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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Where Are They Now - Marlene Matthews

Where Are They Now - Marlene Matthews

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1 Where Are They Now - Marlene Matthews on Wed Mar 30, 2011 12:36 pm



Where are they now?
Hills News
29 Mar, 2011

TWO-TIME Australian Olympic sprinter Marlene Mathews AO remains elegantly slim at 77 and forever proud of her western suburbs roots.

As she gracefully moves across her lounge room it is hard to believe she has had both her knees replaced.

Bilateral knee reconstruction is not recommended for all patients because having both joints replaced at one time requires a commitment to work twice as hard for a successful outcome, but Marlene is no stranger to overcoming challenges.

During her athletic career, she created six world records and remains today the only woman to have held the 100, 200 and 440 yards world records at the one time.

Her best times of 10.3 seconds for the 100 yards sprint and 23.4 secs for the 220 yard dash would have won both titles at the 2005 Australian Athletics Championships.

It should be noted that she did her running on cinders or grass tracks which were much slower than today's bouncy synthetic running surfaces.

She also worked full-time, unlike many of today's elite athletes whose only job is to compete.

In her day you weren't allowed to accept payment in the sport, let alone for talks.

In 1958 she was told she would forfeit her amateur status if she accepted two Hawthorne watches offered for setting two world records.

Another time, she was stopped from racing a trotter "because the horse was professional", she said laughing.

"We used to pay in those days ?10 for spikes; I often wonder how mum and dad managed," she said.

The average weekly earnings of men in NSW in 1954, when she represented Australia at the Vancouver Commonwealth Games, was ?17.69. Marlene recalled spending many nights after training selling chook raffles at local clubs, to raise funds to travel to competitions. But she was one of the lucky ones.

In 1954 she secured sponsorship by the Timber Development Association. However, she maintained full-time employment with the New Zealand Trade Commissioner until she pulled a hamstring, a month before the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, where she won two bronze medals.

"I flew to Melbourne before the Games to see George Sanders [a specialist] and I lost my job," she said.

Disappointingly, she was not selected for the 4x100-metre relay team at the Olympics that year. The team of Shirley Strickland, Norma Croker, Fleur Mellor and Betty Cuthbert, won gold.

To add insult to injury, at a post-Olympics meeting Mathews was part of a relay team that broke world records for both the 4x220 yards and 4x200 metres.

She was never told why she was not picked for the Olympic relay team.

"The bitterest pill I had to swallow was that they left me out."

Since retiring from the sport after the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, she has held administrative,coaching and officiating roles and in 1972 she was assistant manager of the Australian Olympic Team at the Munich Olympics.

"I did try and make a few comebacks but then I fell pregnant [she had three boys] and saw that as a sign," she said.

She is thankful for her children and her "second chance", as she describes it, with second husband John O'Shea, a former Welsh rugby international player.

Today she works two days a week as a jewellery saleswoman at the Macquarie Centre, North Ryde.

You can also catch a glimpse of her name on the side of the Rivercat ferry named after her, as it pulls off from Rydalmere Ferry Wharf.

"I owe a lot to the western suburbs; I have always lived here," said Marlene, a three-time great-grandmother and six-time grandmother who now lives in Castle Hill.

A 16-year-old Marlene Matthews climbs the fence
around St Luke's Oval, Burwood, where she trained.

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