Betty Cuthbert

1938 – 2017

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 always possessed sustained her mightily.

Harry Gordon, AOC historian

Olympic Results

1964 Tokyo

400m - Women
Qualifying 56.0 (3rd)
Semi Final 53.8 (2nd)
Final 52.0 (1st)
Final Placing 1 / 23

1960 Rome

100m - Women
Qualifying 12.1 (2nd)
Quarter Final 12.0 (4th)
Final Placing 13 / 31
200m - Women
Qualifying DNC
Final Placing /
4 x 100m Relay - Women
Qualifying Disqualified
Final Placing /

1956 Melbourne

100m - Women
Qualifying 11.4 (1st)
Semi Final 12.0 (2nd)
Final 11.5 (1st)
Final Placing 1 / 34
200m - Women
Qualifying 23.5 (1st)
Semi Final 23.6 (1st)
Final 23.4 (1st)
Final Placing 1 / 27
4 x 100m Relay - Women
Final 44.5 (1st)
Qualifying Cooke and Mathews DNC in Relay 44.9 1st
Final Placing 1 / 9