Strickland de la Hunty: relay woman

Shirley Strickland de la Hunty, a great name in athletics and female record-breaker: the first woman to win seven Olympic medals and successfully defend her Olympic title in the 80m hurdles (1952-1956). A sprint and hurdles specialist, she made a name for herself in many relay races, but also away from the cinder track. Spotlight on an Australian sporting figure on her birthday.

The same relay, but different
In three successive Olympic Games, Shirley Strickland competed in the 4x100m relay:

London 1948: Shirley’s first Olympic Games, at the age of 23. The Australian women had to make do with silver behind the Dutch team, for whom the amazing Fanny Blankers-Koen made the difference in the final leg.

Helsinki 1952: The Australian women set a new world and Olympic record in the 4x100m heats. They were thus favourites for the final, but just when they were ahead, everything changed with the last baton change between Marjorie Jackson and Winsome Cripps: the baton fell, and the victory was lost. This was a huge disappointment for the Australian team, which finished fifth.

Melbourne 1956: This time, Shirley and her team-mates ran a faultless race. They won the final ahead of the British and American women, setting a new world and Olympic record in the process. Strickland finished her Olympic relay career on a high note, with a gold medal.

Passing on the baton
Shirley Strickland de la Hunty, her country’s first woman to win a medal in athletics in 1948, 20 years after women first competed in the sport at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. She subsequently passed the baton to compatriots like Marjorie Jackson and Betty Cuthbert.

Shirley came from a family which was not afraid of effort: her father was a talented professional sprinter with a farm in the bush. For her part, as a coach she devoted a great deal of energy to sharing her experience with young people. As a teacher, a job she did in parallel to her sports career, she shared with others her knowledge of physics and maths. 

Carrying the flame in Sydney
On 15 September 2000 in Sydney, 44 years after her last Games, Shirley Strickland carried the flame in the Olympic Stadium, a magic moment in the Games Opening Ceremony. Before her, almost 11,000 runners had passed the torch from one to another in Australia. The 75 year-old athlete was one of the last legendary relay runners alongside Betty Cuthbert, Raelene Boyle, Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and Deborah Flintoff-King. These “Golden Ladies” of Australian sport were commemorating a century of women’s participation in the Olympic Games, and they carried the flame to sprinter Cathy Freeman, who then lit the Olympic cauldron: the Games had begun.

This Golden Lady died in 2004 at the age of 78. We can thank her for her pioneering achievements and legacy to women’s athletics.



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