Vale Stuart ‘Sam’ Mackenzie
Esteemed Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame
04/04/1937 – 20/10/2020
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame (SAHOF) is mourning the passing of our esteemed Member Stuart Mackenzie (Rowing) who passed away at the age of 83 on October 20, 2020.
It is more than possible that Stuart Mackenzie was Australia’s greatest single sculler. Standing at 195cms and weighing close to 95kgs, Mackenzie was one of the biggest men in world rowing when he competed during the 1950s and 60s.
In the Melbourne Olympic year of 1956, Mackenzie, overwhelmingly super-confident even at the age of 19, announced to all who would listen that he had decided to step out of the eights, and gain Olympic selection in the sculls. To a stunned press corps, unused to such bravado, Mackenzie added that should he fail, he would make the Olympic team per medium of his proven skill as a discus thrower!
The young Australian easily qualified for the Olympic final and led the race with less than 100m to go. But then he seemed to stop paddling. The great Russian champion, Vyascheslav Ivanov, came from behind and won gold. Mackenzie’s explanation was that he had planned to lead throughout the race and put in his final burst, 200m from the finish line. He said officials had placed buoys at 100m intervals for most of the course but changed the placement to 50m intervals for the last 250m. Not aware of this, he counted the buoys and thought he had finished the race when in fact he was still a 100m out. His strength sapped, he could barely pull his oars through the water and Ivanov shot past him for Olympic gold.
The following year, 1957, saw Mackenzie come of age as an international rower. He instantly became the most controversial character to ever row at a Henley Regatta, ever eager to upset the ‘old boy’ brigade controlling English rowing. Once he rowed wearing a bowler hat. On another occasion, he stroked away into a vast lead, suddenly stopped to adjust his hat, peered down the river and exhorted his laboring rival to ‘hurry up’. It simply was not done, then and now, and Mackenzie was continually being called before the officials.
His record in Europe and England was just as spectacular as his antics. He won the Diamond Sculls from 1957 to 1961 in one breathtaking five year display of power sculling. He also won the 1957 and 1958 European championships, outclassing his Russian conqueror Ivanov on many occasions. He was the first Australia to win a European championship.
In 1958 Mackenzie effortlessly won the gold at the cardiff British Empire and Commonwealth Games. In 1959, after retaining his Diamond Sculls title, he also won the double sculls with English rower Christopher Davidge, becoming the first man to win both.
He continued to race in Europe until 1965 when he raced in the European championships, in the double sculls, and finished eighth. He retired shortly afterwards. He received the Helms Award in 1957 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as an Athlete Member in 1985 for his contribution to the sport of rowing.
SAHOF Chair John Bertrand AO said; “Stuart was one of the biggest men in world rowing, both in stature and podium finishers. Consecutive winner of the Diamond Sculls, dual Commonwealth Games medalist and the first Aussie to win a European championship, Stuart will always be remembered as one of the best rowers of all time. Our thoughts are with his family in Australia and the UK.”
He is survived by his sisters Margaret and Diana, his wife Heather and his children Rebecca, Alistair and Rachael. His funeral is to take place today, 5 November, in Taunton, United Kingdom, with his ashes to be scattered at a later date.
Read Stuart Mackenzie’s full biography here.