Lee Hollis was the 14 year old Oak Flats club skater from Wollongong N.S.W, Australia who caused one of the biggest upsets at a World senior champs. She eliminated three Italian World Champions to win the 500 meter 2 person sprint at the 1981 World Championships in Lueven, Belguim.
The previous day at the champs Lee had placed 2nd to the great Annie Lambrechts in the 500 meter time trial. But on day two there was drama when home town star Annie Lambrehts failed to turn up. She allegedly had a broken toe but others suspected differently. The drug testers turned up on that day and word was there was a $1,000 fine issued.
Well in the quarter final and semi final of the 500 meter sprint the slightly built and barely 5 foot tall Aussie school girl eliminated two current Italian World Champions. Although the final was a different matter, she would come up against the imposing figure of the 6 foot tall Italian Stephanie Ghermandi.
Like one on one sprint cycling, tactics and psychological warfare are big factors. We didn’t let Lee get involved with that otherwise the Italian would win out. So the stage was set for the best of three final and on a course the Italians didn’t like. You can be sure the Belgium’s choose a course that didn’t suit them.
Lee’s tactics were simple. Don’t even look at Ghermandi, when that gun goes you go and keep going. After winning the first round so simply by just going from the front Ghermandi was expecting something special in the next round. But all she got was another dose of the first round. The Gun went and Lee took off and won, she took two straight victories. The young Lee Hollis was Australia’s first ever World Champion.
In the 3,000 meters Lee lead out Cheryl Begg to hold out Annie Lambrechts for Cheryl’s first Gold. At that champs the three other golds went to Lambrehts and no Italian lady took home a gold medal from the road.
We didn’t have start of the art training facilities. At Oak Flats we trained on a small indoor track which was about 70 meters and slippery. I always said “If you can skate around here you can skate anywhere”. Next door to that we skated around a lolly factory which was a small circuit of about 140 meters. The circuit had blind corners and uneven blocks of concrete that required a few little jumps in places. We would do our road training in the middle of the night to dodge the police (skating on roads and footpaths was illegal). Another circuit we used was around a water tower. Once again we had to break the law by climbing a very high wire fence late at night to get in. I must have been the only coach in the World at the time with two current World Champions who was taken to court by the police for late night skating activities. The local Mayor was part of my defence for that case.
After winning a bronze medal in the 5,000 meters at the 1983 World Champs in Argentina Lee retired. She retired with a full set of senior World medals at 16 years of age. That last medal was somewhat controversial. I saw it as 4th place for Lee. Then after the late Dr. Matranga CIC President viewed the photo finish with the Australian president Con Galtos and our team manager the results were changed. Lee was awarded the bronze, much to my surprise. Con looked to me and quietly said, I just hope no one else asks to see the photo. A political pay off for support it may have been. Con was a very powerful political figure and Italy wanted to maintain their power on the CIC. Later on Con became the FIRS vice president.
In 1980 Italy gave away another bronze medal on the road to Spain as a payoff. This time for the famous 1979 track 500 meter time trial where the clock started after they left the line and me demanding print outs. The print outs showed total irregularities in the first 100 meters and my times were off by 1/2 to 1 second. In 1988 the ex-president of the CIC owned up to a small group of us from Australia and England. He admitted the times were cheated and showed us how they had manipulated the start.
After Lee Hollis gained gold and silver medals in 1981 she was dealt total injustice back home. Cheryl Begg was awarded the senior Shell Harbour sportsperson of the year award and Lee was beaten by a swimmer for the junior sportsperson of the year. The senior World champion out voted to a swimmer who had not even won any international age group events. Relatives may have upset some influential people, but this decision was totally unjust.
Lee was a great young sportsperson who won many school sporting events. She had freakish results in VO 2 tests from 78 to 82 which was a total exception for a female. At 16 years of age she decided to retire to a normal teenage life with a full set of world senior medals. Lee Hollis was a great sportsperson and also a great young lady.
Pictured are Oak Flats Club members who were 7 of the 11 members in the Austalian team for the senior World Championships in Finale Emilia Italy, 1992. From left to right; Ron Woods, Gary Chater, Kevin Webb, Kylie Phillips, Michelle Davis (McGlynn), Lee Hollis (Fanning), Cheryl Begg, Bill Begg (coach). All ladies in the team came from the Oak Flats Club, two 13 year olds Kylie and Michelle were at miniumum Worlds age and a young Lee still only 15 years old. There was no junior Worlds in those years.