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Historical Vignette - Marlene Mathews, one of our greatest and unluckiest

1 June 2006

Marlene Mathews was first selected in an Australian team for the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada, but injury resulted in her withdrawal from the sprint events.

By the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games she was the second fastest women’s sprinter in Australia and she duly won bronze medals in the 100 metres and the 200 metres, behind Betty Cuthbert and Germany's Christa Stubnick in both races.

She was surprisingly left out of Australia’s 4 x 100 metres relay team (Shirley Strickland, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor and Betty Cuthbert) that won the gold medal in world record time because it was considered that she wasn't good enough as a relay runner.

At a post-Olympics meeting, she was part of the relay team that broke the 4 x 220 yards and 4 x 200 metres relay world records.

In early 1957, she set times for 440 yards and 400 metres that the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) ratified as the inaugural world records for those events.

In March 1958, she set a world record of 10.3 seconds for the 100 yards – breaking the old world record of 10.4 seconds, held jointly by fellow Australians in Betty Cuthbert and Marjorie Jackson (the last two winners of the 100 metres/200 metres double at the Olympic Games). She also set a world record of 23.4 seconds for the 220 yards – breaking Betty Cuthbert’s world record of 23.5 seconds.

At the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, in Cardiff, Wales she was the sprint queen in winning the 100 yards and 220 yards and being part of the relay team that won a silver medal in the 4 x 110 yards relay.

Her best times for the 100 metres and 220 yards/200 metres would have won both titles at the 2005 Australian Athletics Championships and it must also be remembered that she did all of her running on cinders or grass tracks which were much slower than the bouncy synthetic running surfaces of today.

Mathews made the semi-finals in the 100 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympics before eventually turning to administration in the sport of athletics.

In 1972, she was one of the Assistant Managers of the Australian Olympic Team to the Munich Olympics.

In 1979, her services to athletics were recognised when she became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In 1999 she became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

Marlene Mathews was an original inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

Bruce Coe
Olympic Historian

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