Nickname was spot on for Australia's Golden Girl
NO NICKNAME has ever encapsulated an Australian athlete better than the "Golden Girl" tag given to teenage sprinting sensation Betty Cuthbert at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Golden in running style with her extremely high knee lift, golden in appearance given her blonde good looks and golden in performance in that she was the ultimate big-race performer.
Cuthbert, AM, MBE, who died on Monday aged 79 after a 50-year battle with multiple sclerosis, was also golden in personality - shy, modest and caring of her many friends.
Her fame never seemed to sit comfortably with her, and fame was what she acquired after winning gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the Melbourne Games.
She would hold nine world records at different times but it was her 1964 feat that stands out for those who fully understand athletics. After injury ruined her 1960 campaign at the Rome Olympics, Cuthbert promptly retired.
But an inner voice, one she later believed belonged to God, persuaded her to try and achieve a first at the 1964 Rome Olympics. Prior to those games, and indeed since them, no athlete had ever won gold in all three sprinting disciplines (100m, 200m, 400m).
The 400m was to be run for the first time at Rome, so Cuthbert, who had grown up in the Sydney suburb of Ermington, where a shopping centre is named after her, began training with Percy Cerruty at Sorrento.
The conditioning got her body back to Olympic shape, and then it became a matter of who was mentally strongest. Of course that was our Golden Girl, who later claimed that her gold medal in the 400m at Rome was her "perfect race".
"It wasn't me running really that day. It was as if my body had been taken over. He picked them (her feet) up, and I put them down," said Cuthbert to historian Harry Gordon in 2000 when recalling the race.
Anne Packer, of Great Britain, who won silver, described it this way: "She has an inner understanding of herself ... I just felt she had a stronger belief in herself than I had in myself." Cuthbert offered thanks in prayer, and asked: "Have I done enough?"
She had, and never raced again. She slipped easily away from the spotlight, living her later life in Western Australia, but made an emotional appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when carrying the Olympic torch in a wheelchair while being pushed by her friend Raelene Boyle.
She is also commemorated by a statue outside the MCG, complete with her customary running style of high legs and mouth wide open. Seven years later, in 2010, a double, soft apricot rose was named after Cuthbert in honour of her tireless work to promote MS awareness in Australia.
Part proceeds of sales go Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Australia.