In the 10 000 metres at Tokyo 1964, Ron Clarke won Australia’s third bronze medal in the event at successive Olympics. Allan Lawrence and David Power won the previous medals, at Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960 respectively. Entering Tokyo, Clarke was the reigning world record holder but in the Olympic race he was beaten home by an unknown American in Billy Mills and Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia. Clarke also finished ninth in the 5 000 metres and the marathon. His marathon result was the best by an Australian since George Blake’s sixth at the Intercalated Olympics at Athens 1906.
Clarke was the junior world record holder in the mile when he lit the Olympic Flame at Melbourne in 1956. Earlier that year, at the Australian titles, John Landy famously stopped during the mile, to attend to a fallen Clarke, and then resumed running to win the race. Landy took the Olympic Oath on behalf of the athletes during the opening ceremony at Melbourne.
Clarke competed in the rarefied atmosphere at Mexico City 1968 where he gallantly finished fifth in the 5 000 metres and sixth in the 10 000 metres. The atmosphere, or lack thereof, and physical exertion caused his dramatic collapse at the end of the longer race, requiring oxygen to be administered to aid his recovery.
Throughout much of the 1960s, Clarke was the dominant distance runner, setting 19 world records (17 official, two unofficial). He won four silver medals at the Empire and Commonwealth games from 1962 through to 1970. He has an Olympic gold medal. His friend and admirer, Emil Zatopek, presented him with one of the three medals he, Zataopek, had won at Helsinki 1952. In 1966, Clarke became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) ‘in recognition of service to athletics’. He was one of the original inductees into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985. In 2013 he was appointed an Officer (AO) in the General Division in the Queen's Birthday honours.