Betty Cuthbert: Champion Athlete & Champion Woman who inspired generations April 20 1938-Aug 6 2017 Print E-mail

Australian Broadcasting Corporation ~ Monday August 7 2017


Betty Cuthbert: Four-time Olympic gold medallist an inspiration on and off the track

Raelene Boyle wheels MS-stricken Betty Cuthbert to the opening of the Sydney Olympics 2000

By Luke Pentony

Among the many tributes paid to Betty Cuthbert upon news of her death at age 79, a touching tweet from Cathy Freeman summed up how much she meant to Australian sport.

"Thank you for the inspirational memories, Betty Cuthbert," Freeman tweeted on Monday morning. "Rest in peace."

It is fitting for Cuthbert to be described as an inspiration, as that is what she was for not just Freeman and the likes of Raelene Boyle, but also the generations of Australian track and field athletes who followed in the wake of her illustrious career.

Cuthbert won four Olympic gold medals and remains the only athlete to have triumphed at the Games in the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

Across her career she set 16 world records in individual and relay events, having burst to prominence at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as a shy 18-year-old from the north-west Sydney suburb of Ermington.

The image of her running with her mouth gaped wide open became synonymous with her victories in the 100 and 200m, and 4x100m relay, which earned her the title of 'Golden Girl'.

Perhaps Cuthbert's greatest achievement on the track, however, came eight years later at the Tokyo Olympics when she won her fourth gold in what was the debut of the women's 400m.

Between Melbourne and Tokyo, Cuthbert's career had been blighted by injury, which cruelled her attempts to defend her Olympic titles at the 1960 Rome Games, while she had also spent time in retirement before deciding to return to the sport.

Considered past her best by some at the age of 26, Cuthbert took victory in Tokyo in an Olympic record time of 52 seconds and her satisfaction was obvious.

"This was the hardest race of all," she told the media in Tokyo.

"In Melbourne, everything came easily to me, for I was much younger and things happened without my realising it.

"But I wanted this one more than anything."
 
Cuthbert's legacy recognised at Sydney Olympics
Australia did not win another gold medal in the 400m until Freeman famously did so at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, only a week and a half after Cuthbert took part in the final stages of the torch relay.

The honour of lighting the cauldron was given to Freeman, but Cuthbert confined to a wheelchair at this stage of her life because of multiple sclerosis ­ was among the celebration of Australia's female Olympic greats on that emotional night in Sydney.

Three-time Olympic sprint medallist Boyle assisted Cuthbert as she made her way around the Stadium Australia track and she later reflected on the significance of sharing that moment with one of her heroes.

"Betty was to become one of the athletes and women I most admired as I grew older," Boyle wrote in her 2003 autobiography, Raelene.

"To have enjoyed such a warm friendship with her over the years is something I cherish, along with memories of a certain night many years later when I had the opportunity to push her wheelchair into the spotlight ­ that was one of the proudest moments in my life."

Even in retirement, Cuthbert proved to be an inspiring figure after being diagnosed with MS.

Majorie Jackson-Nelson, who won the Olympic 100-200m double at the Helsinki Games four years before Cuthbert's Melbourne heroics, was in awe of how bravely her close friend responded to the debilitating illness.


"When she was struck down with MS it was a bit of a blow to start with," Jackson-Nelson said on Monday. "But Betty, as strong as she was, took it in her stride like everything she did and it was a pleasure and a privilege to know Bett."

Cuthbert's achievements were recognised internationally in 2012 when she was among the first athletes inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame alongside other greats such as Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Sergei Bubka.

The Western Australian government has offered a state funeral, with Cuthbert having lived in Mandurah near Perth during her retirement.

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 Monday August 7 2017

Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert dead at 79

By Rachel Browne

Australian Olympic athletics champion Betty Cuthbert has died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

Cuthbert was a four-time Olympic gold medallist, winning three at the 1956 Melbourne games in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay events.

Cuthbert, who also won gold in the 400 metres at the Tokyo Olympics eight years later, was a torch bearer at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Games.

Betty Cuthbert has died aged 79. (Anita Jones)

The daughter of nursery owners, Cuthbert was born in Merrylands in Sydney's west, attending Ermington Public School and Macarthur Girls High School where she developed an interest in athletics and an ambition to compete in the Olympics.

She made her Olympic debut at the 1956 Melbourne Games where she set a world record in the 200 metres.

She competed in the 1960 Rome Games but suffered an injury and was eliminated from the heats of the 100 metres, announcing her retirement from track and field shortly afterwards.

Betty Cuthbert competes at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Photo: Supplied

Cuthbert made her comeback at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth before going to the 1964 Tokyo Games where she won her fourth Olympic gold medal.

She remains the only Olympian to have won a gold medal in all sprint events, being the 100, 200 and 400 metres. Only Ian Thorpe has won more gold for Australia.

She first experienced symptoms of multiple sclerosis in 1969 and was diagnosed with the disease in 1974, spending much of her later life dedicated much of her life towards raising awareness about the condition.

Tributes poured in for Cuthbert on Monday morning, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing her as an inspiration.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates remembered Cuthbert as being brave in the face of adversity.

"Betty was the golden girl of the track and a national heroine," he said. "It's very sad to lose such a great champion. Betty battled her illness for many years and showed tremendous courage, but more importantly she always managed to smile."

Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman described Cuthbert as an inspiring force.

"It's a very sad day, there's no doubt about it," Freeman said. "Betty is an inspiration and her story will continue to inspire Australian athletes for generations to come. I'm so happy I got to meet such a tremendous and gracious role model, and Olympic champion."

Radio broadcaster Alan Jones also paid tribute to Cuthbert's athletic achievements.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten tweeted that Cuthbert would always be a golden girl to Australians.

Peak body Athletics Australia extended sympathy to Cuthbert's friends and family.

Cuthbert was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 with chairman John Bertrand remembering her as a great role model.

"Betty was a true inspiration and role model to all Australians," he said. "Her feats on the track bought together Australians as one. She loved the country and we loved her".

Cuthbert left NSW for Western Australia in 1991, settling in Mandurah south of Perth.