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ANENDRA SINGH
If you ask Allan Potts, he'll tell there just wasn't enough space on the wall to describe his late wife's achievements.
``They had a space for about 180-word inscription for the plaque on the wall but I could have done with 240 to 280 words or something but they [the University of Otago] did a fine job,' Potts told SportToday from Dunedin.
The 74-year-old athletics stalwart from Hastings was attending a Wall of Fame induction ceremony at the university's School of Physical Education at the weekend to honour wife Sylvia Pott's contribution to the discipline following her graduation from the school.
The talented husband-and-wife team coached thousands of young athletes before Sylvia, a graduate of Otago University, died from cancer in 1999.
The Olympian was a revered middle-distance runner who took a heartbreaking fall just metres short of the tape in the 1500m finals of the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. An annual athletics meeting is dedicated to her memory in Hastings in February.
But Allan Potts continued their coaching legacy and has been at the forefront of the Hastings Athletic Club for 24 years.
The couple was awarded the Order of New Zealand for Merit and in 2005 Allan was named Watties Sporting Volunteer of the Year.
On Friday night, the late Sylvia was among six other household names in the country - former All White Michael McGarry, netballing greats Lyn Gunson and Robyn Broughton, and leading academic in leisure studies Professor Grant Cushman.
They were only the second group of inductees, joining other national sport icons including Lorraine Moller, Graham Henry, Leigh Gibbs and Farah Palmer as well as sports scientists Dr Lindsay Carter and the late Dr James Hay. The Wall of Fame and its first inductees were unveiled in May 2006. Allan Potts received a call from the university two months ago about her induction and had to keep it quiet from the public. ``It was quite a surprise and I don't know how to put it,' he said of Sylvia, who completed her diploma in physical education at Otago in 1964 after leaving at Freyberg High School as head girl in her hometown of Palmerston North.
Oamaru-born Allan Potts started coaching her in 1963, a year after she attended the university. The couple married in 1965.
It was the beginning of one of the greatest husband-and-wife partnerships in the history of New Zealand athletics.
Sylvia was selected for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, finishing sixth in the semifinal of the 800m. She finished fifth in the final of the 800m at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games but it was her effort in the 1500m final at Edinburgh which has become a legend of track and field in New Zealand. Sprinting to a narrow lead in the home straight, she was in front two metres from the finish when her legs gave way from sheer exhaustion.
She fell and lost a certain gold medal.
``She always ran to win. She ran out of steam two metres from the finish line but she handled herself quite well.
She put her heart and soul into it but fell over,' recalled Potts, who could not afford to travel to Edinburgh to see her race because he had just been transferred as a ``social security' [Work and Income] employee to Taihape that year.
``We both shed a tear after that and then she got on with it because she had to run another race the next day,' he said.
Sylvia's contribution to New Zealand athletics was recognised when she was selected to carry the Queen's Baton at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games, and in her appointment as athletics team manager at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games (where son Richard competed).