After his win at the 2012 Bay Sheffield Gift in SA, Josh ‘the boss’ Ross can now claim the title of Australia’s Richest Professional runner in history. Before then, that tag belonged to Victorian/West Australian Andrew ‘Billy’ McManus (pictured above).
Winner of the Stawell, Bay Sheffield, Botany Bay and several other gifts, Billy shares stories from his Athletics journey with WCAL Chairman and former training partner Paul Edmiston. Olympian McManus was also President of the Victorian Athletics League for two seasons.
This is a must read inspirational story for anyone who is thinking of giving up the sport too early.
Q. How did you get into Athletics, how old were you?
A. I am an asthmatic and the doctors recommended some organised sport. I had always loved just running around so little athletics was the obvious choice. I started in the 1979/80 season in the under 9’s.
Q. You won the Stawell Gift in 1992 when you were under coach Sandy Hurst. What was it like training with the late Sandy?
A. Sandy was a great trainer. It was important to train hard but also enjoy yourself in the process, the social side of the sport made it very attractive with most meets finishing with a beer at the local pub. That said training was taken very seriously 6 days a week with periods leading in Stawell where I was doing 10 sessions a week. He came from a different era himself winning the 70m at Stawell in the 1940’s so had a unique view on how to train runners.
Q. Did winning Stawell change your life?
A. Yes it did. There is barely a day that goes by where I don’t think about it. For me I’d set myself to win and the sense of achievement provided a self confidence that has been with me ever since. That if you truly set your mind to something you can do it. There is the odd function or reunion and of course heading back each Easter to Stawell but for me the biggest impact is the satisfaction it has provided knowing how much hard work and time went into it.
Q. In 1993 you decided to come over to Perth to train with the powerful Curtin University squad, what made you come to that decision?
A. I always had the approach to seek out the best and at the time Curtin was the best. I felt that to take my running to another level and compete nationally and potentially internationally that the experience of Matt Barber and the squad overall had the runs on the board. Proven success and I wanted to be a part of it and that the move would give me the greatest opportunity.
Q. What was different about the Perth training group compared to your group in Melbourne?
A. Sandy divided the seasons very distinctly. From October to Easter you trained mainly on grass tracks with no weights or cross training. You had a month or so off after Easter and then May/June would hit the speed ball, do sit-ups & push-ups 5 sessions a week with no running at all. It was partly to give you a genuine rest but also traditionally many pro runners played football. To this day I still think speed ball is a valuable and important part of training to run fast. Matt’s approach was track and weights all year round in cycles. Cycles would vary according to the time of year re beach or hills or speed or speed endurance etc. We recorded every session and I still have over 10 years of training documented. Matt also videoed every session and I am sure sitting somewhere in Perth there is a stockpile of VHS tapes lying around. Interestingly both had similar ideas re warming up and encouraged active warm ups which in the early 90’s was not necessarily the norm where long periods of static stretching seemed the go. Both were also believers in massage and the importance it played in recovery. Of course the weather and beaches were far better in Perth. The one other thing in common was that in both groups there were a great bunch of guys who have become lifelong friends.
Q. You also won the richest pro race in Australia the Botany Bay gift (NSW) as well as the Bay Sheffield (SA). Plus a truck load of minor gifts around the country… Is there one race that stands out more than the other?
A. It is hard to go past Stawell. The build-up, expectation and pressure that brings makes it the highlight of my career. A number of years later after injury and illness I recall having the conversation with Matt about retiring in 1998. I decided to keep going and the 1999/2000 season was worth it. Bay Sheffield in December 1999 was the 1st big race I won since Stawell some 7 years earlier and a month later Botany Bay. Each is quite different in that I had a good mark at Bay Sheff and was confident of winning. Botany saw me re-handicapped and I didn’t give myself much of a chance. I recall even during the race thinking I couldn’t win but just keep running along. Suddenly 10 out I was close and hit the line 1st. I was as shocked as anyone. Winning when you don’t expect to is a great experience.
Q. What did you do with all that money?
A. I won over $68,000 in the space of 3 months in that 1999/2000 season. All up I won over $100,000 in prize money and betting. My coaches took a cut (anywhere from 25% to 33%), some went to fund training and travel and I invested the rest. Eventually I put that towards a deposit on the house in which I now live. At that time all of us were self-funded and worked part time jobs to get by. The money won in the pros certainly helped.
Q. Do you prepare for a professional race any different to that of an amateur race?
A. No. I considered it all simply running. The only difference would have been training more on the surface you plan to compete on but even then it was marginal. Remembering to change the spikes to the right length was important to do! Worn down 6mm spikes on a wet grass track is not recommended!
Q. You made the 2004 Athens Olympic squad when you were 33, fairly late for an athlete. Was there a time you thought you would never make an Australian squad or the Olympics?
A. Yes. Towards the end of the 1999/2000 season I developed a stress fracture in my right SI joint. I tried to push through to the 2000 Sydney trials but was not good enough. At 29 I honestly thought it was my last shot. So for the first time since I was 16 I stopped training. That was August 2000. I did nothing for the next 4 months but it felt wrong so on the 1st January 2001 I started training again. My back didn’t last long and it took over 18 months to get it right. At this stage I was working fulltime for the 1st time in my life and fitted training around work. I got my body right and started to run the pros again in the 2002/2003 season. I ran at Stawell and while I didn’t progress in the Gift I came 2nd to Ambrose Ezenwa in the backmarkers. I started to think about returning to full-time training. I recall a conversation with a good friend at the Provincial Hotel in Fitzroy about making a comeback. I clearly remember the moment I decided I would give it one last go. A few weeks later I packed up to move back to Perth in the winter of 2003.
Q. What was your Olympic experience like?
A. Amazing. From the moment I got the phone call notifying me of the selection to sharing the moment with family, friends and training partners to the training camp in Italy, travelling with the team to meets, getting the team uniform, the opening and closing ceremony, being in the village and just mingling with athletes from around the world. Amazing. Having said all that it was at the same time disappointing. As an athlete you are there to race. The format of the 4×100 meant only the top 16 teams made it to the Olympics. It was an achievement in itself just for Australia to get there. As such the 1st round was in fact a semi-final and the only decision possible was to have the 4 best runners compete. I wasn’t good enough to push my way in so watched from the sidelines. The boys did a great job making the final and we ended up 6th. A terrific effort.
Q. What advice would you give to athletes these days about preparing for a ‘big’ race or event?
A. Believe in yourself and remember all you can do is your best. Long term persistence. Never give up.
Q. In the off-season you sometimes based yourself in the UK (along with some of your training partners), what was that experience like?
A. Bedford was great place where we made many friends. The people at Bedford & County Athletic Club were very generous in welcoming a rowdy bunch of Australians into their homes and lives each year. I learnt a lot about running but also just about life in general. I’d love to go back sometime and catch up with everyone. Perhaps we should organise a re-union there!
Q. Do you still follow Athletics?
A. I do. I’m involved with the Victorian Athletic League in a volunteer capacity and haven’t missed a Stawell Gift since 1987. I keep up to date with national and international results and recently set the alarm clock to watch the London 100m final live. Was worth it. What a performance by Usain Bolt. I am also looking forward to watching Asafa Powell run at Stawell this year.
Q. Will you get your kids into Athletics?
A. If they are interested. I am a strong believer in organised sports and the lessons it teaches you (not to mention the health benefits). I will encourage my kids to join a sport but whether it is athletics will be up to them. I have 2 girls, Milla 5 and Addison 3. I can’t seem to stop them running around the house so if that is anything to go by athletics has half a chance!
Q. Do you miss Perth?
A. There are many things I miss about Perth. It was a great lifestyle with the weather and beaches, more importantly though I miss the many friends I have there. I would love to get back there more often.
Q. What do you believe is your greatest achievement?
A. Winning Stawell and persisting long enough to be selected for the Athens Olympics.
Q. Who was your biggest influence?
A. I have to say my 2 coaches in Sandy and Matt and my parents. They all believed in me.
Q. What are you doing with yourself these days?
A. I love spending time with my 2 girls and wife Suzie and other family and friends. I am involved in the VAL and try to give back something to the sport, sadly I haven’t done a day’s exercise since retiring from running in April 2005. I keep thinking I need to get fit again but after a few minutes the thought passes…. Workwise I am the General Manager Customer Services at the Fred IT Group.
Q. Did you enjoy your time as VAL (Victorian Athletic League) President?
A. Overall I did. There were many challenges that we faced but I feel the sport is in a better place than when we began. The work is not over yet. Pro running has great potential and I’d love to see the sport grow, especially in WA.
Q. What does the future hold for Australia’s richest ever professional runner?
A. I think that title now goes to Josh Ross after his recent win at the Bay Sheffield! I’d love to see athletics take a higher profile in the Australian sporting landscape and hopefully my time with the VAL will be one small piece in the puzzle.