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As the Olympic Games kick off in London,
Cpl Nick Wiseman looks back 60 years to
the extremes one Australian soldier endured
in search of Olympic glory.
Chasing the Olympic dream
IT'S 1952 and 3RAR is deployed
to the Korean front line. Despite
the continuing threat of enemy fire
and snipers, a lone figure could be
seen each day darting throughout the
muddy and uneven terrain striving
for Olympic greatness.
Shipped off for service in Korea the
year before, signals officer Capt Claude
Smeal had already proven himself as
an elite athlete as the NSW marathon
War correspondent at the time and
Olympic historian Harry Gordon said
Capt Smeal was in a ridiculous posi-
"The Australians were rarely out of
the front line in Korea," he said.
"He wanted to run the way athletes
run so he set about training despite
being on the front line."
Capt Smeal was even warned by his
CO one day, who told him he could be
shot by snipers, but despite the threat he
continued to train and was eventually
discovered by two war correspondents
in the area.
Keen to assist in getting Capt Smeal
into the Olympic team they measured
out a makeshift track and timed his per-
Although not to official Olympic
conditions, he ran a good time and the
correspondents then made contact back
to Australia to get Capt Smeal into the
Australian Olympic team.
Based on his results and the help of
some influential parties he was approved
for the team and advised a fare was paid
for him from Tokyo to London. There
was only one small hitch -- he was still
Forced to find his own way to Tokyo,
he managed to hitchhike on a flight
out of Korea and made his pre-organ-
ised fare, meeting up with the team in
In London he was given some limited
team clothing and the team then made
their way to the Games in Helsinki,
where he finally got to experience the
race for which he had trained so hard.
Although Capt Smeal did not take
out the marathon, he finished 44 out of
68 and saw 13 rivals drop out along the
way, which gave him a great sense of
pride in what he had accomplished.
Unlike the other competitors par-
ticipating at the Helsinki Games, Capt
Smeal did not get to experience the cel-
ebrations, nor did he get to enjoy the rest
of the Games.
After completing his event, he
packed up his belongings and returned
to the unrelenting front line in Korea.
This story has been researched from Australia
and the Olympic Games by Harry Gordon and
other articles written by the same author.
Dedicated to running: Capt Claude Smeal takes part in a marathon relay race between Hiroshima and Kure
in Japan in 1952 after returning from competing in the marathon event at the Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Photo by Claude Holzheimer provided by the Australian War Memorial
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