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Elizabeth Alyse (Betty) Cuthbert (1938–2017)

Betty Cuthbert, Australian Information Service, n.d.

Betty Cuthbert, Australian Information Service, n.d.

National Library of Australia, 23566804

Olympic athletics champion Betty Cuthbert has died at the age of 79.

The one-time world record holder died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

Australian Olympic athletics champion Betty Cuthbert has died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

Cuthbert was a four-time Olympic gold medallist, winning three at the 1956 Melbourne games in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay events.

Cuthbert, who also won gold in the 400 metres at the Tokyo Olympics eight years later, was a torch bearer at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Games.

The daughter of nursery owners, Cuthbert was born in Merrylands in Sydney's west, attending Ermington Public School and Macarthur Girls High School where she developed an interest in athletics and an ambition to compete in the Olympics.

She made her Olympic debut at the 1956 Melbourne Games where she set a world record in the 200 metres.

She competed in the 1960 Rome Games but suffered an injury and was eliminated from the heats of the 100 metres, announcing her retirement from track and field shortly afterwards.

Cuthbert made her comeback at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth before going to the 1964 Tokyo Games where she won her fourth Olympic gold medal.

She remains the only Olympian to have won a gold medal in all sprint events, being the 100, 200 and 400 metres. Only Ian Thorpe has won more gold for Australia.

She first experienced symptoms of multiple sclerosis in 1969 and was diagnosed with the disease in 1974, spending much of her later life dedicated towards raising awareness about the condition.

Tributes poured in for Cuthbert on Monday morning, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing her as an inspiration.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates remembered Cuthbert as being brave in the face of adversity.

"Betty was the golden girl of the track and a national heroine," he said. "It's very sad to lose such a great champion. Betty battled her illness for many years and showed tremendous courage, but more importantly she always managed to smile."

Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman described Cuthbert as an inspiring force.

"It's a very sad day, there's no doubt about it," Freeman said. "Betty is an inspiration and her story will continue to inspire Australian athletes for generations to come. I'm so happy I got to meet such a tremendous and gracious role model, and Olympic champion."

Radio broadcaster Alan Jones also paid tribute to Cuthbert's athletic achievements.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten tweeted that Cuthbert would always be a golden girl to Australians.

Peak body Athletics Australia extended sympathy to Cuthbert's friends and family.

Cuthbert was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 with chairman John Bertrand remembering her as a great role model.

"Betty was a true inspiration and role model to all Australians," he said. "Her feats on the track bought together Australians as one. She loved the country and we loved her".

Cuthbert, who never married or had children, left NSW for Western Australia in 1991, settling in Mandurah south of Perth.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Cuthbert, Elizabeth Alyse (Betty) (1938–2017)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cuthbert-elizabeth-alyse-betty-33264/text41507, accessed 19 June 2024.

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