Betty Cuthbert will forever be known as the Golden Girl of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, where she won three sprinting gold medals and entrenched herself in the collective affection of a nation. She was 18, straw-blonde, and she bolted into public consciousness from virtually nowhere. So poorly did she rate her chances of even being chosen to represent Australia that she bought tickets to attend as a spectator. She began to show real form just before the Games, and went on to overshadow her world record-breaking team-mates Shirley Strickland and Marlene Mathews. In nine days she won the 100m, the 200m and anchored the team that won the 4 x 100m relay - becoming the first Australian, male or female, ever to win three gold medals at a single Games. [The track events preceded the swimming, at which Murray Rose performed the same feat.]
Eight years later, after a retirement that did not last, Cuthbert tackled the 400m at the Tokyo Olympics, ran flawlessly and collected a fourth gold medal. Until the end of the century only two others, Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose, had achieved that feat; in 2004, Ian Thorpe took his tally to five. A woman of great religious faith, Cuthbert was enticed to run in Tokyo by a nagging inner voice. “Sure, I ran the race,” she said later, “but God took over. He picked them (her feet) up, and I put them down.” She learned in 1969 that she had multiple sclerosis. Her devoutness, and the rare, strong spirit she has always possessed, have sustained her mightily.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian