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A tribute to Australia's "Golden Girl" Betty Cuthbert

Australian track star Betty Cuthbert at the Summer Olympics. (Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Expert
7th August, 2017
14

Vivid memories of Betty Cuthbert winning triple gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and backing up eight years later to capture 400 gold in Tokyo came flooding back this morning with the sad news that she had passed away.

In all the years I’ve been privileged to cover sport, Betty was right at the top of the salute tree.

Just a slip of a girl, twig thin, standing just 169 centimetres tall, and weighing 57 kilos dripping wet, Betty was a dynamic sprinter.

With her blond hair flowing, and mouth wide open, Betty was a picture of pure determination and domination with her high leg action.

There’s a superb bronze statue of Betty at the MCG, the secene of her greatest triumphs, capturing her in full flight.

After the Melbourne golds, Betty lost interest in running, she was always so humble and modest, the glare of adulation got to her.

Betty returned to he parents nursery in Ermington in Sydney’s inner west, and closing in on Tokyo she decided to have another crack taking out the inaugural women’s 400.

I never found out why the change until years later.

In the meantime Betty was always keen to inspire the young, and we visited many schools, talking to the kids who rightfully looked on Betty as a goddess – she certainly looked the part.

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I remember one parents night at St Ignatius College in Sydney. where I asked the questions, and Betty won everyone in the packed hall with her answers – she was brilliant to interview,

Not long afterwards, some 40 years ago, Betty was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

Typically, Betty fought the crippling disease with the same determination as she showed on the track.

Enter Rhonda Gillam into Betty’s life as her full-time carer, and what a superb job Rhonda has done over all those years.

Five years ago, Betty had to be one of the very first Green and Gold Greats series I did for ABC NewsRadio.

Betty was living south of Perth, and on arrival she said with concern that we had been such great mates over the years, she didn’t want to mess up the interview.

“Have no fears Bet, we’ll go as long as you’re able, and when it;s time to stop, we’ll stop – no problem”.

The MS had reduced that superb athlete to being permanently confined to a wheelehair with minimal movement of her head, and left arm

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Basically, the beautiful Betty was paralysed – yet she soldiered on.

I was on crutches at the time after a hip replacement, and Betty was more concerned over my lack of mobility than her own

That was Betty.

After 20 minutes, I broke down, the courage Betty was shownig that memorable day was huge, and it got the better of me.

“David, you’re crying,” was Betty’s comment.

“Betty you’re so brilliant, I feel so inadequent compared to your courage, I want to leap over the table and give you a big hug”.

With a twinkle in her eye Betty said – “I’m waiting David.”

There wasn’t a hope in hell of me leaping the table, but I got u[p and hobbled to Betty for the promised hug.

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What a lady, what an athlete, what courage.

It was during that interview, Betty told me how he came to run at Tokyo.

Always deeply and genuinely religious, Betty told me God spoke to her while she was on her knees weeding the nursery.

“I want you to run again,” God told her.

Betty started training that afternoon and ended up with her fourth Olympic gold.

For one who has suffered so much for so long, “Golden Girl” Betty Cuthbert is no longer in pain.

Rest in peace great lady, it’s been a privilege to know you.