Tweed Heads resident and former Olympic swimmer Nancy Welch will take her place as a baton-bearer for the Queen’s Baton Relay.
Tweed Heads resident and former Olympic swimmer Nancy Welch will take her place as a baton-bearer for the Queen’s Baton Relay. Yvonne Gardiner

Olympics medal winner still 'one of the best'

WHEN the Queen's Baton arrives in Australia in December and makes its way over three months to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, former Olympian Nancy Welch (Lyons) will take her place as one of 3500 baton bearers.

As a sportswoman, Nancy was never beaten in competition in Australia and earned the accolade, "one of the best Australian swimmers of all time".

She won a silver medal at the 1948 Olympic Games in London in the 200m breaststroke, after paying her own fare to the UK.

In her article A Tale of Two Olympics, State Library of Queensland librarian Trudy Bennett writes in August 2012 when London was hosting its third Olympic Games:

"Among the 10 Australian swimmers who came to London in July 1948 was Queenslander Beatrice "Nancy" Lyons.

"She was chosen for the Australian team but, because of post-war financial difficulties, she had to raise the money for her fare to London herself.

"She won the silver medal in the 200 metres breaststroke, being only half a second behind the record-holder and gold medallist.

"She won silver at the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland, in the 220 yards breaststroke, and then won gold in the 3x110 yards medley."

Trudy writes that the contrast between the 1948 London Olympics, which were aptly christened The Austerity Games, and the glittering affair in 2012, could not be greater.

"In 1948 Britain was broke, still in the grip of rationing and dire shortages of many non-rationed commodities, and the rubble that was the result of years of German bombing was still much in evidence," she said.

"It is interesting to compare Nancy Lyons' description of her Olympic experience with what happens now.

"At an Olympians dinner in 2004, she said that she used to train three nights a week after school at the Valley baths, and that by the time she returned from the two-month boat trip from Europe, Australia had forgotten about the Olympic Games."

Nancy, born in 1930 and now a resident of Tweed Heads, remembers the 1948 Olympics opening ceremony in London as a low-key affair.

Nancy Lyons (Welch), seated right, in Australia’s swim team for the 1948 Olympic Games in London.
Nancy Lyons (Welch), seated right, in Australia’s swim team for the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Picasa

"The opening ceremony compared with today is just so different," she said.

"The teams marched in and stayed on the oval, and King George just drove around the oval."

Pigeons representing "peace" were released.

Nancy went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.

She still has the baton she carried in the Sydney 2000 Torch Relay at Tallebudgera.

That experience was "fabulous", she said.

Nancy's obvious swimming talents have opened up incredible opportunities.

"Our parents taught us to swim because we lived by the sea in Townsville," she said.

"I won my first championship aged nine.

"The coach decided I had natural ability."


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