After finishing second in the English Schools long jump in 1955, Mary Bignall accepted a sports scholarship to Millfield School, where she developed her precocious talents. In 1957, as a 17-year-old schoolgirl, she set an English record in her first ever pentathlon competition and later in the season made her international debut as a high jumper.
In 1958, after leaving Millfield, she joined the London Olympiads AC and finished second in the long jump and fifth in the high jump at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. In the pentathlon at the European Championships, although finishing no higher than seventh, she posted a new British record of 4466 points. In 1959 she became the first British woman long jumper to clear 20 feet, with a new-British record of 20-4 (6.20 m), and improved her pentathlon record to 4679 points.
In May 1960 Bignall added another inch to her British long jump record and a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in August seemed a distinct possibility. Hopes were raised further when she led the qualifiers in Rome at 6.33 (20-9¼) but things went drastically wrong in the final. She ran through the pit on her first two attempts and a half-hearted last jump left her back in ninth place with a performance more than a foot behind her qualifying jump. Although she finished fourth in the 80 metres hurdles, the Rome Olympics were a stunning disappointment.
Fortunately she had the character to put this setback behind her and produced some superlative performances during the four years she had to wait before getting a second chance of Olympic honors. After the Rome Games she married the Olympic oarsman Sidney Rand, and only four months after the birth of their daughter, Mary Rand was winning bronze medals in the long jump and the 4×100 metres relay (with Ann Packer, Dorothy Hyman, and Daphne Arden) at the 1962 European Championships. In 1963 she twice improved both her British long jump and pentathlon records and after bettering each record again in the summer of 1964, she went to Tokyo in October to try again for Olympic gold.
As in Rome four years earlier, Mary Rand led the qualifiers, but this time there were no mistakes in the final. With her first jump she set a new Olympic and British record, improving on this with her fourth jump, and on her fifth she virtually put the gold medal beyond the reach of her rivals with a new world record of 6.76 (22-2¼). To crown this wonderful performance, she won a silver medal in the pentathlon and completed her set of Olympic medals with a bronze in the relay.
She carried on competing for the next three seasons, winning the British Empire and Commonwealth Games long jump title and finished eighth in the high jump in 1966, but injury prevented her from making the Olympic team for a third time in 1968 and she announced her retirement. Her marriage to Sidney Rand ended in divorce and in 1969 she married the 1968 Olympic decathlon champion Bill Toomey, but this marriage was also subsequently dissolved.
Personal Bests: 200 – 24.1 (1963); 80H – 10.8 (1963); HJ – 1.72 (1964); LJ – 6.76 (1964); Pen – 5035 (1964).
Athlete Olympic Results Content