TRIBUTES have flooded in following the passing of former Gold Coast Mayor and Australian Olympian Ron Clarke.

The 78-year-old died early this morning at Allamanda Hospital in Southport, after an illness that is reported to be related to heart and kidney disease.

Clarke, who was one of the country's top middle and long-distance runners and held 17 world records, has been remembered by business and community leaders as a local hero. 

Former councillor and colleague Peter Young has described Clarke as a very honest and genuine man who committed to the betterment of the city.

"Despite the fact that he was a world renowned athlete, some of them get very hedonistic; he was a very humble and honourable man," says Young.

"As our Mayor I found him to be very diligent, very determined; he worked really hard and he was incorruptible - he was very honest and straight."

Young says his friendship with Clark started off rocky and that, early on, the pair did not get along at all. However, after a couple of years of arguments and disagreements, the duo managed to work things out.

"To his credit, he stepped over the bridge and we became very firmly related after that," says Young.

"I was a younger person, a bit of an upstart I suppose, a bit brash, and he was willing to forgive that and move forward positively from there. I think that is an indication of the man he is; a man of his word and a man of honour."

State member for Mermaid Beach Ray Stevens, a former Gold Coast Mayor who also worked as his chief of staff for two years, has described Clarke as an "iconic" Gold Coaster.

"My deepest sympathies to his wife Helen and his family because, above everything else, he was a totally engrossed family man and family came first above everything, and he will be sorely missed," he says.

Clarke was Mayor of the Gold Coast for two terms from 2004.

Mayor Tom Tate says he has been in contact with the Clarke family who have asked for their privacy to be respected at this time.

"City of Gold Coast is saddened to learn of the passing of former Mayor Ron Clarke," says Tate.

"Mr Clarke will be remembered for his significant contribution to Australian sport and an eight year local government career."

City of Gold Coast CEO Dale Dickson says while Clarke was a very public figure, he was a very private person and he will be "greatly missed".

"I had the privilege of working with Ron in his time as Mayor of the city from 2004 to 2012, and am personally saddened at his passing," says Dickson

After stepping down from council, Clarke ran for the seat of Broadwater in the 2012 election but was unsuccessful.

Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games CEO Mark Peters has paid tribute to Clarke saying he "spoke the language of the athlete" and was an important member of the winning 2018 Commonwealth Games bid team.

"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 says.

"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.

"Above all else he will be remembered for his absolute passion for sport and this city."

Clarke, a Sport Australia Hall of Fame member, lit the flame for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when he was just 19.  That same year he fell during the 1500m at the Australian national championships. Competitor John Landy stopped mid-race to help him up - a gesture that put a young Clarke on the map.  Landy then resumed running and won the race. 

But the race he is probably most famous for was the 10,000m at Mexico in the 1968 Olympics where he collapsed during a tight race.

At his peak, Clarke set 12 world records, nine of them in just 21 days, during a 44-day tour of Europe. This includes lowering the 10,000 metre event three times, by an overall 39 seconds.

Athletics Australia president David Grace QC says today marks a sad day for athletics in Australia.

"Ron will forever be a legend of our sport and we are grateful for his extensive contribution to the sport of athletics, as well as to public service during a life that should be celebrated," he says.

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

Clarke leaves behind wife Helen, sons Nicolas and Marcus and two grandchildren.  His daughter Monique, 49, died in 2009.

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