody who needed to be known – in sport, the media and the retail trade in particular.
The chance to head to Europe and exposure to the European athletics circuit opened new doors especially through an enduring friendship with British meet promoter Andy Norman.
Maurie’s capacity to understand what was needed to make a meet great and what an athlete needed to do to be a great part of it grew rapidly. He quickly grasped the complex logistics of what it took to get each athlete to the starting line as well as the motivations that might lead a spectator to turn up or a television viewer to tune in.
Maurie came to know the rules and procedures for every event but always left those matters to the technical officials – the volunteers he knew were critical for a successful meet and for whom he always had massive respect. Those he would say were not of his concern – for they were ”matters technical”.
From assisting Andy securing athletes a start and then getting them to and from meets all over Europe, Maurie soon became an athletes’ representative (the sport’s term for an agent) in his own right – no better exemplified than by his work from day one with a young Darren Clark.
This was a crucial moment for Australia’s athletes. The country’s best had often made it in some way onto the European circuit but Maurie’s emergence in the role opened the floodgates for a great many others.
It was a boom time in Europe. At the height of the season there was a meet of reasonable significance on just about every day – on the more popular days two or more.
But it was well before the days of mobile phones, email and online ticketing and it took special skills and connections to seize the moment – to take up a spare lane and then get an athlete on a plane and to another city for a meet at almost no notice at all.
Maurie was supreme at doing all of that. Always attuned to or ahead of the game he mastered the use of the telex machine – and was more than ready for the arrival of the ground breaking technology of the facsimile.
He was quick to conquer the use of email but his predilection for bizarre choices of font often left recipients wondering what he was actually communicating about.
Concurrently Maurie moved into meet organisation roles beyond assisting Andy. In Europe he developed career long involvements and wonderful personal relationships in particular with Wilfried Meert and Svein Arne Hansen and their teams which each year deliver the Van Damme in Brussels and the Bislett Games in Oslo respectively. But in different ways with many other meets as well.
At home in Australia Maurie took on from 1984 the acquisition of international runners for the emerging Australian Marathon in Sydney and impressive cast lists for meets such as those that were part of the America’s Cup Festival of Sport in Perth in 1987.
He was the assistant mayor of the Village for the IAAF World Cup in Canberra in 1985 and instrumental in putting together an extraordinary “warm-up” meet at ES Marks Field in Sydney the weekend before. The two hour spectacle began at 9.00am because Maurie knew that would best suit the European athletes who had arrived in the previous 24 hours. The world top lists for that year were turned on their head.
Like Wilfried and Svein Arne, AA’s second general manager Neil King was one of those who “got” Maurie’s skills and connections – and the extent of the difference he could make for Australian athletics.
A domestic season was emerging through the Mobil Grand Prix Series and the NEC Classic in Melbourne. By the time in 1993 Sydney was awarded the Olympic Games AA was ready to take full advantage.
A different set of floodgates opened. This time it was athletes from all over the world coming to Australia for training camps and a chance to compete in a vibrant and expanding domestic circuit with a meet in every state and the ACT.
Maurie’s influence was enormous. What he was able to deliver – often with tiny budgets compared to European Meets - was extraordinary.
Australian athletes blossomed – relishing the new competition opportunities and quality international opposition - all available on their own doorstep.
Maurie then found competitions all over the world for this rapidly growing list of top level Australian athletes. During the 1990s it was not unusual for more than 100 Australians to be in Europe at the one time – accessing both one-day circuit meets and international matches that Maurie had set-up with other countries.
Maurie’s own international standing was growing. He was appointed as a member of the IAAF Grand Prix Commission and as an announcer at world youth championships and IAAF grand prix finals – including his pride and joy edition in Melbourne in 2001.
His understanding of what made athletics look good on the screen and his exceptional connection with the top athletes of the world led to a long involvement with BBC Sport.
His legendary spot at the entrance to the TV zone as athletes exited the arena at all the major meets must have terrified those keen to make a quick getaway - for they had no chance of making it past the very first stop.
At home Maurie had a special passion for the annual Melbourne Meet – and worked hard to ensure it remained for so long on the IAAF World Challenge Calendar. He was devastated when it was no longer.
But his interest in the other meets on the Australian circuit never waned. There were quality international athletes at all of them. With Maurie’s encouragement Australia’s best turned up whenever their event was on the schedule – sometimes, even when it was not, so keen were they not to miss out on a special time in Australian athletics.
Maurie got the athletes to the meet hotels, made sure the ground transport schedule from there to the track was correct and then morphed into the role of meet announcer – usually handing over to someone else for the last event so he could take charge of the transport once again.
As recounted by many – his race and field event calling was the stuff of legend. His spooky ability to detect an exceptional performance might be in the wind was a competition director or television producer’s nightmare but the usually spot-on outcome was inevitably what made a meet or a telecast so memorable – as was the volume of his call of the moment.
Maurie’s penchant for making out-of-the-blue insistence on just about anything was very hard to resist. It was unwise to do so for his intuition was rarely misplaced.
His behind-the-scenes roles in ensuring the quality of the entry lists at the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane and IAAF Grand Prix Final in Melbourne and the 2006 and 2018 editions of the Commonwealth Games were little known beyond the inner sanctum of each organising committee - but were vital in growing public interest in international athletics competition in Australia.
Few teams had come to Sydney for the Olympics in 2000 without Maurie Plant’s hand on the training camp or pre-competition arrangements. He was always looking for opportunities for athletes from the island federations of Oceania and warmly embraced their participation in competitions in Australia.
Maurie was immensely proud of the Australian Sports Medal he received in 2000 in recognition of his service to athletics. His life membership of Athletics Australia came in in 2006.
He served on numerous AA committees and commissions and was assistant manager of the athletics section of 1986 Commonwealth Games Team.
For all of his considerable generosity Maurie really only expected commitment or loyalty in return. Either sufficient – both preferred. His long term loyalty to others was beyond measure. No better exemplified when with zero interest in political activity he headed north to be an integral part of Ron Clarke’s successful campaign to become mayor of the Gold Coast.
There was a wonderful life away from athletics for Maurie. After marrying Kate in 1990 they raised three sons – Ben, Toby and Rory. Their home was always open to friends and family. Maurie loved nothing more than to be stationed at the barbeque – cooking up a range of exotically marinated nibbles always followed by something more substantial. He was a fine host.
He was an aficionado of many sports – and could hold court on most of them. Sports trivia was his daily bread.
Maurie had a few health battles over the past decade – most notably restricting how far and easily he could walk. He had open heart surgery in July 2019.
But nothing could slow him down. He had become particularly passionate about ensuring Australia’s hosting of the 2021 world athletics cross country championship would be a success – travelling in November to Portugal with LOC chair Brenda LaPorte to Lisbon to observe the European equivalent and working with Home Affairs on a visa strategy.
He was busy mapping out the qualifying and preparation paths that the athletes he advised should take in order to make it to Tokyo in 2020 - just as he had done in the past for countless others including in more recent times Olympic champions Catherine Freeman, Steve Hooker, Valerie Adams and Sally Pearson.
Maurie contracted septicaemia soon after Christmas. He was in a coma for three weeks but did not wake before his passing.
He is survived by Ben, Toby and Rory and his siblings – Commonwealth Games hurdles finalist Vin, Cecily, Michael and Elaine.
Maurie’s funeral service to which family, friends and the athletics community are most welcome will be held on Wednesday 29 January 2020 at 10.00m at St Ignatius Church, 326 Church Street, Richmond, Melbourne.