Ron Clarke, Australia's greatest-ever distance runner, has died at the age of 78 ©Getty Images

Ron Clarke, Australia’s revered Olympic distance runner and more recently Mayor of the Gold Coast, has died aged 78 after a short illness.

Clarke was widely recognised as the paramount running talent of his era in a career in which he set 17 world records, but never managed to secure an Olympic gold medal.

He won 10,000 metres bronze at the 1964 Tokyo Games, and  four years later at the Mexico Games he ran himself to a state of collapse in the rarified atmosphere, finishing fifth in the 5,000m and sixth in the 10,000.

Clarke’ Olympic connection began in 1956, when, as a promising 19-year-old athlete, he lit the Olympic cauldron during his home Games in Melbourne.

Herb Elliott, Australia’s 1960 Olympic 1500m champion, paid tribute to Clarke today, saying: “Ron was a great man. His contribution to athletics was enormous. He was also a wonderful contributor to public health through lifestyle programmes and gymnasiums and the communities in which he lived. Ron will be greatly missed.”

Clarke was one of the original inductees into the Sport Australia Hall Of Fame in 1985 and in more recent times served as Mayor of the Gold Coast with distinction from 2004-2012.

In 2011 he played a key part in the lobbying team that secured the 2018 Commonwealth Games for the Gold Coast in a race with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota.

In the 2013 Queens Birthday Honours List, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) "for distinguished service to the community through a range of leadership roles with local government and philanthropic organisations, and to the promotion of athletics.”

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Australian Olympic legend Ron Clarke, who died today, pictured while Mayor of the Gold Coast in 2010 receiving the Delhi Commonwealth Games Queen's Relay baton from triathlete Emma Snowsill ©Getty Images

John Bertrand, chairman of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, said today: "Ron Clarke was not only known as a world class athlete but a man who contributed enormously to the community."

Mark Peters, chiefexecutive of the Gold Coast 2018, said Clarke - who died in the early hours of this morning in the Gold Coast’s Allamanda Hospital – “spoke the language of the athlete” and was an important member of the team which had secured the Games.

“In his dual capacities as Mayor of the City of Gold Coast and as a world-recognised Australian running legend, Ron played a pivotal part in the hosting of Commonwealth Games Association delegations to our city,” Peters said.

“He was front and centre at every function and he had a special friendship with the head of the powerful African delegation, iconic African runner Kipchoge (Kip) Keino.

“Ron was present when the Bid Book was presented to a special Commonwealth Games Federation executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur in May 2011 and he travelled to St Kitts and Nevis for the Host City announcement in November 2011,” he said.

Peters has extended condolences to Ron's wife Helen and the Clarke family on behalf of Gold Coast 2018.

“Above all else he will be remembered for his absolute passion for sport and this city,” Peters said.

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February 2012: Ron Clarke steps down as Gold Coast Mayor to stand for seat in Queensland poll
February 2012: Mayor does not want Gold Coast Council cut out of planning for 2018 Commonwealth Games
November 2011: Clarke needs surgery after helping Gold Coast 2018 win Commonwealth Games bid