“What are you doing wasting your time coaching her, she will never ever be any good.” Those were the words of the late Bob Treloar, the father of dual World Champion Karen Yorke (Treloar). Karen won the 3,000 metre World title in 1980 in her native country of New Zealand. Cheryl won the next year in 1981 in Belguim Five years after I was told to stop wasting my time coaching her, Cheryl Millar (Begg) won the 3,000 metre World Title representing Australia. She defeated the great Annie Lambrechts in her home town of Louvain Belgium to win the first of her three World Titles.
Cheryl in later years while giving motivational speeches talks about “The thin threads.” At 11 years of age one Saturday her parents Tom and Margaret were taking Cheryl and her younger sister Glennis to join up with the local swimming club. The secretary wasn’t home at the time to accept their forms or money so as they returned home an event happened that would change her life…
A couple of young scallywag neighbors Brent and Steven Robertson were coming out their driveway, when exchanging hello’s the boys said they were going roller skating at the Sockburn Rollerdrome in Christchurch. So Tom and Margaret decided to take the kids to the public session. As Cheryl said just as well they did because she wasn’t a good swimmer and would have ended up at the bottom of the pool.
Her sister Glennis who was three years younger quickly adapted to the sport of speed skating and later roller hockey. She was going to be the next World Champion, Cheryl just struggled along while her sister used to beat her. At 15 years of age Cheryl couldn’t make her Rollerdrome clubs junior relay team which had four girls and in fact wasn’t even the first reserve.
Cheryl joint a group I had for training and used to struggle to keep up. She would nearly kill herself before she quit but she would never want a drink after training. Her dad Tom went to a sports seminar and they talked about hydration and I said I think that’s her trouble, she doesn’t have enough fluids. It was certainly a major factor, when she started drinking more her training performances became better.
In 1976 she was good enough and from the results should have been in the ladies team for the Oceania Championships. They didn’t select her though which was a big blow. After the champs in Brisbane the Rollerdrome Club had a tour to Brisbane which they had been doing a big fundraiser for. I was still in Brisbane as I was the speed team Captain for the champs and Cheryl was there on the club trip. After warning her not to romantically tempt me, she was happy that I was not like the others she knew., who badmouthed the girls, We somehow had great respect, passion and love towards each other and have gone on to live a very happy and interesting life together.
In 1978 we left New Zealand to go to Australia. There were coaching offers for me from Queensland and Victoria. At the last-minute Sydney offered a bid that upped the anti and Cheryl was guaranteed a job as well. Coral Buttsworth who was on the Australian Federation went above and beyond the call of duty to secure my arrival in New South Wales. She put herself offside with one party, but being a staunch New South Welshman she had found a coach and his partner.
After racing for Australia at the Worlds in 1979 they then changed the rules and in 1980 she could not skate at the Worlds in NZ. She was in excellent form to.
In 1981 in Louvain, Belgium she wore the Australian uniform once again. She was alongside 14 year old Lee Hollis (youngest ever World senior Champion) and two other close friends I coached Michelle Bray and Danielle Buttsworth. The fifth girl in the team was Julie Donohue, who wouldn’t skate the road as it was too dangerous. Cheryl was tricked by the false hill and was 4th in both the 5,000m and 10,000m which were both won by Annie Lambrechts. When it came to the 3,000 m her teammates got her over the top of the fast hill with good work from Lee and Cheryl held out Annie Lambrechts to win. At that time Annie was the greatest female skater with the most World titles. When I saw her over the top of the hill and in the lead I cut across the village squares garden and crossed the line 3rd in the photo finish.
For those who like to complain about situations and training venues think about this. Cheryl and I leased a skating rink so Cheryl worked sixty to seventy hours per week. So many times training was held in the early hours of the morning, while the police were hopefully off duty. We trained at the often very cold Rivulet Cresent Circuit in an industrial area at the end of Lake Illawarra, where if the dogs didn’t get you the police did.
Allen’s Lollie factory depot about 140 metre circuit with uneven blocks of concrete and a blind corner. Then the water tower which had a lovely four metre wide strip of smooth bitumen around it but first you had to scale a 10 foot high fence with barbed wire. When the cars came up over the hill from the Shellharbour side you got dazzled by their lights and hoped like hell you didn’t drop over a 20 foot bank or dent your shin on the overhanging roofing iron. I was left with a decade long scar from one such encounter. Then to top it off there was the $200 fine if you were caught trespassing. The Oak flats indoor track was as slippery as an eel and only about 70 metres a lap. If you can skate on it you can skate on anything, that was the motto. Then last but not least the Mine road. It was the only public road smooth enough as the coal trucks travelling on it with their weight smoothed it out. There was a hill at one end and always cow shit on the road at the other. If you were lucky enough to be leading you dodged half of it and sprayed the others behind you, but every ones skates, clothing and legs generally got spattered.
Famous skating home, home away from home
At our house in Albian Park Rail I had cut a hole in the floor of the passageway wardrobe and put a ladder down to the cellar where we had a spa and sauna. We had an outdoor swim pool and upstairs we had a pool table and 5 cent poker machine. We always had a house full of skaters and many visitors. Cruciani, De Persio, Labeda just to name a few all spent time there and other skaters lived with us. One at the Tour of Shellharbour we had 28 staying with us at our house along with my son Nathan who was living with us and his dog tiger. We have always been committed to helping others.
Cheryl gave birth to Wayne in 1983 and worked right up to the day he was born. She missed the 1983 Worlds but went to Bogota in 1984. We left baby Wayne with Mrs Woods who had a hard time with him. This turned out to be a bad decision for Cheryl’s results, Wayne and the Business. At the end of 1984 we were financially broke and desperate. With a job offer we loaded our belongings on the back of our truck and drove to Perth. We left NSW after six years with many great memories, some great highs and some lows.
The new beginning, Perth
We arrived in Perth after Peter, Evelyn Lacey and Eric, Elma Millett had worked on getting us over there. We pushed for the proposed cycling and skating velodrome that was to be built-in Midland Perth. We managed to pull it off with the Mayor Charlie Gregorini stating that if it was not for Bill Begg and his enthusiasm it would have never happened. Both the World Speed Skating Championships and World Junior Cycling Championships were held at the venue.
Cheryl came back for the 1986 ill-fated World champs in Adelaide, Australia were she was done by dirty Italian tricks in every race. The rules were used against her, three warnings and you are disqualified. She was the only real threat to the Italians and each of the three skaters had a turn at grabbing her. One warning to each of them and three against Cheryl for fighting to get their hands off her. Victim of the greatest bent referring farce off all time. It came to the relay and Cheryl would not go in it, she said it will only get the other girls disqualified. Having been unbeaten the previous couple of years she was the only Australian not to win a medal. She had enough of the cheating and Italian officials controlling the sport and politics over the many years that she was finished. She simply told me that I had been asking her to perform for many years that now it was time for me to perform as she wanted another baby.
Comeback and retirement in 1989
With the World champs in her old home country of New Zealand Cheryl made a comeback at 29 years of age with two children. She won a silver medal and a fourth after an original DQ against an Argentina skater was wrongly overturned after Cheryl had been announced as third. Happy with her silver and results she announced her retirement.
Colombia call up
Two weeks later I got the Colombian call up and we were off to Colombia, the whole family. After years of looking after a house full of people here we were living in an apartment with security compound and a full-time live in-house maid. Both the children went to a Montessori School and Cheryl didn’t have to work so suddenly she had time on her hands. Instead of just helping with Luz Mery Tristan Valencia and Claudia Ruiz she started training with them and took up bike racing seriously as well.
For the Worlds Luz Mery was under extreme stress, she had to win a World title for here boyfriend Mario to marry her. He had brought in the best coach, sports doctor, masseur and nutritionist. There was a con man in tow as well who convinced Mario that with lasers he could make special wheels and make rice into a substance stronger than steel. He fooled a very smart man, later to be alleged as the head of the Cartel of Cali but he never fooled me. I told Mario to get rid of him. Well the wheels were delivered, Hypers with the sides cut off and holes drilled through them. In hindsight I now know why, he was infiltrating the family through the love of his life.
After Claudia Ruiz won the 300m time trial there was even greater pressure on Luz Mery. They approached Cheryl and myself and I approached the Australian coach. Cheryl’s
best race was the 5,000m points race but if she worked for Luz Mery in that race Claudia would then work for Cheryl in the 1500m. Claudia gave Cheryl a great lead out from 500 metres to go and at 100 metres to go Cheryl came through to win and Claudia followed her home for 2nd, with Ann Woods Australia third. I had coached Ron Woods her husband and he had lived with us earlier.
Come midway through the 5,000 metre points race, Luz Mery had no points and her Colombian team mates were blown. At a speed meet in Colombia prior to the Worlds Cheryl had lapped the field in the points race. So Cheryl gave it her all and dropped the two Argentina skaters with the points and towed Luz Mery for the points. After splitting the field Luz Merry got all the points in the back-end of the race and went on to thankfully win the World title. She was she under so much pressure and the same with those close to her. I was told by many that it wouldn’t be in anyones best interests to return to Cali without a gold medal for Luz Mery.
After Cheryl settled for a silver in the 10,000m elimination which was raced in about two inches of water the three women I coached all went home with a gold and silver medal each. Half the individual golds and silvers.
With Cheryl’s help Luz Mery got her man, a very expensive watch and matching ring. A precursor for the real deal which was a black Mercedes sports imported from Europe. Never, ever has a skater been under such pressure to perform and win. Pressure from the media, the husband to be and sponsor. It was either a gold medal or going back to Cali was virtually not an option. Cheryl and I collected a $10,000 bonus for the win and Mario turned it on in Cali where Don Perpignan 76 and 78 was drank like water. It ended in a win/win situation for all parties and a two-week holiday on San Andreas Island for the entire team.
Retire, back again and cycling in Colombia
In 1991 Cheryl didn’t have a skate sponsor. A beverage company sponsored my two top skaters and Cheryl was offered cycling sponsorship to join a team for the Tour of Colombia. After a few months their sponsored skater wasn’t winning so they offered Cheryl skating sponsorship as well as cycling. So after six months of no skating Cheryl came back and started skating again in May.
After heading to Medellin for the National Road Cycling Championships Cheryl made the mistake of having a PWC 170 test at the Medellin sports institute. Her results were better than the Pan American games cycling champion, better than any other Colombian sports person and at the level of Russian men Olympic ice skaters. After killing the other Cali girls in training intervals at altitude the Medellin team feared her, so they said no foreign athletes could ride in their national champs. Pissed off that she couldn’t race I told her to protest by chasing them and showing them who was best in the hills. Cheryl did and the police grabbed her bike and made her walk. I saw the bike being held on the back of a motorbike by the Pillion Policeman, well out came the gun and they arrested me and impounded the bike and my car until the race was finished.
With the test results and beating a World champion at the Colombian champs we applied to have Cheryl include in the Australian World team for the 1991 World champs in Oostende. So after six months of no skating Cheryl came back and started skating again in May and attended the World Champs in August. A bitter and twisted Australian Coach of the team caused problems. This coach back in the day was supposed to win a World sprint title but my skater Joe Askew beat him on his own track and he never got near the dias. Also in earlier years he had to come back for trials and now Cheryl was given exemption. She was however a current World Champion and with the fittest ever by a PWC 170 test at the Medellin Institute of Sport. So he was envious and saw his opportunity. Back then you had four in a team and three to race in each event. Stone the coach asked the other three girls which race they didn’t want and Cheryl got those three.
The 1,500m was her first event and Cheryl and Anna Titze were the strong skaters capable of leading all the way on a difficult to pass, wide bended Oostende track. Titze hit the front and Cheryl had to go to the outside on the bend and duck down to the pole line in front of the Italian into second position and that was the way it ended.
Come the 5,000m points and her strongest event Stone told her she had already won her medal and it was someone elses turn. Cheryl had to work for Debbie Tilling, there was a crash early on and Cheryl had towed Debbie for most of the points. Midway through Debbie simply couldn’t maintain the pace and was left behind, so then Cheryl had to go for it. With the last sprint to go Cheryl lead by 8 points and was sitting in second position cruising with only about eight others left in the race. The Argentinian girl whose dad was a corner judge saw nothing when his daughter grabbed and stopped Cheryl, then a Spanish skater grabbed her by her skin folds. Claudia Rodriguz got enough points to tie with Cheryl and won as she crossed the line first. One of the CIC members sitting beside me saw it all and done nothing. The American ref, Argentinian and New Zealand judge supposedly missed it as well. The Australian coach Stone laughed and said serves you right you bitch and ran away when I chased him. He returned to Australia and never even put in a report, an absolute first-rate vindictive idiot and disgrace to Australia.
In the 10,000m elimination Cheryl was left with three Italians and a Frenchwomen with 4 laps to go. She said if she got between them they would have grabbed her so from 800 metres to go she lead full on. The French girl dropped then one Italian followed by the other Mauri. But the sprinter Pilia was still on her and passed Cheryl out of the last corner to take the gold and Cheryl the silver. The Strong teams were laughing as Australia didn’t have Cheryl in the relay and they failed. Three races and three silver medals, the rest of the Australian squad averaged 27th position.
Ten days after returning Cheryl raced the Velta of Colombia bike race, with the Russian and Swiss national teams present. After puncturing in stage one she caught back up and got bunch time. Then in stage three or four she crashed into a pothole and wrecked her wheels losing 3 ½ Minutes. She went through the field out climbing them in the tough hills to chase the breakaway of four up ahead. Up the final hill she caught a Russian in 5th place and in a risk taking chase clocked up to 93 km an hour on the dodgy decent. She caught the breakaway of four entering the finishing zone. After four stages she was sitting in 4th place only 24 seconds behind leader and winner Evelyn Mueller from Switzerland. On a shortened criterium course she was fresh but didn’t understand the announces and she thought when the bell went it was for a prime and there was still about 18 km to go. Unfortunately it was for the finish and a fit Cheryl full of running ended up about 8th or 9th from memory.
Last hurrah back in Australia
After leaving Colombia in a hurry due to safety concerns for our children we stopped off in New Zealand for four months and relived our life. We done all the things we had never been able to do in our younger days. Among many other activities Cheryl and Nicole won the mother and daughter Caroline Bay beauty pageant. After that we went back to Perth, Australia where I assumed the position of Australian World team coach in 1992.
We kept pursuing our dreams. We trained on the 166.66 metre bank track, done off skate, weights and rode the death valley 70 km ride. One day to prove a point to Cheryl’s team mate Desly we rode an unannounced 200 km ride.
One very famous insertion in Desly Hill’s Diary. Re Cheryl’s Dream the 22nd May 1992 “Hi Des I had a good dream last night. You won the 300m time trial, then lead me out in the 1,500 metres. I won and you lunged for second.” Three months later in Rome the dream was almost completed except Cheryl lunged for first and Desly was third.
She retired from international skating as number one overall and retaining her 1,500 metre title at a very young 33 years of age. After first having won in 1981 with the three skater grab and block system she had seven fourths and five fifth placings before she won another medal in 1989 and World titles in 1990 and 1992. She won her first World Title in 1981 and her last eleven years later after having two kids, what a career.