Australian Olympic sprinting legend Betty Cuthbert dies aged 79

Golden girl: Betty Cuthbert set 16 world records and remains the only Olympian, male or female, to have won gold in the 100, 200 and 400 metres. Picture: Robert Pearce
Golden girl: Betty Cuthbert set 16 world records and remains the only Olympian, male or female, to have won gold in the 100, 200 and 400 metres. Picture: Robert Pearce

She’s run her last race but the legacy of track champion Betty Cuthbert lives on.

Welcome home: Betty, pictured with twin sister Marie, returned to Ermington in 2010 for the unveiling of a monument in her honour. Picture: Gary Warrick

Welcome home: Betty, pictured with twin sister Marie, returned to Ermington in 2010 for the unveiling of a monument in her honour. Picture: Gary Warrick

The four time Olympic gold medallist died earlier this week following a long battle with multiple sclerosis. She was 79. Born in Merrylands, Cuthbert grew up Ermington, where the family home is heritage-listed. The main shopping street in Ermington is named after her.

Home grown talent: Not long after this photo at Parramatta Home Science School, she broke a national junior record by running 220 yards in 25.1 seconds.

Home grown talent: Not long after this photo at Parramatta Home Science School, she broke a national junior record by running 220 yards in 25.1 seconds.

Her athletics career began at Ermington Public School. She later attended Macarthur Girls High School (then known as Parramatta Home Science School), where she met her lifelong mentor, 1948 Olympian June Ferguson, who was the physical education mistress.

At age 18, Cuthbert competed at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where she won gold in the 100 and 200 metre events, along with a third gold in the 4 x 100 relay.

She retired after the 1960 Olympics but made a comeback at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, where she was part of the gold winning relay. She reinvented herself as a 400 metre  runner, and won gold at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

She was awarded an MBE in 1965 for services to athletics in NSW and in 1984 awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to sport and the community. Cuthbert was one of the Olympic torch bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Ermington Public School is proud to count Cuthbert among its alumni.

"She last visited us in 2004. We have a school building named after her and will present a memorial trophy for athletics in honour of Ms Cuthbert later this year,” principal Jennifer Scuglia said.

Macarthur Girls High School principal Gail Cluff added: “Betty Cuthbert holds a special place in the hearts and minds of students and staff as she exemplified our school motto, the living force, in all she did throughout her life both in the sporting arena and in her personal life.”

Thousands lined Parramatta's Church St in December 1956 to celebrate the success of Betty Cuthbert, who won three gold medals at the Olympics in Melbourne.

The school named its gymnasium after her in 2011 and mounted a commemorative plaque and planted Betty Cuthbert roses in recognition of its famous student.

Cumberland Council lowered its flags to half-mast at all civic buildings on Tuesday. “There is a story that Betty Cuthbert didn’t expect to qualify for the 1956 Olympics and instead bought tickets as a spectator,” general manager Malcolm Ryan said.

“Not only did she qualify, she went on to win three gold medals in Melbourne and ran her way into Australia’s heart as the original ‘golden girl’. She represented what was best about Australia to the world and inspired a generation of athletes to win and win graciously.”

Parramatta Council administrator Amanda Chadwick offered her condolences to the family. The council will fly flags at half-mast on the day of her funeral, which is still to be confirmed.

In action at the 1956 Olympics