Percy Wells Cerutty (10 January 1895 – 14 August 1975) was one of the world's leading athletics coaches in the 1950s and 1960s.
The eccentric Australian pioneered a home-spun system of "Stotan" training, embracing a holistic regime of natural diets, hard training in natural surroundings, and mental stimulation.
Percy Cerutty was born in Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1895, the seventh child of Harry Richard Cerutty, accountant, and his wife Emily, née Neilson, both Victorian born. He was four years old when his mother left her alcoholic husband and struggled to raise her six surviving children.
In 1907, he left school to help support the family but was considered unfit to serve in World War I. He competed in athletics without distinction, suffering from illness after racing. Despite this fact, Cerutty was still determined to reach his highest potential.
In 1939, at the age of 43 Cerutty was faced with a formative challenge in his life; a nervous breakdown that necessitated taking leave from work at the P.M.G. and which prompted a reassessment of his life. After this, he began educating himself in healthy living. He focused on an extreme diet including mostly uncooked vegetables, weight lifting, and of course, running. His tactics evidently worked because his health radically improved, sustaining him into an energetic old age, and they informed his coaching and running philosophy.
After World War II, Cerutty began competing in distance running events. At the start of his career he failed to do much more than a jog. However, over the years he started making good strides towards being competitive in the running world. Right before he turned 51 he completed his first marathon in a time of 3 hours and 1 minute. Not long after that, he retired from running and began the coaching for which he is renowned.
In 1946, Cerutty acquired 3/4 acres of land in Portsea with Dorothy Clara Barwell whom he had married in 1921, so that they could start a training camp there. In order to bring this new camp some attention, he ran 80 miles from Portsea to Melbourne. This act is reflective of his overall approach to the sport of distance running.
He introduced this approach to the athletes he trained at his Portsea headquarters. Training would involve running amongst idyllic environments, along beaches and over dunes, and it mixed poetry and philosophy with athletics training. His athletes would undertake a routine of challenging runs up sand dunes, on bark or wood chip paths, barefoot running and lifting weights frequently.
Athletes training under Cerutty said "You came here with the object of running more quickly, and achievement in running, but really it was an education in life" and "You got a whole philosophy of life and attitudes"
The new philosophy of life included the following tenets:
- Only consumption of whole wheat bread, as white flour was a poison.
- Reduced consumption of alcohol
- No consumption of cigarettes
- No consumption of water or drink with meals or following for a few hours
- No socializing after midnight
Between 1959 and 1967, Cerutty published six books on his training philosophies.
Cerutty's training techniques will always remain controversial among those who study the sport of running. However, Cerutty believed that what he was doing created the most physically and mentally tough athletes.
Cerutty began coaching Elliott when the runner was eighteen. Elliott was a 4:20 miler when he came to run for Cerruty, and within a few months, he had run 4:06 (a world record at the junior level).
Soon enough, Elliott topped Merv Lincoln to be the top miler in Australia. Lincoln was coached by Cerrutty's rival Franz Stampfl. Lincoln and Elliott raced many times, but as Cerutty says of Lincoln "Never did he once beat my Herb Elliott." This quote demonstrates Cerutty's pride in coaching the great Herb Elliott, who continued to be a huge success for Cerutty.
At Rome in 1960, the 22-year-old Elliott set a world record to win the Olympic gold medal in the 1500 metres setting another world record of 3:35.6. Percy Cerutty along with coaches Forbes Carlile and Harry Gallagher provided the expertise for swimmers and athletes during Australia's "Golden Era" but they were disallowed official presence at Commonwealth and Olympic Games because of their "amateur" status.
Elliott broke the 4 minute barrier on 17 separate occasions; an extraordinary feat for athletes during his time period. Elliott was never bettered at the distance of a mile or the 1500.
At one point during his career, Elliott and Cerutty got in an argument. To solve the argument, Cerutty challenged Elliott to a mile race. Whoever won this race would also win the argument. Sure enough they raced and Cerutty was clearly beaten on time; he was racing the top miler in the world who didn't even have to try to win the race between the two of them. However, when Cerutty crossed the line, he told Elliott that he had won because he had put in more effort than Elliott. His point being that regardless of the circumstances, 100% effort should always be put forth. This story reflects accurately upon his "Stotan" training philosophy.
Further athletes trained or assisted by Cerutty included:
- John Landy - 1956 Olympic Bronze Medal 1500 metres - World Mile Record
- Betty Cuthbert - 1964 Olympic Gold Medal 400 metres - World 440 yards Record
- Middle-distance runners Dave Stephens and Les Perry
- David (Dave) William Power - marathon runner
Cerutty also helped cyclist Russell Mockridge and boxer Jimmy Carruthers during their sporting careers. His strict training philosophy was not exclusive to distance running and could be transferred effectively to other sports because it taught competitors how to be tough; Cerutty saw his approach as a way of life and a way to train.
Cerutty gave up coaching athletes in 1969 and continued to live at his beloved Portsea home - CERES.
Cerutty was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1972
Posthumously he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for his athletics coaching.
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