AFL GRAND FINAL SPRINT
The 1977 season was one of unprecedented change for the VFL. Under the leadership of Allen Aylett, the league adopted a number of innovations in order to market itself to a wider audience. These included the return of the Night Series, the relaunch of the Reserves competition (renamed the Commodore Cup with a game shown each Sunday on Channel Seven) and the first-ever live television broadcast of a VFL–AFL Grand Final.
Despite these changes, half-time entertainment at the biggest game of the year remained the same, with spectators at the 1977 Grand Final treated to a traditional marching and music display by the Combined Services Band. Everything changed when the match between Collingwood and North Melbourne was drawn, requiring a replay to be held the following weekend.
Forced to create a second Grand Final day entertainment package at short notice, the VFL were willing to explore new options, choosing to abandon the traditional half-time entertainment in favour of a one-mile foot race between league footballers. The mile race proved a success, generating enough public and media interest for the event to be held again at half-time of the 1978 Grand Final.
In 1979 the format was altered to a 100-metre sprint and this quickly developed into a key part of Grand Final day. Many fans still fondly remember Geoff Ablett, a.k.a. "The Fastest Man in Football", not for his efforts in the big match but for his near-annual domination of the half-time sprint. The race was replaced in 1986 by the Foster's Grand Final Entertainment Spectacular, which featured flag-waving and dancing. The response to this was lukewarm at best and the sprint was resurrected in 1987, only to make way the following season for a half-time dance spectacular.
The league continued to trial other forms of entertainment at half-time of the Grand Final and it wasn't until 2002 that the sprint made a popular return. During the 1977–1987 era, participation was optional for clubs playing in the Grand Final, with most choosing not to take part. However, since 2002 all clubs are required to participate, with the Grand Finalists usually represented by a fringe player not selected for the match. 2015 saw the introduction of non-league representatives for the first time, either as a sponsor competition winner or local club footballer.
A sprint race was also held at the 1996 AFL Lightning Premiership, run under the same format as the Grand Final Sprint with the fastest players in each heat advancing to the final, which was run prior to the Lightning Premiership Grand Final. Further details can be found below.
WINNERS / TOP THREE PLACINGS
LIST OF WINNERS – NOTES
In the video of the 1985 race, Geoff Ablett is initially declared the winner by the commentary team but in replays it appears Geelong's Michael Kol may have stolen the race with a lunge at the line. The footage ends before the official result is announced. In an interview with the Sunday Press newspaper [29-9-1985], Ablett confirms that he held on to win by the barest of margins, reversing the 1984 result when he had been pipped at the post by Essendon's Doug Cox.
Many sources list Majak Daw as finishing 2nd and Jed Bews 3rd. However, video of the race shows Daw easing up about three metres short of the finish after James Shirley breaks away for an unassailable lead. As Daw slows down, Bews makes a final burst, just passing him on the line for 2nd place.
RUNNERS – CLUB BY CLUB
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
SYDNEY / SOUTH MELBOURNE
W. BULLDOGS / FOOTSCRAY