Betty Cuthbert

Last updated

Betty Cuthbert
Betty Cuthbert, c. 1950s, by Ted Hood.jpg
Betty Cuthbert c. 1950s
Personal information
Birth nameElizabeth Alyse Cuthbert
Born(1938-04-20)20 April 1938
Merrylands, New South Wales, Australia
Died6 August 2017(2017-08-06) (aged 79)
Mandurah, Western Australia, Australia
Height5 ft 6+12 in (169 cm)
Weight126 lb (57 kg)
Event(s) 100 metres
200 metres
400 metres
Coached by June Ferguson

Elizabeth Alyse Cuthbert, AC , MBE (20 April 1938 – 6 August 2017) was an Australian athlete and a fourfold Olympic champion. [1] She was nicknamed Australia's "Golden Girl". [2] During her career, she set world records for 60 metres, 100 yards, 200 metres, 220 yards and 440 yards. Cuthbert also contributed to Australian relay teams completing a win in the 4 × 100 metres, 4 × 110 yards, 4 × 200 metres and 4 × 220 yards. Cuthbert had a distinctive running style, with a high knee lift and mouth wide open. [3] She was named in 1998 an Australian National Treasure and was inducted as a Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame in 2000. [4]


Early life

Cuthbert was born to Leslie and Marion alongside her nonidentical [5] twin sister, Marie 'Midge'. She also had another sister, Jean and a brother, John. [6] [7] [8] [9] Cuthbert was born 20 minutes before Marie. [10] According to Midge, the twins were not alike, but very special to each other. [5] The daughter of nursery owners, Cuthbert was born in Merrylands, New South Wales and grew up in the Sydney suburb of Ermington, where she attended Ermington Public School. [11] Of her upbringing, Cuthbert stated "My parents always encouraged me and I had a good home life. We were always taught to respect things and other people." [12]

Marion attended church and sent her four children to Sunday school. [13] As a teenager, Cuthbert attended Parramatta Home Science School. She left school at the age of 16 to work in the family nursery. [7]

Athletic career

Betty Cuthbert, 100m final, 1956 Olympics Betty Cuthbert, Marlene Mathews, Heather Armitage, 1956 Olympics.jpg
Betty Cuthbert, 100m final, 1956 Olympics

Cuthbert was a member of the Western Suburbs Athletic Club. [1] At the age of 18, with the 1956 Summer Olympics to be held in Melbourne, Cuthbert set a World Record in the 200 metres, making her one of the favourites for a gold in that event. Cuthbert first reached the finals of the 100 metres, setting an Olympic record of 11.4 seconds in her heat (also her personal best), while the Australian world record holder Shirley Strickland was eliminated.

Cuthbert won the final and was then the big favourite for the 200 metres title. She lived up to the expectations and became the Australian "Golden Girl". A third gold medal for Cuthbert came when she ran the final leg on in the 4 × 100 metres final, which the Australian team won in a new world record.

During 1958 Cuthbert set world records for 100 and 220 yards but was beaten in both events by arch-rival and double-Olympic bronze medallist Marlene Mathews at the Australian Championships. Later in the year, at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, Cuthbert could only place fourth in the 100y and second in the 220y, again behind Mathews.

She set a world record at 440 yards, which was broken in September 1959 by Maria Itkina of the Soviet Union. [14]

In the lead-up to the 1960 Summer Olympics, in Rome, Cuthbert set a world 220 yards and 200 metres record of 23.2 seconds in winning the Australian championships. At the Rome Games, she suffered from injury and was eliminated from the quarterfinals of the 100 metres. Subsequently, she retired from the sport of track and field.

Her retirement did not last long, though, for she returned at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia, helping Australia to a gold medal in the sprint relay.

Afterwards, she concentrated on the 400 metres, and she competed in that event in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when it was on the Olympic program for women for the first time. Though not impressive in the heats, Cuthbert won the title for her fourth Olympic gold medal, beating Ann Packer of Great Britain in an Olympic record of 52.01. [15] She is the only Olympian, male or female, to have won a gold medal in all sprint (running) events: 100, 200 and 400 metres. She subsequently verified her retirement for good after Tokyo. Also in 1964 she received the Helms Award for her sporting contributions. [16]

She was coached by June Ferguson, who was her physical education teacher in high school. [17] [7]

Personal life

Cuthbert had suffered from multiple sclerosis from 1969 on and in 2002 had a severe brain haemorrhage. [18] She stated that, despite her MS, she never once asked God 'Why me?', and instead "knew that God wanted her to use it to help other people." [19] In 1985 Cuthbert became a born again Christian at the age of 47. [20] Always believing she was a Christian, the speaker at a public rally said there were private practising Christians present. She felt compelled to publicly declare her faith in Jesus. From then on, Cuthbert tried to share the good news of Jesus with as many people as possible. [21] She did, however, initially want to be healed of her MS, and someone encouraged her to go to church where she could be healed. She claimed she went, looking for healing, instead of the Healer. In her own words: "I found out about the healer, and then I couldn't care less about the healing. That's the best thing. I get so much joy out of it and I want to tell other people about it. I think that's why I was meant to come back to the Olympics in 1964 because now I'm well known and it helps me to tell people about Jesus." [22]

Following her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, Cuthbert became a dedicated advocate for the disease and was an important player in the creation of MS Research Australia, attending the organisation's 2004 inauguration alongside then-PM John Howard. She was a tireless campaigner for national awareness of the disease, and, following her death in 2017, was credited by CEO of MS Research Australia, Dr. Matthew Miles, as having had an incredible impact on Australia's recognition and understanding of MS. [23]

In 1991, Cuthbert left her home state, New South Wales, for Western Australia, where she settled in Mandurah. [24] Cuthbert was one of the bearers of the Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Sitting in a wheelchair and accompanied by Raelene Boyle, she carried the Olympic Torch at the stadium, as one of the runners for the final segment, before the lighting of the Olympic Flame by Cathy Freeman. [25]

Cuthbert died in 2017, aged 79, [26] [27] in Mandurah. [28] Cuthbert never married or had children. [29] Rhonda Gillam, a 78-year-old West Australian mother-of-three, devoted the last 26 years of her life to caring for Cuthbert. [8] Gillam stated that Cuthbert's MS also took her hearing. [30] Cuthbert's twin sister, Midge Johnston, stated that Betty had been struggling with dementia in recent years, worrying that Betty would not remember her, but Betty always said "Midge, of course I remember you." [31]


The day after her death, there was a minute's silence before the start of competition at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London, and Australian athletes were granted permission by the International Association of Athletics Federations to wear black armbands in competition. [32] Cuthbert was the only Australian among the 10 inaugural inductees to the IAAF Hall of Fame in 2012. [32] There were many tributes to Cuthbert's career and life from significant Australians:

Cuthbert's funeral was held on 16 August 2017 in Mandurah and her body was cremated at Fremantle Cemetery. [35] Several hundred were present, including: Margaret Court, Raelene Boyle, and Marjorie Jackson. Dawn Fraser (whom Cuthbert handed the Olympic Torch to during the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics) gave a speech. [36] Her twin sister, Midge, lit a candle of remembrance; and niece and nephew, Louise and Peter, also gave speeches. [37] A public memorial service for Cuthbert was held on 21 August 2017, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. [38] Tributes were led by broadcaster Alan Jones and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Also in attendance were former athletes, Norma Fleming and Marlene Matthews. [39]

Personal bests

Personal Bests – outdoor

60 Metres7.20.6+Sydney27 February 1960
100 Yards10.40.0Sydney1 March 1958
100 Metres11.4Melbourne24 November 1956
200 Metres23.2No windSydney16 September 1956
220 Yards23.2Under 2.0Hobart7 March 1960
400 Metres52.01-Tokyo17 October 1964
440 Yards53.3-Brisbane23 March 1963

World records

Cuthbert achieved 14 world records during her career comprising 10 individual and four relays. In addition she set a number of world best, including unclaimed records, and metric distance bests.

Manual and electronic timing.

60 Metres7.20.6+NSW Championships Sydney, New South Wales 27 February 1960 [15] [40]
100 Yards10.40.0NSW Championships Sydney, New South Wales 1 March 1958 [15] [40]
220 Yards23.6Under 2.0National Perth, Western Australia 18 January 1958 [15] [40]
220 Yards23.51.2+NSW Championships Sydney, New South Wales 8 March 1958 [15] [40]
220 Yards23.2Under 2.0 Australian Championships Hobart, Tasmania 7 March 1960 [15] [40]
200 Metres23.2No windPre-Olympic Test Sydney, New South Wales 16 September 1956 [15] [40]
440 Yards55.6-National Sydney, New South Wales 17 January 1959 [15] [40]
440 Yards54.3-International Sydney, New South Wales 21 March 1959 [15] [40]
440 Yards53.5-Moomba Carnival Melbourne, Victoria 11 March 1963 [15] [40]
440 Yards53.3- Australian Championships Brisbane, Queensland 23 March 1963 [15] [40]

Manual and electronic timing.

EventTimeWindEventCityDateOther Team Members
4 x 100 Metres44.9- Olympic Games Melbourne, Victoria 1 December 1956 Shirley Strickland, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor [15] [40]
4 x 100 Metres44.5- Olympic Games Melbourne, Victoria 1 December 1956 Shirley Strickland, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor [15] [40]
4 x 110 Yards45.6- Australian Championships Sydney, New South Wales 5 December 1956 Shirley Strickland, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor [15] [40]
4 x 220 Yards1:36.3-Australia v USA V Commonwealth Sydney, New South Wales 5 December 1956 Marlene Matthews, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor [15] [40]


Statue of Betty Cuthbert outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Betty Cuthbert.jpg
Statue of Betty Cuthbert outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Notable athletics achievements


There are two books on Cuthbert's life: Golden girl as told to Jim Webster (1966) and Golden girl : an autobiography by Betty Cuthbert (2000).

Related Research Articles

Cathy Freeman Australian athlete and Olympic gold medalist (born 1973)

Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman is an Australian former sprinter, who specialised in the 400 metres event. She would occasionally compete in other track events, but 400m was her main event. Her personal best of 48.63 currently ranks her as the eighth-fastest woman of all time, set while finishing second to Marie-José Pérec's number-three time at the 1996 Olympics. She became the Olympic champion for the women's 400 metres at the 2000 Summer Olympics, at which she lit the Olympic Flame.

1956 Summer Olympics Games of the XVI Olympiad, celebrated in Melbourne in 1956

The 1956 Summer Olympics were an international multi-sport event held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, from 22 November to 8 December 1956, with the exception of the equestrian events, which were held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1956.

Dawn Fraser Australian swimmer and politician

Dawn Fraser is an Australian freestyle champion swimmer and former politician. She is one of only three swimmers to have won the same Olympic individual event three times – in her case the women's 100-metre freestyle.

Maureen Caird is an Australian former track athlete, who specialised in the sprint hurdles. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, she became the youngest-ever individual Olympic athletics champion at the time, at age 17, when she won gold in Mexico City.

Ann Packer

Ann Elizabeth PackerMBE is an English former sprinter, hurdler and long jumper. She won a gold medal in the 800 metres and a silver in the 400 metres at the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Australia at the Olympics Sporting event delegation

Australia has sent athletes to all editions of the modern Olympic Games. Australia has competed in every Summer Olympic Games, as well as every Winter Olympics except 1924–32 and 1948. In 1908 and 1912 Australia competed with New Zealand under the name Australasia.

Susan O'Neill, is an Australian former competitive swimmer from Brisbane, Queensland, nicknamed "Madame Butterfly". She achieved eight Olympic Games medals during her swimming career.

Louise Sauvage Australian paralympic athlete

Alix Louise Sauvage, OAM is an Australian paralympic wheelchair racer and leading coach.

Raelene Ann Boyle is an Australian retired athlete, who represented Australia at three Olympic Games as a sprinter, winning three silver medals, and was named one of 100 National Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia in 1998. Boyle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and subsequently became a board member of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA). In 2017, she was named a Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Ermington, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Ermington(formerly "Field of Mars") is a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Ermington is located 19 kilometres north-west of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the City of Parramatta. Ermington lies on the northern bank of the Parramatta River.

Marlene Mathews Australian sprinter

Marlene Judith Mathews AO is a retired Australian Olympic sprinter. She has been described as 'one of Australia's greatest and unluckiest' champions.

Norma Croker Fleming was an Australian sprinter.

Judith Florence Amoore is an Australian former runner. She was born in Melbourne, Victoria.

Pamela Kilborn-Ryan, AM, MBE is an Australian former athlete who set world records as a hurdler. For three years, she was ranked as the world's top woman hurdler.

Kerryn McCann Australian long-distance runner

Kerryn McCann was an Australian athlete. She was best known for winning the marathon at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Steve Hooker Australian pole vaulter

Steven Leslie Hooker OAM is an Australian former pole vaulter and Olympic gold medalist. His personal best, achieved in 2008, is 6.06 m making him the fourth-highest pole vaulter in history, behind Sergey Bubka and Renaud Lavillenie and Armand Duplantis.

Sally Pearson Retired Australian athlete

Sally Pearson, OAM is a retired Australian athlete. She is the 2011 and 2017 World champion and 2012 Olympic champion in the 100 metres hurdles. She also won a silver medal in the 100 m hurdles at the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2013 World Championships.

Decima Norman

Clara Decima Hamilton, MBE was an Australian athlete. She was the only Australian woman who won five gold medals at the 1938 British Empire Games.

Lisa Llorens Australian Paralympic athlete

Lisa Christina Llorens, OAM(born 17 January 1978) is an Australian Paralympic athlete. She was born in Canberra. She specialises in Paralympic high jumping, long jumping, and sprinting, participating in competitions for athletes with autism.

Katrina Webb Australian Paralympic athlete

Katrina Lea Webb-Denis, OAM is an Australian Paralympic athlete with cerebral palsy. She has won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in athletics at three Paralympic Games.


  1. 1 2 "Betty Cuthbert". Sports Reference website. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  2. Goldstein, Richard (6 August 2017). "Betty Cuthbert, Australia's 'Golden Girl' of Track and Field, Dies at 79". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  3. Gordon, Harry (2000). "Betty Cuthbert AM MBE". Athletics Australia Hall of Fame. Athletics Australia. Archived from the original on 16 October 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Betty Cuthbert". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  5. 1 2 "Subscribe | theaustralian". Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  6. "I Run Again". The Australian Women's Weekly . 47 (14). Australia. 5 September 1979. p. 16. Retrieved 8 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  7. 1 2 3 Lennon, Troy (7 August 2017). "Betty Cuthbert overcame injuries to come back and win a fourth gold medal". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  8. 1 2 Dalton, Trent (9 May 2015). "Betty Cuthbert, multiple sclerosis and the gift of Rhonda Gillam". Weekend Australian Magazine. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  9. Bartok, Di (21 June 2010). "Betty Cuthbert returns to Ermington for honour". Parramatta Advertiser. Retrieved 22 March 2012. Attending were members of her family, including twin sister Marie Johnsonand she had some kids and you do not want to know how to make kids
  10. "Betty Cuthbert, 'Golden girl' who ran into the history books". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  11. Anna (class 4S), Ermington Public School History Archived 24 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine , Ermington Public School Website (accessed 19 June 2006)
  12. "Person of Faith: Betty Cuthbert". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  13. "Still running for God -". Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  14. "Miss Cuthbert Loses Record". The Age. 15 September 1959. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Progression of World best performances and official IAAF World Records. Monaco: IAAF. 2003.
  16. "Betty Cuthbert". Sports ReferenceLLC. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  17. "June Ferguson". Athletics Australia Hall of Fame website. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  18. Goldstein, Richard (6 August 2017). "Betty Cuthbert, Australia's golden girl of track dies at 79". New York Times. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  19. FitzSimons, Peter (7 August 2017). "Happy and contented: Betty Cuthbert's humility outpaced her greatness". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  20. "Betty Cuthbert Born Again Christian". The Australian. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  21. " Betty Cuthbert". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  22. "WebsterWorld – Online Encyclopedia – Australian Encyclopedia – World Encyclopedia – Education Resource – WebsterWorld". Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  24. Browne, Rachel (7 August 2017). "Australian Olympic legend Betty Cuthbert has died". The Examiner. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  25. Clip of the Opening Ceremony, part 12 on YouTube. Names visible on the big screen at 5:42.
  26. "Australian Olympic great Betty Cuthbert dies: reports". SBS News, AAP . 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  27. "Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert dead at 79". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2017.
  28. "Betty Cuthbert offered state funeral". Shy News. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  29. Browne, Rachel (7 August 2017). "Australian Olympic legend Betty Cuthbert has died". Daily Liberal. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  30. "Suffering over, Betty Cuthbert leaves a golden legacy". The West Australian. 8 August 2017. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  31. "Cuthbert: Our greatest athlete?" . Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  32. 1 2 Salvado, John (8 August 2017). "Australians to wear armbands for Cuthbert". West Australian. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  33. 1 2 Gleeson, Michael (8 August 2017). "Athletics: Tributes for Betty Cuthbert". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  34. 1 2 3 "Australia's 'golden girl' of the track, Betty Cuthbert 'went into bat' for MS research". SBS News. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  35. "Betty 'forever our golden girl'" . Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  36. "Olympic greats gather to bid farewell to Australia's 'golden girl' Betty Cuthbert". ABC News. 16 August 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  37. "Subscribe | theaustralian". Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  38. "Olympian Betty Cuthbert remembered in memorial service at SCG". The Sydney Morning Herald. 21 August 2017. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  39. "Betty Cuthbert remembered at SCG service". Archived from the original on 21 August 2017. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  40. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Australian IAAF World Record Holders & World Best Performances". Athletics Australia website. Archived from the original on 8 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  41. 1 2 3 "VALE Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert AM MBE". Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust website. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  42. "Betty Cuthbert". National Portrait Gallery website. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  43. "Hall of Fame". Athletics Australia website. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  44. "Betty Cuthbert". Australian Women's Sport Register.
  45. Dubecki, Larissa (3 August 2003). "Australia's golden girl delighted to get a bronze". The Age. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  46. "Honour Roll". NSW Sports Centre website. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  47. "Treloar Roses". Treloar Roses. Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  48. "Track and field getting Hall of Fame". ESPN Olympic Sports. ESPN. 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  49. "Sam Kerr named Women's Health sportswoman of the Year". Daily Telegraph. 18 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  50. "Bronze sculptures of Australia's olympic athletes Betty Cuthbert and Marlene Mathews Photos and Images | european pressphoto agency". Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  51. "Cuthbert and Mathews our first ladies in bronze – Precinct". Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  52. Gregory's Street Directory, 59th Edition 1995, Map 310 B2
  53. "Australia Day Honours 2018: The full list". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2018.