Extreme case of overcoming adversity
This is a story about overcoming adversity to rise above all. Stephen Whyte otherwise affectionately known as Whytey or Boxhead overcome adversity to destroy the Worlds best at the 1989 World Championships in New Zealand.
Life as a youngster
His life as a youngster was not pretty. His father left home when he was three leaving him and his three sisters with their mother. He lived in a rough area and went to a tough school where he was held up by knife point for his lunch box. As a youngster he already had adversities to overcome. I remember the great help his older sister Leanne was. She would drive him 100 km to get in some good training and sometimes up to three times per week. It was in later life as a successful business man that he took me on a tour of the area he had come from and showed me his old school. We both shed tears as he traced back his life, he told me this is where I had brought him from and helped make him what he was today.
Begg family involvement
I pick up the story from when I arrived in New South Wales, Australia from New Zealand and took up coaching the N.S.W state team. There was this little junior they called Whytey or Clarence, from the cross-eyed lion from the TV series. Later in life he was cured and no longer like Clarence in eye sight, but certainly a lion in the sporting field.
He was the last and smallest of six skaters picked for the N.S.W state team for the Australian champs in Melbourne in 1978. In one race this young skater had suffered a crash and was a lone figure sitting in the middle of the floor crying. I dived down onto the stadium floor, put my arm around him to comfort him and said “whats the problem son?” His skate was broken due to the crash. I just said “ok we will go to the shop and get you a new set.” At that time both Cheryl and myself were working and I only had one son Nathan to support, so we went and brought him a new set of skates. He went back up to the stands all excited and told the others that the NZ guy had talked to him.
Back in those days N.S.W was so strong in the junior category and Whytey was the smallest. Spooner and McGirr from Thirroul, Williams and Fanning from Oak Flats, Ault and Whytey from Campelltown all had some great battles. Whytey was never the top dog as a Junior. At the time I was coaching the Oak Flats pair Williams and Fanning.
In 1985 as a brash youngster Whytey made the World team for the first time and headed to Colorado Springs. He wanted to know which race he was being set up for. I told him Jed and the experienced guys would be the ones being set up and he would have to wait his chance in future years. It came to the last race and Whytey was robbed of 3rd. Danny Van De Perre from Belgium threw a big Hollywood playing out that Whytey had interfered with him. Van De Perre finished with a dodgy darky.
In 1986 in Adelaide at our own Australian World Championships the officiating and dirty tactics on a tight track were rife. Whytey like my wife Cheryl was grabbed at the last bend when he was in with a good chance of winning the 10,000m. He ended up with an individual bronze and a relay bronze from memory. It was a spiteful champs where I nearly slugged Dante Muse for grabbing Whytey. Others in the Australian team were going to set a hay bail on fire and set it on the track due to Joe Askews disqualification.
The Australian President accused the Australians of not trying hard enough. I threw my Australian Jacket at him after telling him if he was watching the bottom corner where the grabbing was instead of being in the big wig tent he might see what happened to two of our gold medals. Then seeing he knew so much he had better coach the team, the late West Australian father of skating and great diplomat Eric Millett had to step in between us. To make matters worse Cheryl’s dad Tom Millar a judge from NZ was on the bottom corner and put in a report on an Italian fowel. He was judged incompetent by the Italian powerbrokers and relegated to the finish line instead. Also Australian assistant coach Niel (Shark) Bond yelled out in anger after another bad officiating outcome that C.I.C stood for “Committee of International Crocks”. I thought very appropriate at the time, but I was the one the powers to be credited with making the statement. In a subsequent TV interview I said the Mafia were running the sport and it was well past the time it was cleaned up.
In 1987 I was supposed to be the speed team manager for the Grenoble World champs. But after the 1986 debacle I was advised that I couldn’t be and that if I went I may come back in a Box. So the two 19 year olds who lived with me and I coached, Tony Keefe and Stephen Whyte went without their personal coach present.
In the 20,000m elimination it came down to four skaters left, Keefe, Whytey and the two worn out Italians Rossi and De Persio. De Persio was dropped but still the two Aussie boys waited. At the time like Joe Askew before him they had lead Whytey to be a born again Christian. What I was told was that Whytey was waiting for God to tell him when to go, but that was not apparently the case. My take from the photo finish was that Whytey was in the midst of throwing his arms in the air when the six foot plus Thommasso Rossi done a full lunge and nailed him by the smallest of margins, both my skaters finished 2nd and 3rd. A very upset and irate Whytey charged back to the changing tents and started kicking one to bits. He was that enraged with losing that he was in the Japanese tent and scared the living daylights out of them. But a Silver was getting closer to the gold.
In 1988 still smarting from the 1987 debacle he took a year off from the worlds, then in 1989 in New Zealand he came back with blood in his eyes and self redemption on his brain. Stephen trained like a man possessed, living in an old horse stable at the back of our property. It was a shack with a bare tin roof, whitebait netting covering the window which had no glass, a wire stretched across the room to hang his clothes on and a bare concrete floor. But the most significant thing was on the wall, a giant hunk of cardboard written on with texture; IN 1989 I AM GOING TO BE WORLD CHAMPION. Every time at training he didn’t fully lunge or was beaten for a point in a points race I would plant the cover picture of Thomasso Rossi out lunging him to win the World title from him in 1987. We would have one hell of an argument and he would tear it up. If it happened again we would go through the same process all over again till he learnt that he had to lunge every time.
Well at the World Championships in Hastings NZ in 1989 Australia went 2 weeks early. We had our trials on the actual Worlds track, 200 meters but only 4.8 meters wide. That year I banned our team from watching the Italians train and we set about letting out a few rumours that Whytey was going faster than the Italians. One day Oscar Galliazzo and a few other Italians waited for a couple of hours after their training session just to watch us. We done dummy starts and stood people in the way to block their view but we done nothing. I laughed at them and told them they had just wasted their time, that we had put on a no show just for them.
It was all about mind games and payback for 1988 when Oscar laughed at me in Cassana D Adda. The new Star Luca Antoniel was in the Italian team and Pom, Dai Davis told me he was virtually quicker than lightning and hard to get a watch on. He said the hair on the back of your neck would stand on end when you saw him. While I was just there as the delegate for the CIC meeting I had also been taking times all day. Well on this day everyone else had left and the Italians wanted to run serious road time trials, but here was Bill in the top of the stand smiling. They asked me If I was living there and I replied “yes.” Well they thought they would outsmart two watch Bill. So the first to go was Sato, then Oscar doing the real thing and straight on their heels was Antoneil. Oscar laughed that you could only get two times with two watches, till I waved a third watch.
So instead of us worrying about what they were doing the boot was on the other foot, they were worrying about us. That year our Australian team was number one nation.
The next year when I coached Colombia to number one Libardo Garcia wanted to time Antoneil two days before the Worlds started, I said no. As we were walking away he had his hand in his pocket with his finger on the watch looking over his shoulder. I told him click the watch and he was out of the team. For years we had worried what the Italians were doing and gave them to much respect, we idolized their champions instead of focusing on what we were doing.
Some memorable occasions as to just how tough Whytey was in 1989
1. During the West Australian champs he done two hours weight training in the morning, cycled 100 km in the afternoon, won the 10,000m road points race in the evening and anchored the Morely team to a relay win. We had a no taper policy before Worlds and he done this against very strong opposition.
2. I had probably six of the top ten skaters in Australia living in sheds out the back of our house. Whytey had an argument with some of them, calling them a bunch of losers and that none of them could ever beat him. That night we were doing 10 x 500 meter uphill intervals on the rough Quarry Private road, with 3 minutes recovery in between intervals. True to his word he was winning them all and driving himself beyond belief. By the 8th he was being sick on the way back down but somehow he made it back for the 9th. I told him to stop but he wouldn’t, he lined up for the 10th chundering everywhere. He still took off and half way up the hill he was choking on his own vomit, from the motorbike I had to grab him to make him stop.
3. Neil Spooner was sponsored by Gary Webber, he came over to live with us and skate with my team to make the 1989 World team. He was in tears ringing his sponsor in Sydney wanting to come home from Perth as he was not skating well and Whytey was killing him. I had to persuade Neil and his sponsor to stay as he was killing everyone. Spooner went on to win silver in the 5,000 metres less than a month later.
4. After the Hasting’s Worlds we had the opening of the new bank track in Perth (venue for 1995 Worlds). The French, English and Spanish teams turned up, after Whytey had destroyed them in Hastings. They had heard stories of how they lived a stoic life and trained on a 70 km cycle course known as Death Valley. After seeing what they done and where these guys lived they decided their guys weren’t tough enough and complained if they didn’t have a five-star hotel to stay in at competitions.
1989 Hastings, New Zealand Box Heads Worlds
Well 4th in the time trial, then in the 500 metre final he jumped Dante Muse USA, Pascal Gravuoil France & Dino Grotti Italy out of the corner accelerating as he kicked off the banking. The chasers tried to run him down, as he hit the final straight Whytey fully locked up with Lactic acid. He managed to hold on to win the World Title. He then won the 10,000 metre points race for his 2nd World title.
The 20,000 metres was a disaster. A fellow Australian coach who was coaching Victorian Tony Hanley who was also a very tough competitor was always talking Tony up. They kept saying that if he had half a chance with a lap to go for sure he could win. Whytey and me had been sick of listening to this. In the 20,000 elimination Whytey was 20 metres ahead and there were only four other skaters left, one American, one Italian and two other Australians, so the perfect scenario. The American and Italian had already settled for the minor medals, so when Whytey stood up and waited they could not believe their luck. A certain gold and good chance of two other medals ended up as a bronze only, with coach Bill very, very cranky.
In the relay a very envious New Zealand referee who was sick of Australia’s success when NZ had no medals disqualified Australia. Dante Muse came straight up the banking and ran Whytey into the wall and Australia was disqualified. In a rerun of what had happened in the 5,000 and another Italian gift title to Marco Giannini. So Whytey won two, was wiped out in two and tried to give one away was the true star of 1989. It was a good year for me, the skaters I personally coached were 4th or higher placed in eleven of the twelve events and Australia was number one overall nation. Whytey told the press I was more than a coach, but a father to him as well.
In 1992 Whytey tried a comeback along with previous silver World medalists John Darnell & Neil Spooner. They tried to train together without a coach, it never happened. Whytey fought on and gained a 4th placing.
Life after skating
Over the years I had gone above and beyond many times to help Whyety out of tight situations. One time he was doing a roof painting job to earn some money to travel from Perth to Sydney for his sister’s wedding. A hose came off his spray paint machine and paint ended up all over the driveway and under the eves had not been finished yet. Whytey was very distraught, so I went and posed as his manager, painted to help him finish, helped clean up the mess and sweet talked the lady. So Stephen got his money and arrived just in time for his sister’s wedding.
Whytey never forgot in return, he became successful in business and put on a $60,000 Wedding at Watego’s beach in Byron Bay N.S.W. He brought Cheryl and myself over from NZ for the wedding. He brought my son Wayne to Perth for the Oceania Champs and purchased me a car when I came back to New Zealand. Great gestures from a competitor who always gave it his best shot and had a never say die attitude.