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It was a call that Matthew Hill sort of remembers from 2008, not of a race or a football game, but from his mother saying, “I love you and I hope to see you again”.
Hill was surrounded by n Olympic team doctors and concerned colleagues from radio station 2GB as he lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed in Beijing.
He was struck down by melioidosis, the survival rate was no better than 10 per cent – much worse if he stayed in China.
“I remember having the n team doctors there, Ray Hadley had got them in, and before they put me into a coma, they gave me the phone and said your mum wants to tell you she loves you,” Hill recalled. “She said ‘I love you and I hope to see you again’ before they put me out.
“I didn’t know that she had just been told if I survived the flight to Hong Kong, I might live.”
It’s that day in Beijing that defines Hill’s life. He made it to Hong Kong and within a month was back in having beaten the odds.
Calling the Melbourne Cup is, like everything else that has happened since, a bonus.
Hill, 36, will follow a grand tradition of race callers as he will be the eyes of the nation calling his first Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, a highlight of any career.
A dream result for a boy who wanted to be a race caller from his teens and a sports broadcaster.
But he admits he wouldn’t be at Flemington without finding answers about Beijing.
“It is something you dream of [the Melbourne Cup], but I dreamt of the Olympics as well and it took me a while to get over what happened in Beijing,” Hill said.
“Not health-wise, not that it wasn’t bad, but just not being able to call an Olympics.
“When I was back in Hong Kong, I had been intubated and couldn’t talk. I had to write notes and kept asking Dad about the Olympics and he just told me I was lucky to be here.
“I couldn’t understand it and I actually went to a sports psychiatrist for six months and got back to the Olympics in London .
“Calling the Melbourne Cup is a dream but it is what I do and there are nerves but I’m coping with it pretty naturally.”
Hill has always looked forward to Melbourne Cup because it is an opportunity.
“When you are a kid it’s the day you get a chance in a box somewhere,” he said. “I have called Mildura, Kembla, Muswellbrook and Randwick on Cup day – I think I did a dog meeting one year – so you only see the Cup on television and I would think it would be great to be there.
“Not really for the calling of the race, that was for my dreams.
“I have done a couple of years at Flemington for the ABC but never called a Cup before.
“You look at the great race callers and sports broadcasters that have called the Melbourne Cup, it is definitely the pinnacle.
“It is an achievement.”
Hill is aware of the responsibility on his shoulders from about 3pm on Tuesday.
“You just have to look at who has done it before me – Ray Warren and Bruce McAvaney, both called Melbourne Cups, Greg Miles and Bill Collins have set the standard,” Hill said.
“There is a great history of callers who have done this before me. I know I’ll be nervous close to the race because of what it is.
“You can call 1000 races during the year but if you stuff up the last 15 seconds of the Melbourne Cup that’s all people will remember forever.”
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