Gordon Baker — former eight-time Comrades gold medallist, passes away

Gordon Baker — former eight-time Comrades gold medallist, passes away
Gordon Baker in his prime in a picture taken around 1970. (Photo: Supplied by CMA).

The multiple Comrades gold medalist with race number 104, died in Esperance in Western Australia recently after nearly two decades in the country. He was 84.

Gordon Baker never won the Comrades Marathon, but he was one of the legends of the event in the 1960s and 70s.

Baker was a proud member of Collegians Harriers Running Club. He ran nine Comrades Marathons between 1967 to 1975, earning a top-six position in eight of those races, in an era when there were just six gold medals on offer.

Gordon’s best time was 5:42:53 in the 1973 Comrades Marathon when he claimed second place behind Dave Levick.

Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) chairperson, Mqondisi Ngcobo said, “Our thoughts go out to the family, friends and running mates of Gordon. He ran an exceptionally good race, claiming the top six positions in eight Comrades Marathons and coming so close to winning the 1973 edition of The Ultimate Human Race.”

Tough era

Nine-time Comrades Winner, Bruce Fordyce reflected on Gordon’s running career as one of great success but also misfortune to be running in an era of superb competitors.

“Modest, quiet, humble and self-effacing, Gordon was everyone’s favourite to win at least one Comrades title, and yet fate, and brilliant opposition conspired to prevent him from earning that precious win,” Fordyce said.

“Gordon lost to greats like Dave Bagshaw, Dave Levick, and Jackie Mekler. I remember as a young boy listening to the radio broadcast of the race and always hoping that Gordon Baker would finally win a Comrades Marathon.

“But it was to be the 1973 Down Run where Gordon came so agonisingly close to fulfilling his dream. Defending champion, Mick Orton set a blistering pace from the start but towards the end, on 45th Cutting he slowed to a shuffle and Gordon Baker passed him to take the lead.

“With just less than three kilometres to run, Gordon was within sight of the stadium and in his words was ‘composing my victory speech’.” 

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“But his seconds had barely any time to warn him of the approach of rapidly closing Dave Levick. With a tap on the back, Levick sped past and, knowing how desperately Baker wanted to win, offered an apology, ‘I’m sorry Gordon,’ Levick said. It took a record-breaking run from Levick to beat Gordon Baker, and he too was under the old record.

“I met Gordon Baker a couple of times in ensuing years, and it was always a pleasure to share his company. But perhaps our most intimate time together was when Gordon drove the lead bike at Comrades.

“Driving the lead bike in front and alongside me gave us the opportunity to chat very briefly. One comment of his is indelibly etched in my mind.

As I climbed Polly Shortts he muttered, ‘Please don’t slow down Bruce I couldn’t bear to see what happened to me in 1973 happen to you, today.’”

Former CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn added: “Gordon Baker was a multiple Comrades gold medallist who also represented South Africa on many occasions in cycling too.

“Apart from being an outstanding athlete, he was an avid adventurer, with an ever-enquiring mind, a great philosopher, wonderful human-being and mentor, but most importantly a close and dear friend to both my late husband Mick and I. He once saved the life of our five-year-old son when he fell off a yacht in the middle of Midmar.

Gordon Baker

Former six-time Comrades gold medalist Gordon Baker with his wife Lynette in later life. (Photo: Supplied by CMA).

“Gordon was truly a gentleman who personified the expression ‘salt of the earth’, a person of great kindness, goodness, honesty, wisdom and zest for life.

“He had an opinion on every subject, which he was humble enough to mostly keep to himself; but was always there to lend advice or a helping hand when called upon. 

“Mick and I twice took a 13-hour bus trip across the Australian outback to visit Gordon and his wife Lynette in the small town of Esperance on the southern tip of Western Australia, where they retired 20 years ago and were delighted to discover that with their humble but positive attitudes, they continued to live life to the fullest.”

CMA Elder, Brian Kurz said, “Gordon was not only an outstanding athlete with multiple golds but a valued, active and popular CMA member who continued to serve with distinction on the executive of CMA until he emigrated to Australia. 

“He will be remembered by older CMA executive members with great affection as an easy-going and very likeable friend who was always willing to continue with volunteering his services to CMA long after finishing his competitive running career.”

Family friend Sue Sydenham said, “I remember Gordon the runner, friend and all-round great human being very fondly. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. He will be greatly missed.” DM


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