Online gem No. 8: Betty Cuthbert, champion athlete (12 April 2016)

‘Online gem No. 8: Betty Cuthbert, champion athlete (12 April 2016)’, Honest History, 12 April 2016

Update 25 July 2016: one aspect of the 1956 Olympics was the TV coverage, which created its own issues but set the early parameters for sports coverage on Australian TV.


Betty Cuthbert, the winner of four Olympic gold medals, is Australia’s most successful track athlete. Her Olympic gold medal tally is matched by swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose and exceeded only by Ian Thorpe with five golds.

Early in 1956, the year of Melbourne’s Olympic Games, the 18-year-old Betty Cuthbert was a promising athlete who was overshadowed by more experienced competitors, but shortly before the Games she broke the world record for the 200 metres sprint and became a key hope for Australia. In Melbourne, Cuthbert exceeded all expectations and went on to win three gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres and anchoring Australia’s sprint relay team. Such was her success that she was named Australia’s ‘Golden Girl’ after the Games.

Four years later expectations were high that Cuthbert would replicate her Melbourne success at the Rome Olympics but she was dogged by injury and sickness, eliminated in the second round of the 100 metres and forced to withdraw from the 200 metres. Shortly after the games she retired from competitive athletics but this retirement lasted for little more than 12 months. Guided by the coaching of June Ferguson and the conditioning of the Portsea-based Percy Cerutty Cuthbert made a comeback at the Perth Commonwealth Games in 1962, where she anchored the gold medal winning sprint relay team.

Ferguson convinced Cuthbert to move from sprinting to the more physically demanding 400 metres event and in 1964 Cuthbert crowned her international career by winning the gold medal in this event at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Video.

Cuthbert then retired completely from competition and, sadly, five years later was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. (This link also includes video of Cuthbert’s three golds in Melbourne.) She was a torch-bearer at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and now lives in Western Australia. There are numerous Cuthbert photographs on the National Library’s Trove database.

Cerutty1Betty Cuthbert and Percy Cerutty, Portsea, 1962 (Courtesy/copyright, Ross Lane, Carrington, NSW)

This is one of a series contributed by John Myrtle ( from his database of material relating to 1900 to the early 1970s.

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