Rafael Melendez-Duke has been a fixture on the Victoria and Island track scene for 70 years. So multi-faceted has been his career that he could be enshrined as both an athlete and a builder.
Rafael joined the storied Victoria Flying Y Track and Field Club in 1947 and was one of the greatest Victoria sprinters of the 1950s. Under coach and mentor Archie McKinnon, he competed as a sprinter and relay specialist for 11 years. Along the way, he won B.C. Senior Men’s double sprint title for six years. He won the 100 yard sprint at the Canadian Championships in 1951 and took silver in the 200 yard sprint at the 1952 Championships. His career best times on cinder tracks were 9.8 seconds for the 100 yard sprint, 10.8 seconds for the 100 metre sprint, and 21.9 seconds for 200 metres.
After graduating from University School, Rafael’s post-secondary schooling took him to California’s St. Mary’s College, where he won his letter in track in his freshman year, followed the next year by a season-ending muscle pull. A transfer to Vancouver lasting five years coupled with a career change to teaching led him back to Victoria (and track), where he is known to have bested a future school principal over a 50 metre race in order to merit an offer to teach in School District 61.
In his 27 years at Willows School, Rafael revitalized its running activities and, with superb backing from teacher Mike Antolin and principals Tom Bourne and Tarj Mann over a 25-year span, made the elementary school’s cross-country running program a popular and competitive activity, existing to this day.
A landmark track meet, held at UVic’s Centennial Stadium in September 1968, attracted many U.S. and European athletes just three weeks prior to Mexico City’s Olympics. As a timer and judge at the finish line, Rafael forever avoided these officiating functions and yearned for the starter’s gun!
In 1968, at the invitation of long-time starters Ernie Teagle and Jack Hutchinson, Rafael was invited to be a third starter at local and B.C. meets with the added bonus of competing as a master athlete. What an offer! Starting became a passion and a commitment that now stretches more than five decades.
Rafael has helped build the sport of track and field in Victoria both as a coach and meet technical official. He has literally written the book on starting: On Your Marks – a History of Track and Field Officiating in Victoria. He has started thousands of races in his career, from Commonwealth Games and Canadian Olympic Trials to elementary school meets.
To Rafael, the athlete on the start line is always Number One, whether he or she is eight years old or an Olympic hopeful. A track meet can have up to 200 races, yet he treats every runner under his charge with the same respect, courtesy and genuine interest. As an example of commitment to his sport, Rafael Melendez-Duke is unbeatable.
SPONSORED BY SMUS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOC.